FENQING: A STUDY OF CHINA'S 'ANGRY YOUTH' IN THE ERA OF THE INTERNET

Nina Baculinao

ABSTRACT


A startling new force is casting a shadow on China’s domestic and international situation: the fenqing, or China’s “angry youth.” In its search for an alternative theory of legitimacy and its embrace of technological positivism to enhance control, the Chinese party-state has condoned new forms of public discourse. The fenqing discourse, with its combative and anti-Western characteristics, is challenging conventional theories about China’s state-society dialectic. Some of the most educated and globally engaged segments of China’s youth, empowered by the Internet, are considered a natural constituency for liberalizing China. But so far, they have generally helped the partystate overpower the liberal-democratic discourse, choosing patriotism over democracy. On the other hand, they have also shown that, despite censorship and control, Chinese public opinion is not an oxymoron, and that, lacking elective procedural legitimacy, the Chinese party-state is also susceptible to popular nationalist pressures.

This paper seeks to explore how China’s rise as a global power and the advent of the Internet have stirred up a new form of cyber-nationalism among the younger generation, which represents a double-edged sword that can potentially buttress or threaten state goals. The protests against the U.S. in 1999 and 2001, and against Japan in 2005, and populist backlash against Tibet supporters in 2008, highlight the unpredictable and volatile power of the fenqing. This paper draws from original interviews of central actors involved in these events, including patriotic “red hackers,” anti-Japan activists, and authors of nationalistic bestsellers, to tackle the central questions of the fenqing’s demographic scope, historical roots and potential impact. Given historical precedents, it bears watching whether the growing perception of Western attempts to contain China’s rise can trigger new waves of fenqing movements in the future, that in turn can affect the rational construction of China’s relations with the world.

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