Watkins: China’s millennials are coming

Tom Watkins

The “Little Red Ants” of another era are coming of age and are unlikely to be as accommodating or as willing to stay the course as the 21st century unfolds. What will this mean to China and the world?

Unlike their parents and grandparents, this new sea of Red Ants did not grow up fighting Nationalists. They did not starve during Great Leap Forward or wave a “Little Red Book” as part of the Red Guard during Mao’s China’s Cultural Revolution. The torch had already been passed from Mao to Deng Xiaoping when they were born so they did not experience the sea change from Marxist ideology to their current reality of consumer products and capitalism albeit with Chinese characteristics.

Nor did they gather in Tiananmen Square calling for freedom, democracy and an end to official corruption, only to see their dreams crushed under the tanks of the People’s Army.

No, this generation has witnessed their China as a rocket blaster towards growth and change that is just now beginning to lose a little thrust.

This new generation of Chinese is poised to shake and shape the world. The 1.4 billion question now is: What shape will this generation of Chinese, who came of age while China recaptured its quest for wealth and power, take?

As China shook off a century of humiliation and the psychosis of the Mao era, then-new Premier Deng advised his countrymen to keep their heads down and bide their time.

But this generation is not willing to bide their time or feel for stones. They are cutting their own path that will re-shape a modern China and the world.

What China’s youth want today, the world will want tomorrow. China has about 200 million people between ages 15-24, compared to about 40 million Americans in that same age group. Some 277 million of China’s young people are already online, and they’re the most mobile-connected generation in history.

What has transpired in China over its 5,000-year history is mind boggling. The last thirty-five years have been both remarkable and universally acknowledged. Going forward, all major global issues will intersect at the corner of Washington D.C. and Beijing.

As a new year begins, we will see how the Chinese millennials are poised to re-shape their — and our — world.

Tom Watkins serves on the Michigan-China Innovation Center Advisory Board and is an adviser to the Detroit Chinese Business Association.