Home > features
2003: Lifestyles of the Young

Trends often buck tradition. But the Chinese who are embracing new lifestyles are finding self-confidence and satisfaction in their choices. China Pictorial looks at some of these "new lives."


Twenty-five percent of Chinese city dwellers (especially small cities) are regular Internet users. According to the twelfth "Survey Report on Internet Development in China" released by the China Internet Network Information Center, the most authoritative institution in this field, by June 30, 2003, Chinese Internet users had come to 68 million. Nearly 85 percent of them were below the age of 35.

A group of net friends in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, enjoy themselves at a get-together.

The ever-expanding group of Internet visitors has brought about tremendous net-related business opportunities and stimulated the emergence of countless suppliers of online commodities. The Internet has made digital life possible, where 'Net addicts enjoy purchasing commodities, searching for information, catching up with relatives and friends through e-mail, releasing and spreading news, and lingering in chat rooms.

There is now a tribe that depends on the Internet for living. This tribe numbers several million, and nearly 70 percent of them hold a bachelor's degree or above and earn a monthly income of more than 3,000 yuan. They are 32 years of age on average, and many of them are the earliest Internet elite of China. The Internet has become an integral part of their work and lives. Except for sleep, they spend almost all day online-doing office work, browsing the news, and e-mailing.

They can't imagine the days before a computer, and might not be able to breathe without theirs.

When he came across the Internet by chance three years ago, Ma Ge did not expect that his life would become so wonderful. Now, every day, he jacks into cyberspace, talking with his girlfriend and doing many other things online. His proudest achievement is that he once lived a full month without using a single note of currency-all of his daily necessities were bought through online transactions with e-money.

As Ma said, cyber-life has just started in China, but once you enter it, you will become irredeemably addicted, and this addiction will delight you much more than you expected.

Recharging Through Study

"Recharge," a term in physics, is often used by Chinese people to describe those with a desire to update their knowledge and skills to adapt to the requirements and development of society and to enrich their spiritual lives. While young people pour into schools for advanced studies in foreign languages and computer science, the older generations also attend classes in the fields of their interest. China has become host to an "intellectual economy." A growing number of adults have returned to classrooms. During their weekends, public holidays, and paid vacations, they pass the time reading and studying.

Xu Mei works at a law firm but spends every weekend at the Beijing National Library. Many Chinese like her would rather study to recharge their knowledge than rest or hang out with family or friends during their spare time. Visiting bookstores, attending training classes, and reading in libraries, they immerse themselves in the world of knowledge.

Chinese people have a reading tradition handed down from ancient times. Many ancient people found it enjoyable to read, write, and collect books. A widely known Chinese proverb goes: We can study until old age and still not finish.

As society develops and competition becomes increasingly intense, Chinese people are well conscious that only when they obtain broad and profound knowledge through reading and studying can they improve themselves and their careers and realize their own potential.

Since 1999, Chinese governmental institutions of different levels have organized some 37 million cadres, about 90 percent of the nation's total, to participate in study and training programs in various forms.

Liu Shuang, an administrative cadre in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, firmly believes that whenever he opens a book, he will benefit from reading.

"Besides the study organized by my unit," he said, "I have developed a habit of reading at least an hour a day."

The subjects of the books he reads range from his professional field to fiction, history, and economics.

"Reading can help me keep peace of mind and even solve difficulties at work," said Liu. "A growing number of Chinese people have placed themselves in an atmosphere of study, and along with China's progress of building a well-to-do society, a studious society will finally form and will involve the entire population."

Traveling among Mountains and Rivers

A pleasant Sunday: canoeing on Beijing's Kunyu River.

Early one Saturday morning, Shi Lei, a computer programmer, got up and began to pack. After a careful examination of his tent, backpack, and mountaineering shoes, he set off. Together with some Internet friends, he took that weekend to challenge Lingshan Mountain, the highest peak in the suburbs of Beijing. He joined a team of outdoor sports enthusiasts by chance and has become enthusiastic about such thrilling adventures.

Outdoor sports, originating in the West, started with outings and picnics in small groups. Later on, it was elevated to difficult, risky levels. Today, there is a diverse range of outdoor adventure activities, from field camping to mountaineering, river rafting, hiking, cave and jungle exploration, and field survival.

Outdoor sports were introduced to China in the mid-1990s. Along with the development of the economy, a special group of youth has emerged-people with admirable jobs, considerable incomes-and free time. More importantly, they are energetic and adventurous, and willing to get closer to nature and challenge themselves.

Shi's first experience in outdoor sports was really challenging. On the first day, it was pouring rain, and his team got lost in the downpour. They struggled until the next morning, when the sun rose and the green mountains and white clouds greeted them. Today, the memory of that experience still lingers in Shi's mind.

In his diary, Shi wrote: "This is a meaningful experience. It brought me a chance to approach nature, escape the uproar and worries of the city, relax my mind, and enjoy myself. At the moment when I had all but decided to give up, I changed my mind and struggled through. When I summitted [the mountain], I was overwhelmed by a feeling of happiness and success that I have never experienced before."

In the last year or two, outdoor sports in China have raged in popularity, attracting nature lovers and adventurers from all ages. In their view, outdoor sports are not only thrilling experiences, but also part of a health-boosting lifestyle.

Offices at Home

Li Gang, a partner at a law firm, works at home most of time, except for Fridays, when he goes to his firm to attend regular meetings. He uses telephones and the Internet to communicate with his clients and agents, a way of life that allows him to sleep in every morning (unless he is required for a court hearing). Still, he earns hundreds of thousands of RMB a year.

