Yang Lan: The generation that’s remaking China

Yang Lan: The generation that’s remaking China

The night before I was heading for Scotland, I was invited to host the final of “China’s Got Talent” show in Shanghai with the 80,000 live audience in the stadium. Guess who was the performing guest? Susan Boyle. And I told her, “I’m going to Scotland the next day.” She sang beautifully, and she even managed to say a few words in Chinese: 送你葱 So it’s not like “hello” or “thank you,” that ordinary stuff. It means “green onion for free.” Why did she say that? Because it was a line from our Chinese parallel Susan Boyle — a 50-some year-old woman, a vegetable vendor in Shanghai, who loves singing Western opera, but she didn’t understand any English or French or Italian, so she managed to fill in the lyrics with vegetable names in Chinese. (Laughter) And the last sentence of Nessun Dorma that she was singing in the stadium was “green onion for free.” So [as] Susan Boyle was saying that, 80,000 live audience sang together. That was hilarious. So I guess both Susan Boyle and this vegetable vendor in Shanghai belonged to otherness. They were the least expected to be successful in the business called entertainment, yet their courage and talent brought them through. And a show and a platform gave them the stage to realize their dreams. Well, being different is not that difficult. We are all different from different perspectives. But I think being different is good, because you present a different point of view. You may have the chance to make a difference. My generation has been very fortunate to witness and participate in the historic transformation of China that has made so many changes in the past 20, 30 years. I remember that in the year of 1990, when I was graduating from college, I was applying for a job in the sales department of the first five-star hotel in Beijing, Great Wall Sheraton — it’s still there. So after being interrogated by this Japanese manager for a half an hour, he finally said, “So, Miss Yang, do you have any questions to ask me?” I summoned my courage and poise and said, “Yes, but could you let me know, what actually do you sell?” I didn’t have a clue what a sales department was about in a five-star hotel. That was the first day I set my foot in a five-star hotel. Around the same time, I was going through an audition — the first ever open audition by national television in China — with another thousand college girls. The producer told us they were looking for some sweet, innocent and beautiful fresh face. So when it was my turn, I stood up and said, “Why [do] women’s personalities on television always have to be beautiful, sweet, innocent and, you know, supportive? Why can’t they have their own ideas and their own voice?” I thought I kind of offended them. But actually, they were impressed by my words. And so I was in the second round of competition, and then the third and the fourth. After seven rounds of competition, I was the last one to survive it. So I was on a national television prime-time show. And believe it or not, that was the first show on Chinese television that allowed its hosts to speak out of their own minds without reading an approved script. (Applause) And my weekly audience at that time was between 200 to 300 million people. Well after a few years, I decided to go to the U.S. and Columbia University to pursue my postgraduate studies, and then started my own media company, which was unthought of during the years that I started my career. So we do a lot of things. I’ve interviewed more than a thousand people in the past. And sometimes I have young people approaching me say, “Lan, you changed my life,” and I feel proud of that. But then we are also so fortunate to witness the transformation of the whole country. I was in Beijing’s bidding for the Olympic Games. I was representing the Shanghai Expo. I saw China embracing the world and vice versa. But then sometimes I’m thinking, what are today’s young generation up to? How are they different, and what are the differences they are going to make to shape the future of China, or at large, the world? So today I want to talk about young people through the platform of social media. First of all, who are they? [What] do they look like? Well this is a girl called Guo Meimei — 20 years old, beautiful. She showed off her expensive bags, clothes and car on her microblog, which is the Chinese version of Twitter. And she claimed to be the general manager of Red Cross at the Chamber of Commerce. She didn’t realize that she stepped on a sensitive nerve and aroused national questioning, almost a turmoil, against the credibility of Red Cross. The controversy was so heated that the Red Cross had to open a press conference to clarify it, and the investigation is going on. So far, as of today, we know that she herself made up that title — probably because she feels proud to be associated with charity. All those expensive items were given to her as gifts by her boyfriend, who used to be a board member in a subdivision of Red Cross at Chamber of Commerce. It’s very complicated to explain. But anyway, the public still doesn’t buy it. It is still boiling. It shows us a general mistrust of government or government-backed institutions, which lacked transparency in the past. And also it showed us the power and the impact of social media as microblog. Microblog boomed in the year of 2010, with visitors doubled and time spent on it tripled. Sina.com, a major news portal, alone has more than 140 million microbloggers. On Tencent, 200 million. The most popular blogger — it’s not me — it’s a movie star, and she has more than 9.5 million followers, or fans. About 80 percent of those microbloggers are young people, under 30 years old. And because, as you know, the traditional media is still heavily controlled by the government, social media offers an opening to let the steam out a little bit. But because you don’t have many other openings, the heat coming out of this opening is sometimes very strong, active and even violent. So through microblogging, we are able to understand Chinese youth even better. So how are they different? First of all, most of them were born in the 80s and 90s, under the one-child policy. And because of selected abortion by families who favored boys to girls, now we have ended up with 30 million more young men than women. That could pose a potential danger to the society, but who knows; we’re in a globalized world, so they can look for girlfriends from other countries. Most of them have fairly good education. The illiteracy rate in China among this generation is under one percent. In cities, 80 percent of kids go to college. But they are facing an aging China with a population above 65 years old coming up with seven-point-some percent this year, and about to be 15 percent by the year of 2030. And you know we have the tradition that younger generations support the elders financially, and taking