Gen-Z dreams big. An entrepreneur.com article indicates that 41% of the Generation-Z kids plan to be entrepreneur. They have to. As the AI and automation gradually taking over the traditional employment model, Gen-Z has to explore their career path that could be differed to any generations. They will have to think big and think our of the box, and that’s exactly what entrepreneurship looks like.

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In China, the picture can be seem even more clearly. With the rising of Tiktok/Kwai, Gen-Z ‘relentlessly’ occupies the attention of Chinese netizens through short video and live-streaming shows. They are the core force in restructuring Chinese commercial demographic, although they are young.

The Coming Wave Went Viral

This May marks the 101st anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, named for student demonstrations against the Treaty of Versailles, which gave Japan commercial and territorial concessions in Shandong, that took place on May 4, 1919 in Beijing.

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Bilibili (regarded as the Chinese Youtube), a Chinese video sharing and streaming giant, celebrated the May Fourth Movement legacy with a video titled “The Coming Wave” (《后浪》).

“The Coming Wave” was named after a popular saying, “the Yangtze’s coming waves drive the previous waves forward,”(长江后浪推前浪) originally intended as a paean to May Fourth National Youth Day, has reignited debate on the Chinese internet about the legacy of the May Fourth Movement, today’s youth culture.

In 1939, the Chinese Communist Party incorporated a new holiday, May Fourth National Youth Day, which aimed to celebrate the idealism and vigor of the original Movement. Today, the holiday is an anodyne celebration of youth and their role in national development.

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“The Coming Wave” is delivered as an emotional speech by the 51 year-old narrator Hé Bīng, accompanied by an arresting series of images. The first is a person walking on the moon. More images follow in rapid succession: sky-diving, a young man with a VR headset on, a woman studying English on a tablet, what seems to be a child’s unboxing video, jumping for the camera in front of the Eiffel tower, women wearing faux traditional clothing, bungee jumping, more sky-diving, etc.

Bing starts his speech with a reminder, “It’s as if all of the wealth, all of the knowledge, experience, wisdom, and art that humanity has been collecting for thousands of years has been prepared as a gift specifically for you.” He is envious of the youth.

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A minute into the video, he finally reaches his thesis: “You all have the rights to do something we have only been able to dream about, the right to choose.” He then goes on to list a narrow set of “freedoms” that this right allows today’s youth: to self-study a language, to learn a new handicraft, to enjoy a movie, to travel to a far-off place.

Two-thirds of the way into his speech, the soundtrack drops to pianissimo and He Bing faces the camera. He paraphrases a famous quote from Confucius’ Analects, “The noble person is conciliatory, but not conformist; the vile character is conformist but not conciliatory.” He admonishes satire as the defense of the weak.

Another Side of the Coin

Many Chinese internet users were inspired by “The Coming Wave,” and shared it freely. However, some ‘sharp-eyed’ commentators were quick to criticize. At the heart of their criticism is an attempt to reclaim the core values of the May Fourth movement and wrest them away from the “previous waves” of older generations.

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A viral Wechat essay was also written in response to the video, titled The previous wave takes over Bilibili and stomps on the Coming Wave tears apart the The Coming Wave citing the video’s ahistorical viewpoint, co-option of youthful values, and diminution of culture in the name of consumerism.

The author of the essay, who writes under the pen name Old Jiang, pleads with readers: “Please note –– “The Coming Wave” does not encourage youth to enter the public arena, but rather impels them to remain in a more selfish and narrow place.” At the center of the essay’s argument is the allusion to the water from Lethe (孟婆汤), a legendary concoction that makes the drinker forget all previous longing, pain, or shame.

The Bilibili video turns the stirring May Fourth Movement calls for freedom and technology into the comforting fare of lifestyle choice and electronics.

On Zhi-hu, a most popular question-and-answer social media site, an article titled How should we evaluate Bilibili’s May Fourth Youth Day propaganda short “The Coming Wave? attracted over 18,000 responses. A popular answer writes that the video is entirely unrelated to China’s youth and that attempts to analyze whether it can truly represent the younger generations are meaningless. The writer imagines the forty-fifty year old “previous wave” seeing the video and thinking, “wow, Bilibili actually has positive energy, it’s not as messed up as I’d heard it was.” But she does not see representation of today’s youth in the video, simply an idealized projection.

Bilibili might be blind to the irony of using Confucian allegory to criticize satire on May Fourth Movement, but youthful irreverence in China is alive and well. As the video closes, the “bullets” (Bilibili’s on-screen commentary system) roaring “surge forth, coming wave!” cross the screen, one user slips in “surge forth, national soccer team” in the trademark sarcastic humor of beleaguered Chinese soccer fans.—edited from Alexander Boyd, supchina.com

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It should not be the only focal point whether the Chinese Gen-Z was rightfully represented by Bilibili’s The Coming Wave. The country’s issue of generation gap needs a patch and the wide-spreading video can function like one.

The greatness of The Coming Wave can be viewed from a commercial perspective as well—as Bilibili decides to be a Chinese Youtube, its audience demographic cannot always remains Gen-Z, but the content has to be more universal. It seems that the video site is trying to play the reconciliation role for the different age groups in China through a “please come closer to see me clearer” story.

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If the strategy works, Bilibili could draw new traffic from band new age groups as the interests to understand the Chinese Gen-Z is well-crafted.

Edited by Joreal Qian