Many Chinese millennials have a different view on what is important in life. Photo: iStock

Their parents were part of the golden generation, riding China’s economic wave in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st Century. As the economy boomed, they prospered and joined the country’s rising middle class.

Affluence and optimism went hand in hand.

But for their children, it is a completely different story. Known as the “Zen-Generation,” a growing number of millennials are turning their backs on a high-pressured existence and high-paid jobs in the corporate world.

Instead, they are content to adopt a “passive” attitude, hence the “Zen” tag, and focus on the quality of life and not the quality of their bank balance.

“People who call themselves the Zen-Generation, either seriously or half-jokingly, are seemingly fine with anything that happens to them. They are not inspired by any patriotic drive or the Party’s political catchphrases,” the state-run Global Times stressed.

“They are simply indifferent. In other words, there are few things they care about. Be it missing the bus, getting turned down for a promotion or failing to find a spouse, they simply shrug and move on.”

Globally, this could be true of other millennials and generations, from late ‘baby boomers’ to the X-box tribe.

But in the world’s second-largest economy, it hardly fits into President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” vision or Communist Party doctrine.

The People’s Daily, which runs Global Times and is the official mouthpiece of the Party, was blistering in its condemnation, branding “this new trend as a passive reaction against the rapid reforms, changes and developments of modern-day Chinese society.”

“You work hard but only see limited returns, like you’re in an endless loop,” he said. “I want to be rich to overcome the meaninglessness of life. With money, you can do whatever you want.”

What is more difficult to explain is how this “defeatism attitude,” as the government would surely see it, is spreading to an even younger generation.

One elementary school student confessed he just wanted to be rich to escape the “meaningless of life,” during a public speaking event last weekend in Hangzhou, which is situated in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

Dripping with cynicism, his comments were captured on a smartphone and the video went viral on social media sites before it was blocked, Reuters news agency reported.

“You work hard but only see limited returns, like you’re in an endless loop,” he said. “I want to be rich to overcome the meaninglessness of life. With money, you can do whatever you want.”

Similar to other parts of the world, China is going through a generational identity crisis. Buckling under the pressure of a country obsessed with personal success linked to government-backed economic targets, they are struggling to cope with the rapid changes in society.

“What the boy wants is not just money, but freedom in life, to be able to get rid of the hollowness of life,” one person said on Weibo, the country’s answer to Twitter.

“The pupil has figured out life at such an early age,” another person said. “It took me over three decades.”

For the Zen-Generation, these views resonate as they pursue other interests. Many feel their lifestyles are far more important than the obsession with six-figure salaries and the pressure that entails.

“The harsh competition going upward in society is making many young people anxious and perplexed,” Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, said in a WeChat post.

Unlike their parents, the Zen-Generation also appears to be searching for a way of life that money simply cannot buy or the Party has failed to provide.

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