Could the post 90s be China’s environmental saviours?
In China a common way to distinguish people is by the generation in which they are born. The terms “post 80s” and “post 90s” have become the default to define different values of Chinese who have grown up in the period after the politically disruptive Cultural Revolution (which ended with Chairman Mao’s death in 1976).
These terms are so widely used, that brands have consciously started to deploy them to target specific age groups. Li Ning, a local sports apparel giant, presented a provocative campaign in 2010 that suggested “no-one understands the post 90s”. The relationship between the post 80s and post 90s is relatively caustic. The post 90s argue that the post 80s are out of touch with new China. While the post 80s dismiss the post 90s as selfish brats who are selling out to the “West”.
As a result of their scornful older brothers and sisters and to show they are good citizens of China, post 90s (who are now in their teens or early twenties) are becoming increasingly engaged in social issues, especially the environment. They have a global media diet and are aware of the environmental awareness and campaigns happening abroad. Seeing themselves more as global citizens than their predecessors, post 90s are now actively opposing practises that are environmentally unsound.
An example of post 90s green angst is the protest by female university students in Chengdu, a major industrial city in the South-west. To protest the levels of emissions being emitted from the Jialing Power Plant, female students donned bikinis and gas masks to raise the media profile of the environmental issue. Playing on the popular reputation of Chengdu, as a city of beautiful women, the event went viral nationwide. The provocative and media savvy nature of the protest played a vital part in the plant being closed down last year.
In Guangzhou, a very developed city that borders Hong Kong, pint-sized high school student Deng Xiyuan is the champion of a campaign to end the practise of eating shark fin soup, a tradition that is particularly strong in southern China. Her efforts have attracted major media coverage, as she protests regularly outside her high school and has launched a Weibo (China’s version of twitter) account with followers throughout China. In a special edition of Southern Weekly, a leading national newspaper, they identified her as a “warrior of the environment” and heralded the emergence of environmental vigilance amongst the post 90s.
Interestingly, brands are catching on to the desire of post 90s to define themselves by a global environmental standard. As part of their online campaign, Converse documented the trip of a skateboard team to Mongolia who explore nature as part of their journey. Gap, as part of their first campaign in China, included a focus on Zhou Xun, a popular actress who is also a passionate supporter of green initiatives. The campaign included a dual portrait of Zhou and international environmentalist Phillipe Costeau Junior – as an example of positive harmony between China and the West.
The palpable sense of environmental consciousness amongst the post 90s is a really encouraging sign for China’s environmental future. The fact that this generation is scorned by other generations in China as selfish, just means they are all the more determined to make a difference.
Written by Jerry Clode, Associate Director Cultural Insight, Added Value UK