care of them when they’re sick. So it means young couples will have to support four parents who have a life expectancy of 73 years old. So making a living is not that easy for young people. College graduates are not in short supply. In urban areas, college graduates find the starting salary is about 400 U.S. dollars a month, while the average rent is above $500. So what do they do? They have to share space — squeezed in very limited space to save money — and they call themselves “tribe of ants.” And for those who are ready to get married and buy their apartment, they figured out they have to work for 30 to 40 years to afford their first apartment. That ratio in America would only cost a couple five years to earn, but in China it’s 30 to 40 years with the skyrocketing real estate price. Among the 200 million migrant workers, 60 percent of them are young people. They find themselves sort of sandwiched between the urban areas and the rural areas. Most of them don’t want to go back to the countryside, but they don’t have the sense of belonging. They work for longer hours with less income, less social welfare. And they’re more vulnerable to job losses, subject to inflation, tightening loans from banks, appreciation of the renminbi, or decline of demand from Europe or America for the products they produce. Last year, though, an appalling incident in a southern OEM manufacturing compound in China: 13 young workers in their late teens and early 20s committed suicide, just one by one like causing a contagious disease. But they died because of all different personal reasons. But this whole incident aroused a huge outcry from society about the isolation, both physical and mental, of these migrant workers. For those who do return back to the countryside, they find themselves very welcome locally, because with the knowledge, skills and networks they have learned in the cities, with the assistance of the Internet, they’re able to create more jobs, upgrade local agriculture and create new business in the less developed market. So for the past few years, the coastal areas, they found themselves in a shortage of labor. These diagrams show a more general social background. The first one is the Engels coefficient, which explains that the cost of daily necessities has dropped its percentage all through the past decade, in terms of family income, to about 37-some percent. But then in the last two years, it goes up again to 39 percent, indicating a rising living cost. The Gini coefficient has already passed the dangerous line of 0.4. Now it’s 0.5 — even worse than that in America — showing us the income inequality. And so you see this whole society getting frustrated about losing some of its mobility. And also, the bitterness and even resentment towards the rich and the powerful is quite widespread. So any accusations of corruption or backdoor dealings between authorities or business would arouse a social outcry or even unrest. So through some of the hottest topics on microblogging, we can see what young people care most about. Social justice and government accountability runs the first in what they demand. For the past decade or so, a massive urbanization and development have let us witness a lot of reports on the forced demolition of private property. And it has aroused huge anger and frustration among our young generation. Sometimes people get killed, and sometimes people set themselves on fire to protest. So when these incidents are reported more and more frequently on the Internet, people cry for the government to take actions to stop this. So the good news is that earlier this year, the state council passed a new regulation on house requisition and demolition and passed the right to order forced demolition from local governments to the court. Similarly, many other issues concerning public safety is a hot topic on the Internet. We heard about polluted air, polluted water, poisoned food. And guess what, we have faked beef. They have sorts of ingredients that you brush on a piece of chicken or fish, and it turns it to look like beef. And then lately, people are very concerned about cooking oil, because thousands of people have been found [refining] cooking oil from restaurant slop. So all these things have aroused a huge outcry from the Internet. And fortunately, we have seen the government responding more timely and also more frequently to the public concerns. While young people seem to be very sure about their participation in public policy-making, but sometimes they’re a little bit lost in terms of what they want for their personal life. China is soon to pass the U.S. as the number one market for luxury brands — that’s not including the Chinese expenditures in Europe and elsewhere. But you know what, half of those consumers are earning a salary below 2,000 U.S. dollars. They’re not rich at all. They’re taking those bags and clothes as a sense of identity and social status. And this is a girl explicitly saying on a TV dating show that she would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle. But of course, we do have young people who would still prefer to smile, whether in a BMW or [on] a bicycle. So in the next picture, you see a very popular phenomenon called “naked” wedding, or “naked” marriage. It does not mean they will wear nothing in the wedding, but it shows that these young couples are ready to get married without a house, without a car, without a diamond ring and without a wedding banquet, to show their commitment to true love. And also, people are doing good through social media. And the first picture showed us that a truck caging 500 homeless and kidnapped dogs for food processing was spotted and stopped on the highway with the whole country watching through microblogging. People were donating money, dog food and offering volunteer work to stop that truck. And after hours of negotiation, 500 dogs were rescued. And here also people are helping to find missing children. A father posted his son’s picture onto the Internet. After thousands of resends in relay, the child was found, and we witnessed the reunion of the family through microblogging. So happiness is the most popular word we have heard through the past two years. Happiness is not only related to personal experiences and personal values, but also, it’s about the environment. People are thinking about the following questions: Are we going to sacrifice our environment further to produce higher GDP? How are we going to perform our social and political reform to keep pace with economic growth, to keep sustainability and stability? And also, how capable is the system of self-correctness to keep more people content with all sorts of friction going on at the same time? I guess these are the questions people are going to answer. And our younger generation are going to transform this country while at the same time being transformed themselves. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Danny Hutson

100 thoughts on “Yang Lan: The generation that’s remaking China

  1. what did the intro have to do with anything…long winded and mostly all social media is becoming a spammers paradise and we as humans are still idiots it all comes down to the marketing of your thought

    What did the intro have to do with anything…long winded and mostly all social media is becoming a spammers paradise and we as humans are still backward incompatible Cro-Magnon shells, so basically it all comes down to the marketing of your thought. That's all TED is – thought marketing.

  3. Would love to see more talks such as this, here in the West we want to learn more about China, it's people and the way they view the changing world. Great video! Pls more! 🙂

  4. 我觉得世界对中国的误解的消解还需要一个很长的过程。虽然我们有杨澜女士这样的,希望把中国的美好一面展现给世界的新一代中国人,但中国被世界理解还需要一个很长得过程。

  5. Ta zuo de hen hao jizhe gongzuo ! Xi fang ren men neng ting de dong. 
     She does her journalist job very god. For western people so it is possible to understand a little more about china…….  

  6. I hope the thorium reactor project bears fruit at Shanghai University. I know it has fallen behind. It's so much safer than U235 reactors because it can barely operate above critical. Wouldn't be wonderful to see clear skies and electric cars over China! That and the corruption especially with polluters poisoning the people must be stopped.

  7. Although she laid out a lot of problems the current chinese society is facing, actually those problems are mainly caused by chinese government themselves.(especially untrust against the govenment, and workers at foxcon committing suicide because of bad labor conditions). But she gives no explanation how to overcome those problems. The cold stone fact is this: there isn't a proper way for the people to be heard in china, and weibo is just the reflection of that. Not a solution.(and even weibo is severely censored so that political outbreaks don't get startled.)