After graduating from an academy of fine arts, Zhang Ming did not hunt for a fixed job, deciding instead to work at home as a freelance cartoonist for newspapers. This decision has brought him a respectable income, and in the meantime, he is able to manage time as he pleases.

Modernized office equipment has entered the home.

SOHO (small office, home office), a new lifestyle made possible by the Internet, has become chic among professionals, including lawyers, writers, painters, designers, web page hosts, and even actors and actresses. It has also given birth to part-time job contractors, such as freelance teachers, reporters, and software technicians.

While the regular office-goers admire the SOHO members for their freedom in managing their time, SOHO members have to learn how to deal with relationships with others and how to manage their concerns. It seems that SOHO members have a lot of reasons to worry about their future, but most of them put on a smiling face.

If life is a sea, then everyone is a passenger on a ship. The ships are spacious and stable, but some of the passengers dislike the regulations and rules, so they transfer to small boats they have made on their own. While enjoying complete freedom and the excitement of riding the waves, they have to independently overcome risks in the open sea.

SOHO is literally explained as "working in a small office/home office environment," and in fact, it also mirrors people's tendency to choose a new, free lifestyle with the rising economic tide. As competitive players in the market, SOHO members have shown their energy and creativity while contributing to society.

A Healthy Future

Health experts say that you may not possess everything even if you have your health, but you will indeed lose everything if you don't have your health. So an increasing number of young people have appeared in fitness centers, taking part in a wide array of exercises from calisthenics to aerobics to yoga. Health lectures enjoy popularity. Health books are best sellers. Health food is sought by people of all ages. And health product stores have mushroomed.

Body-shaping exercisers at a gym.

On beautiful days, it is common to find young exercisers playing shuttlecock, flying kites, and playing badminton in parks and public playgrounds. Li Fenglin, 65, has flown kites at the Beijing Huangchenggen Site Park for several years. According to him, most of the kite enthusiasts in the past were close to his age, but recently more and more youngsters have joined in.

"I have become their coach," he said.

Indoor physical exercises are equally sizzling. In Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other large cities, physical fitness is on the rise, and various gymnasiums have sprung up in busy city areas. In addition to body work, Japanese Kendo, Korean Taekwondo, Indian Yoga, and Western boxercise have all developed their own enthusiasts.

Spreading Love throughout the World

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed December 5 as the annual International Volunteers Day. The Chinese government launched its Youth Volunteers Campaign in December 1993, and since then, numerous warmhearted young people, upholding the mottoes of "dedication, friendship, mutual aid, and progress," have donated their love and intelligence to society, especially to disadvantaged groups.

Volunteers offer language service for foreign visitors to China.

The China Youth Volunteers Green Project, under the Campaign, is committed to constructing "green action camps and bases" and organizing young people to carry out environment-friendly volunteer activities, such as planting trees, cleaning up deserts, controlling water pollution, and picking up trash. In June 1999, the first event of the project was started in Fengning, Hebei Province. In less than half a year, more than 1,000 volunteers from 19 of China's provinces and autonomous regions, as well as 12 foreign countries including France, Germany, Japan, and Great Britain, joined in and planted trees over some 1 million square meters. The project also launched activities in Sichuan, Zhejiang and Jilin Provinces as well as the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which are still ongoing.

Xu Qu, identified as "Little Wood" at www.lvye.org, is well known among the tens of thousands of young registrants of the Web site, because she was the major organizer of one of the Web site's volunteer programs. Every weekend, young volunteers gathered together through Lvye to go to a special school in the suburbs of Beijing, bringing love and information to the autistic children at the school. Although the volunteers are conscious of the difficulty in communicating with the children and that their efforts will most likely be in vain, they have kept doing this for two years. Xu always encourages new volunteers with these words: "Every child's smile to us is the thrust for us to keep it up!"

To date, many Chinese cities have established youth volunteer associations, which are competing with each other in public-welfare activities. Since China's volunteer registration system was established, more than 10 million young people have registered as volunteers, and according to rough statistics, they have offered more than 4 billion hours of volunteer services for society.

Life on Wheels

According to the latest statistics from the automobile market of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan Province, during the seven-day National Holiday last October, the city sold more than 1,000 cars to private owners. At a low price (29,800 yuan each), the Aoto cars attracted a long line of buyers.

It is common for Shanghai residents to rent a car to travel to the outskirts.

Among China's more than 600 large and medium-sized cities, Chengdu is inferior to coastal, developed cities in economic strength, but its citizens' enthusiasm in buying and driving cars can match those in the developed cities. By the end of September 2003, nearly 50 percent of Chengdu's more than 1 million automobiles were private vehicles, with this proportion growing by several hundred cars each day.

Chengdu now ranks fourth in China in private car ownership, next to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Some people attribute this to Chengdu residents' long-standing tradition of pursuing an easy life.

Since the arrival of the new century, a large number of Chinese have become car-owners. Gripping the steering wheel, they find themselves exploring their individuality. The rapid increase of private cars has benefited tourism in the suburbs of Chengdu.

Turn to Beijing. By November 2003, Beijing's automobiles had topped 2 million, and 1.3 million of those were private cars. Beijing has become an auto-based city.

According to the statistics from the Beijing Traffic Administration, in Beijing the number of private automobiles reached 1 million in February 1997, 48 years after the founding of New China. Just six years later, the number doubled. Zhang Jingli, deputy director of the administration, says that according to the current growth rate, Beijing is expected to see 3 million automobiles in three years.

China is car crazy.

So whether it's behind the wheel of a car, on the top of a mountain, behind a home-office desk, or somewhere deep in cyberspace, as the quality of their lives improves, Chinese are aware that the wisest consumption should meet their personal demands and represent their individuality. These trends may well prove to be a tradition one day.

Suggest To A Friend: