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Narcissistic Kids Spell Trouble ahead for China

How times have changed in China. In Mao’s era, a traveler visiting Beijing might have heard people singing the famous song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China” with such patriotic, socialist lyrics as “The Communist Party toiled for the nation / The Communist Party of one mind saved China!”

Not today. As Evan Osnos writes in the New Yorker, schoolchildren in at least one rural town have taken to singing a very different kind of song:

Ever since God created all things on earth, there has not been one person like me. My eyes and my ears, my brain and my soul, all are exceptional. Nobody speaks or behaves like me, no one before me and no one will after me. I am the biggest miracle of nature!

“The spirit of individualism is so pronounced,” writes Osnos, “that people pine a bit for the days when they felt unified by a common enterprise.” The collapse in popularity of Lei Feng (pictured left), an ordinary soldier plucked from obscurity to become an icon of Mao-era selflessness, whose portrait can occasionally still be seen on revolutionary and patriotic propaganda around China today, embodies the shift of Chinese society to fierce individualism and “relentless self-definition.”

Three films about Lei Feng were released in Chinese theaters recently. Ticket sales have been abysmal, despite the Communist Party’s striving to make him, as the NYT reports, “a role model for Chinese society today as the government is trying to improve the social moral environment.”

An increasingly individualistic Chinese society might seem to be a welcome indicator of China’s modernization. But there’s a dark side. A team of researchers found that among young people in China, those born after 1979 were “significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals.”

One doesn’t envy the party comrades charged with keeping these kids on the ideological reservation when they grow up. If no one turns out to watch a glorious series of films about Lei Feng, the great and selfless young apparatchik, how can today’s comrades hope to keep Communist enthusiasm alive?

But there’s at least a silver lining to these dark clouds. Chinese children may not be quite as doomed as us the youth here in the United States. The healthiest and most realistic part of that playground credo Osnos quotes above, the reference to the Creator of all things, would be illegal in an American school.

[Image: Wikipedia.]

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