  8. This talk is very misleading. The fact is that abject poverty is a HUGE problem in China (both rural and urban). Some farmers are beginning to quote Mao with approval, calling for the "iron rice bowl" of past days. Of course, the nostalgia is born of desperation and forgetfulness of the cultural revolution. Also, whatever she said notwithstanding, illiteracy and lack of access to education is a serious problem (especially for the children of the migrants she mentions), and the burden of expense falls mostly on the families and not the state. There is also a digital divide which separates so many young Chinese people from the netizens she discusses. Further, since this talk, China has cancelled one of the TV shows she mentioned (along with several others) and tries to control the flow of information online. The CCP tends to conceal its real motives by claiming the need to keep Chinese culture from excessive "Westernization" and "immorality." The authorities are probably less worried about hip hop and western influenced fashion then they are afraid of criticism of the system and exposure of extreme corruption and abusive labor practices et al. When the kids of today become the leaders of tomorrow, it is at least possible that they will make meaningful reforms and changes. But that's just speculation at this point.

  9. She may be came from a rich Chinese family that's why but her speech made nonsense. yes, typical Chinese is just like her.

  10. Chinese people need to though West website to understand more hometown, but cannot in there hometown which is sad thing for Chinese people..

  11. “救狗”那个例子让我很不爽,这纯粹就是人多势众欺负人嘛。谁能说自己有权力决定别人能吃什么,不能吃什么?那些高速拦车的脑残就是捏软柿子

  12. So many Chinese people here in the comment, using their so called wisdom start with "as a Chinese" then insult China. It is really frustrating to read, please stop.

  13. Her accent sounds great and much better than most native english speakers. I think the elegant temperament makes her voice so charming.

  14. The lecture is so great, even 7 years passed by. Some problems and phenomenon still exist nowadays. She gave a powerful presentation to introduce China on the international stage.Hope more people can understand China and Chineses better.

  15. Very moderate and good wished even though we know no pain no gain. It needs time and real provoking thinking from the past to near future…

  16. She speaks a lot, yet can't really tell what is the main content of her speech. She covers s lot of topic yet no answer was provide and not enough information was given. But I will admit that her English is quite good.

  17. Even though I'm not a Chinese or a pro-Chinese or whatsoever, I feel sad when reading comments that people here thought that this might Chinese propaganda or some sort of brain washing video that waste your time. I see this video as another option of perspectives on how we understand China. In many mainstream Western media, China's image isn't the best you can perceive. But that's solely based mostly on the mainstream Western or Western influenced media. Yes there are many true negative issues that have been pointed out by those medias or even sides that cannot accept China as a positive existence. Despite that, I think it is important to acknowledge the diversity of perception especially with one that was delivered by Yan Lan (China in Chinese Perspective) in this Ted Talk so people won't be too arrogant over their own ideas and much more open minded.

  18. Why are the title and intro of this video all in Chinese only? This is highly likely to prevent people speaking different languages from watching it !

  19. awesome, beautiful LADY! How different from Western women. WHAT A REFINED LADY! How things have changed in China since then! A total turn around!

  20. Self-correctness: Luxury Brands especially from USA (mtv, apple, artistes) can solve this by re-representing a better image towards this generation.

  21. Having to take care of 4 grandparents with limited income, these youngsters are taking responsibilities unmatched by other countries particularly from the West.

