Three men hold Chinese national flags at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Tuesday after the flag-raising ceremony. Photo: Cui Meng/GT
The daily flag-raising ceremony took place in Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing at sunrise on Tuesday, with thousands of local residents, tourists from other parts of China and other countries attending the ceremony and enjoying a peaceful and joyous early morning in the heart of the Chinese capital.
The Chinese national flag is also known as the Five-starred Red Flag, which for generations has evoked heartfelt patriotism in China with expressions like: "Born in New China. Growing under the Red Flag."
Huang Bing, 26, a young Party member from Chongqing, arrived at the square at 3:30 am. He was by no means the first to arrive for the flag raising that started exactly at sunrise - on Tuesday, the sun rose at 4:47 am.
Huang said experiencing the ceremony in Tiananmen Square felt more sacred and solemn than the weekly flag raisings that he had attended in the past.
Even though Tiananmen Gate is surrounded in red scaffolding as restorations and renovations continue in advance of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in October, the enthusiasm and excitement of people attending Tuesday's ceremony was obvious, as they kept snapping photos and selfies.
A young couple from Shanghai was seen teaching their son about the historical significance of Tiananmen Square and instilling him with pride and respect for the national flag as they waited for the ceremony.
The father, surnamed Zhou, 29, said he and his family were on vacation, and the ceremony was an important lesson in patriotism for his son, even though it meant crawling out of bed in the wee hours.
The boy's mother, surnamed Liu, said "30 years from now maybe he will bring his children here to do the same thing. That will be 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of our country."
She predicted a future full of opportunity and optimism.
Young parents like Liu and Zhao are the beneficiaries of a generation of stability in China. They grew up in an environment without chaos or conflicts, and have witnessed tremendous advances during the fastest period of development in the country's history over the last three decades.
Compared with older generations, "the new generation under the red flag," or the 1990s and 2000s generation, as seen on Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, is undoubtedly more confident, optimistic, patriotic and open-minded about the outside world.
The biggest star on the top left corner of Chinese national flag represents the Communist Party of China (CPC). Every Chinese knows this since childhood and as the new generation under the red flag, Chinese youth show stronger support to the Party and more approval of Marxism.
A survey conducted by the China Youth Daily in April covering 10,393 participants from 31 different provinces and municipalities with an average age of 27 shows that 87.6 percent approve of Marxism, with the approval rate among the 2000s generation - 89.3 percent - being the highest among the participants.
Those born in the 1980s had an approval rate of 88 percent, and the rate was 87.8 percent for those born in the 1990s, the survey found.
The latest data released by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee in June 2018 showed that among the 89.564 million Party members, 13.31 million are under 30 years old, and 1.78 million are students.
The current generation of Chinese youth grew up with Coca-Cola and Hollywood movies, but why do they have stronger support for the Party rather than becoming anti-Communist proxies to launch a "Color Revolution" just as some Western forces have expected?
Analysts believe that the approval rate of the CPC among the youth will continue to increase for at least three reasons: The powerful, successful and stable leadership of the CPC provides financial stability to the youth in a world with increasing uncertainty; the performance of the CPC from the 1990s to the present has convinced the youth that the Party is efficient and capable of self-correction; the current youth didn't experience the poor and weak period, and they have a better understanding of the unstable and problematic parts of the outside world, while living in a stable and advanced domestic environment.
Children hold Chinese national flags at Tiananmen Square on Tuesday. Photo: Cui Meng/GT
Not admiring the West
Studying abroad was a dream for many Chinese youth 30 years ago, but it's getting very normal for many middle-class families nowadays. Due to the different domestic and international environments, many of the 1990s generation in China received a very different impact from their overseas background.
Wang Xiao, 28, an anchor and journalist at Shanghai-based news portal website guancha.cn, who received high school and university education in the US, told the Global Times that he once had very high expectations of the US before he went there.
"But after I went there, I found that the US was far from being perfect," he said.
Aside from problems like racism, gun use and abortion, which harm and divide US society, the low efficiency of the government, slow and poor infrastructure construction, and the inefficacy of labor unions in the US deeply impacted Wang's impressions.
Wang believes the reason is that interest groups are limiting the reform and development of US society.
Allen Yang, 24, who is studying at a London-based university, echoed Wang's views.
Four years in the UK didn't make Yang admire the West too much, but instead, he found some disappointments, especially the dysfunction of the Western democratic political system that led to Brexit and the endless political struggles within parliament that failed to solve problems.
Yang was impressed by the reaction of his foreign classmates in the UK at a lecture when a professor mentioned China. The first word that came out from the students was not "panda" or "kung fu;" it was "opportunity."
The West still enjoys economic and technological advantages in many areas, but aside from fast development and stability, China has something that is extremely attractive to the youth from China and other countries - potential.
"Living in the UK was not hard for me, but I will return to China when I graduate. The UK is nice but it like an 'old man' - rich and comfortable but with no potential. China is like a 'young man' who is not perfect, but still has big room for improvement and is full of energy and desire."
