A Truth Central Perspective by Laura Liang & Bonnie Zhang, McCann Shanghai


Here we go again! Wonderful, heart-warming, festive… if not a bit demanding: the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday! It is a tradition, a responsibility and maybe also a bit of a burden, especially to some Chinese youth.

After all the passion and craving for great food in a lively atmosphere (and maybe for traditional red envelopes containing cash gifts) has faded, youth nowadays find themselves somewhat ambivalent when it comes to the Chinese New Year celebration.

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Most Chinese youth have a bitter-sweet relationship with their parents, in large part because Chinese parents are arguably the most anxious in the world: our Truth About Global Brands research revealed that 78% of people in China believe that everyone wants their children to be more successful than they are themselves. Youth are under tremendous pressure not only while growing up, but well into their adult lives, contending with constant attention from parents and extended family on their personal lives. Dating and marriage is a particular topic of friction: beginning the week before CNY, you can find a “boyfriend/girlfriend to rent” from taobao.com (the biggest online shopping platform in China) available to children keen to stall their parents’ marital inquisitions. How To Survive the Torture From Your Family on CNY has become a hot topic on social media websites, and young Chinese are enthusiastically poking fun at themselves through creative cartoons, emoticons etc.

Nevertheless, even before this conflict bubbled up to the surface of culture, there were many signs of youth trying to manage these family dynamics, in their own way.

While youth in the rest of the world are shifting their focus back to family and looking inwards in these times of uncertainty, Chinese youth are turning their heads towards the bigger world, away from their families. In 2015, a quarter of those between the ages of 16-30 would like to be remembered as a person who changed the world in a positive way (a significant increase from 6% in 2011) or a person who made everyone laugh (from 7% 2011 to 24% in 2015). By contrast, the percentage of youth globally who said they want to be remembered as someone who looked after their friends and family grew from 20% to 25%, even as the percentage that said they wanted to be remembered as someone who was loved by many people dropped from 27% to 23% over the same time frame. Under increasing pressure to be successful and to better themselves, youth feel strongly that the best way to settle the tension with their families is to reinvent tradition, and especially to bring “newness” to the CNY rituals.

The most popular game on social media websites during the 2015 CNY was probably “the red envelope rush” on WeChat. On the eve of CNY, during the popular national TV program The CNY Gala alone, “the red envelope rush” had a cash flow of 1/2 billion yuan online. Youth are finding new ways to connect with their family – the Internet, where they can play the same game and exchange best wishes for CNY on WeChat.

Besides the Internet, youth have found another way to connect with the family without being interrogated at a dining table – travel.  The biggest travel service platform “Ctrip” has launched their forecast of Chinese tourists travelling abroad in 2016: they expect another double-digit increase during the 2016 CNY compared to 2015. Taking your family to explore the world is becoming another hot travel trend in China. This has brought new excitement to CNY and softened the tension between youth and their families.

Stop pretending and hiding! Face your family and still be yourself. In the festive season, Chinese youth are still ambivalent towards CNY; however, by putting their own touch on traditions, they are well on their way to evolving them, in their playful and creative way. That is the real “happiness” of CNY.