  22. It's NOT COMPLICATED (God's FINAL JUDGEMENT on planet earth). Here is the V E R D I C T : John 3:19 "Men loved the darkness
    more than the LIGHT…lest their deeds be exposed". Get it, Reverend? (Your "pet rocks" will not save you, ISAIAH 44:8, 41:26-29*). Am I not the very first to declare this for you? And to think: Donald Trump once said he could commit a murder "on 5th Avenue" and the people would all just do "nothing" (Jeremiah 5:12 suggests otherwise). Isn't he afraid some Muslim student will get an advanced degree in ADVANCED COMPUTER SCIENCE, fly home to his native land, be drafted at his home airport (because of that degree), assigned duty in a nuclear missile base out in the back woods, show up for duty on time, and whisper directly into that righteous Muslim base commander's ear how they "murdered some poor old man on 5th Ave in America" — and all he had been doing was "talking about GOD" and also quoting some provocative HOLY SCRIPTURES that displeased those blood-hungry "red caps". (And so he got in a scuffle with two security Policemen who tried to restrain his anger, shot one in the lower right leg during a scuffle, ducked and ran fifty yards, entered an underground bunker, waved that pistol about and scream at those astonished soldiers that "THIS IS NOT A D R I L L … I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. . . WE'RE GOING TO LAUNCH ! ! ! ).
    My Question is this: WAS GOD JUST "TRICKING ME" WHEN HE SHOWED ME A VISION OF THAT FUTURE EVENT? Well — let's FIND OUT! (I'm going down to hang around on 5th Avenue . . . where I MANY M U S L I M FRIEND S , continue quoting the Bible (it was always consider ":good" — and NOT "false facts" — RIGHT — e.g., John 3:19-21 "light vs. darkness") and await the bullet in my skull that sends me to heaven [ I have PEOPLE WAITING FOR ME UP THERE, including my dad, an ordained "man of God", my mom (a church organist), my brother who died on active duty in the USAF Strategic Air Command [ his plane was lost at sea, no body recovered, they just presented us with a folded flag ], my German pen-pal (a Catholic priest's sister) and many others. Let's GET IT ON YOU THERE, D R. M E N G E L E who pretends to be "God's Servant" (why, the prostitutes in the city also learned to be your "peace makers" — not so?). And I trust my God will eventually A V E N G E M E on those "bands of wicked" who robbed and murdered me (and to think: originally, I just thought it was some little illness I could live with). Am I not RIGHT? (Isaiah 41:26).

  23. the road by chinese communist gov't paved with blood of chinese people opposed to communist regime of china. the invasion and genocide of tibetans and uyghurs people, oppression of organ harvesting of falun gong practitioner, aggression, invasion and building artificial islands in south-east sea that belong to vietnam, and ramming and sinking so many vietnamese fishing boats, supporting and haboring north korea dictator regime and condoning nuclear weapon testing, stealing technologies and personal intellectual properties, etc…. china isn't what china is today without KILLING, BULLYING, STEALING, and LYING. these are just a few crimes committed by china. if this woman traveled so much and spoke to so many people, i'm pretty sure she didn't speak to the the people of TAIWAN and HONG KONG because they HATED china.

  24. The Chinese government had ruthlessly doing a big fantasy to take every other part of other nation, dreaming of dominating the global

  25. The Chinese are manipulator, you think it can be benefit for everybody, then instead it can benefit for them

  26. I love chinese people but not communist party who acts as their government. Hope chinese people in china will know the true meaning of being free.

  27. If being part of china means hk has to live under fear and worry from chinese communist china then …………

  28. Thanks God, it is not 'Greenhorns for sale'. Bullshits and cowdungs make rich fertilizers and burning grassy fire fuel. Conforming to 'Go Green' for the world.

  29. 作为在国内受教然后有过留洋经历的人,杨澜的英文已经非常厉害了。她知道怎样用西方人喜欢和容易接受的方式介绍中国和中国发生的事情,从这一点上来说,她的确是个成功的媒体人。

  30. ?杨澜真的很棒,有气质,有内涵, 有才华的女子. 用英文演讲也是气场全开, 精神抖擞, 颇有气质气质和气势.
    但是我也感觉到演讲的一个问题,就是没有把新中国的新的面貌讲出来. 比如上海北京等大城市的发展,城市设施的建设,以及GDP的提高和人民生活水平的提高. 总之, 演讲给了我们很多很新的和好的信息,但是却缺乏一些祖国欣欣向荣, 非常繁荣富强的景色没有. 而且在演讲中展示图画都是农村的场景,完全和我们城市生活格格不入. 不知道为什么不可以加入一些大城市的元素和高级白领的元素以及城市设施和背景的元素.?

  31. Glad to see China keeps advancing herself. Now is 2019 and it seems China is getting stronger and China must be on the correct track of progress.

  32. It is my personal observation
    In the West it's all about Me the Individual
    But in the East it's more about Us the Society or Community at large over Me the Individual !
    There is no right or wrong but appreciate this Difference !

  33. China is only advancing technologically and competing with the West, not because they are innovators but because they have either stolen or been given advancements they did neither discover or invent.

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