Overseas Chinese students like Yang and Wang understand that no country is like China with a huge economy, great potential and fast development. More importantly, it is capable of maintaining safety and stability. Without the governance of the CPC, this would be impossible, they said.
Patriotism and confidence
According to data released by China's education authorities in 2018, 83.73 percent of overseas Chinese students have returned to China. However, for Chinese youth living in the 1980s, the outside world was like heaven.
Many from the generation born in the 1960s and 1970s didn't get a chance to receive comprehensive education due to the impact of the Culture Revolution (1966-76), and China was very undeveloped when they were young.
When Chinese youth in the 1980s encountered reform and opening-up and got the chance to see the outside world, they were shocked by the gap between China and other countries, and many middle-aged Chinese people share this feeling.
Song Luzheng, 50, a research fellow at the China Institute of Fudan University, said that the most fundamental reason why the youth today is much more confident is the firm economic or material foundation that the CPC has laid in the past three decades.
China's immunity from peaceful evolution and ideological offensive launched by the West was weak in the late 1980s, but today its immunity is getting much stronger.
China's successful development in many fields such as in the economy, military and science and technology led by the CPC proves the correctness of the path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics to all Chinese people, including the youth, Chinese analysts said.
At the same time, because of the perceived decline of the West, as well as many failed cases of Westernization among developing countries, it is almost impossible for foreign forces to manipulate Chinese youth today, Song told the Global Times. "Western ideological offensives are less and less convincing in China."
"Our [the youth's] patriotism is shaped not only by education, but more by development, the concrete improvement in people's living standards. The CPC is fulfilling its responsibility in leading the country on the right direction," Yang said.
The China Youth Daily said in an article published on May 29 that the young generation makes countless posts on social media to show their support to the country and Chinese companies like Huawei in the ongoing trade war with the US.
Chinese youth feel "thankful" for the bullying and provocations from the US, as these can only make them more patriotic, more united, and also make them "more confident to push forward self-reliance innovation to make our country stronger," the article said.
Tang Kexuan, 27, a PhD candidate at the Department of Electrical Engineering of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times, "Patriotism is instinctive for me. As a science researcher, I hope I can participate in the key research programs that our country needs desperately."
China is facing some challenges, but "if you put it into the long Chinese history, the current situation is not the hardest one at all, so we are very calm. No need to panic," Tang said.
Gao Beichen, 28, a financial practitioner who graduated from Durham University in the UK, said the financial sector is truly difficult at this moment.
"The trade war with the US is a 'protracted war' to some extent, and won't end soon. So we have to prepare for long-term difficulties, and this is an obstacle that we have to deal with," Gao noted.
Safety and stability are normal in China, but for some other countries, safety and stability are not that easy to achieve.
Stability is the most fundamental condition for a country to develop and improve itself, and this kind of thinking is shared by many Chinese youth.
"When the country [China] makes achievements, we feel proud and happy; when it makes mistakes, we also want to help it to correct them. But the most important thing is stability," said Tang.
"I haven't experienced the period of instability or chaos, but I know nobody wants to see that happen, so for young people like us, we just focus on our own jobs and don't make trouble for the country," he said.
Gao said that "looking at countries like Syria, Ukraine and Libya, you will understand how important stability is. The youths of those countries once gave up stability and thought the West could help them solve their problems, but the fact is they have continued to suffer from internal conflicts."
Zhang Weiwei, 61, director of the China Institute at Fudan University, told the Global Times that if the Chinese leaders at that time did not made tough decisions to safeguard the stability of the country 30 years ago, "China would have followed the way of the Soviet Union and collapsed," and China wouldn't have the development and achievements it has gained in the past three decades.
Optimism in the future
Stability will normally be damaged by unemployment. Due to the slowing economic growth, China is also facing the serious pressure of unemployment.
Data from the Ministry of Education shows that in 2018, the labor force increased by more than 15 million, and 8.2 million of them were college graduates.
The most profitable industries like finance and real estate have reduced recruitment, but many young people are still optimistic. Fortunately, Chinese society was able to control the pressure.
Wu Fei, 23, a deliveryman at a major Chinese logistics company who works in Beijing, has a big plan. Wu is from a village in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, and he started his job in October 2018 and can earn about 12,000 yuan ($1,739) a month, which is higher than the average income in Beijing of 7,800 yuan. But he needs to work more than 10 hours a day, sometimes even 12 hours.
He wants to invite more fellow villagers to join him so he can soon become a team leader.
Major Chinese cities like Beijing have a huge demand for deliverymen like Wu due to the fast-growing logistics industry fueled by the development of e-commerce in China.
Sherry Shi, 23, who recently graduated from a Beijing-based university, said she is not rushing to get a job since the economic situation is not very good.
"Applying for a master's degree overseas is in my plan. After I finish my studies, the trade war with the US and tough economic situation will probably end, and the Chinese economy will continue to grow, and I will probably have even more opportunities," she said.
There are millions of young people like Shi and Wu. They feel the pressure and understand the reality, but they are also working hard and remain optimistic in the future, in themselves, and in the Party which is responsible for leading and protecting the country's development.