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Official Poll Finds Young Chinese Look Down on US, West

FILE - Students prepare to take part in the annual national college entrance exam outside a high school in Beijing, China July 7, 2020.
FILE - Students prepare to take part in the annual national college entrance exam outside a high school in Beijing, China July 7, 2020.

A poll conducted by one of China's official media outlets found that as many as 90 percent of the nation's young people look at the West and the United States as equal to China or even look down on them.

The survey of 1,655 people aged 14 to 35 in more than 100 cities was conducted by the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, which also found the respondents becoming more confident.

The poll results contrast with recent social developments such as a declining birth rate and young people so frustrated by the lack of upward social mobility that they are opting out of marrying, having children, purchasing a home or car, and joining the money-driven rat race.

Released on October 21, during the 20th Communist Party Congress, the Global Times story on its survey quoted experts saying Chinese society has been stable, allowing people to live and work in peace and happiness, while Western countries have been in constant turmoil in recent years due to political divisions, racism and party struggles.

"The stark contrast between China and the West has given Chinese young people more confidence," says the report on the poll, which also cited China's growing global influence.

The results show that 43.9 percent of Chinese young people have become less favorable toward Western countries. More than 90 percent of young people say they "equally look" at (39.3 percent) or "look down" on (54.6 percent) Western countries. The poll found only 3.9 percent of respondents "look up" to the West and the U.S., and the Global Times story said that was a marked decrease from five years ago when 37.2 percent looked up to the West.

The poll and the accompanying story also said Beijing's performance in areas such as social security (45.1 percent) and history and culture (40.5 percent) contributed to the attitudes of young people.

In an interview with VOA Mandarin, Chen Dean, an associate professor of political science at Ramapo College of New Jersey, said that in a dictatorial country like China, polls are not very representative of what the people really think, and even if they do represent real ideas, those may be the result of propaganda and brainwashing.

He said the Chinese Communist Party has deliberately adopted an attitude of hostility toward the West in its political propaganda for domestic consumption, stirring up strong nationalism and xenophobia, and making young people feel anti-American, with the aim of diverting young people's sense of powerlessness about the future.

However, some Chinese young people interviewed by VOA Mandarin said they believed that many of their cohort generally have a good feeling toward Western countries and American culture, which represents the spirit of freedom.

Xiao Xin, a Shandong native and 24-year-old student, told VOA Mandarin that young and educated people who were able to browse more of the internet during China's more open past are, in general, very dissatisfied with China's current closed-door situation. Even though the percentage of young people who are "looking down" on the West has increased due to China's propaganda, according to Xiao Xin, it is not as high as the 90 percent the poll reports.

He believes the poll data could be exaggerated or falsified, adding, "I believe when the lies are debunked, the figure will be less than 30 percent."

Xiao Xin said that in 2012, the year before Xi Jinping became president and began the gradual imposition of greater content restrictions, American movies were still available on Chinese websites. Since then, the movies have become almost impossible to find as a result of a very deliberate campaign by the Chinese government, he said.

He believes that the average young Chinese person of his generation, who had been exposed to American TV shows and movies and other American culture since childhood, still aspired to much of what they saw.

Mr. Yang, who asked VOA Mandarin to not use his full name due to fear of official retaliation, is a 29-year-old Jiangsu native studying for a graduate degree. He told VOA Mandarin that China's post-1980s generation grew up in an environment with full exposure to the West, so they will look at the West as the source of new ideas. But the younger Generation Z grew up as Beijing emphasized the development of national self-confidence. As much of China's infrastructure no longer lags behind that of Europe and the United States, Yang said Gen Zers naturally feel that China is better.

Yang said he believes that measures the U.S. has taken to counter China have contributed to the nationalism of some young Chinese. For example, he said, U.S. restrictions on visas for Chinese students in science and technology may have contributed to the falling favorability ratings for the U.S.

Mr. Yang added that while some young Chinese do have increased self-confidence because China is the world's second-largest economy after the U.S., there is a large percentage of people who believe that China should live in harmony with Europe and the United States.

Bo Gu contributed to this report.