On August 5, the Financial Times published the final installment in a series of articles that explains the alarming scale of China’s debt problem. Titled “China millennials’ love of credit cards raises debt fears,” the latest article focuses on a generation of young consumers in China, who have broken the frugal habits of their elders and become increasingly comfortable with making payments on borrowed money.
Seeing the potential of making a viral article out of it, Sina Finance, an online news portal with a focus on business news, ran a piece (in Chinese) on August 7 that has been generating some heated discussions on the Chinese social media. Citing a string of facts from the Financial Times article, such as the controversial rise of online peer-to-peer lending among young people in their twenties and the rapid accumulation of household debt, the Sina piece is not particularly interesting in that it doesn’t bring any fresh data-supported aspects into the conversation. However, it still became a hot topic, as many internet users found the way it portrays Chinese millennials to be offensive and irritating.
Headlined “Are young people in China leading the country into a crisis,” which is objectively clickbaity, the article is essentially a tirade against spending habits of Chinese millennials, who are burdened with colossal debts as a price for their “live-in-the-moment lifestyle.” It argues that certain items represent Chinese millennials, including “the latest smartphone, luxury clothing, and Starbucks selfies shared on social media,” adding that their penchant for extravagance and impulsive shopping is damaging the nation’s financial security.
The generalizations about millennials, the stereotypes that the article perpetrates, and the oversimplified correlation it suggests between young people’s spending habits and China’s debt crisis quickly drew the ire of many internet users.
Below are some representative comments:
“Is this a new joke?”
“Hilarious. I work hard, but I still can’t afford a house. Now I’m not allowed to drink Starbucks, buy bags, and travel?”
“You failed to regulate P2P lending. Why am I blamed for that? Some of the points you made are true, but these chaotic phenomena have largely ensued from your lax supervision.”
“Get the f**k out of here. Which one do you think is easier? Paying off debts for a smartphone or a house? Why can’t I live in the moment? Why do I have to spend my whole life paying off debt to buy a house?”
“What a headline!”
Other media also weighed in. In a rebuttal to the Sina article, the Beijing News published a commentary on August 8, arguing that it’s unfair to cast the entire blame on millennials when it comes to China’s debt threat. “The conclusion is utterly preposterous because that article ignores a variety of factors that also contributed to the phenomenon, such as politics, the economy, and society,” the author wrote. “The mistake is a product of the generation gap and the writer’s bias toward young people.”
This is not the first time that Chinese millennials have been reprimanded for their personal choices. Over the years, in various media, they have been made scapegoats for everything, including the decline of birth rates and the flourishing of “demotivational culture” (丧文化 sàngwénhuà).