“Imagine you were born in 1955, so now you’re 59 years old. Your youth was quite possibly affected by the GLF famine, where you either witnessed or at least heard about people fighting almost literally like animals for survival, often having to compete with their neighbors and “do whatever it takes” to ensure food for their family. These experiences will never really leave you, and their effects will linger with you subconsciously.
You also grew up hearing lots of stories about the wars with Japan and the civil war from your parents, and your education was full of hardline leftist theory. Around the age of high school or university, the WHGM hits and you either become a Guard, a potential target, or try to just hide until the madness is over. The educational system itself melts down for nearly a decade when you were essentially going through your transition to adulthood. Meanwhile, your country essentially commits cultural suicide, leaving a massive hole in your values system, heritage, and sense of identity that still hasn’t even been fully realized.
Then it’s just…over. Deng takes over, and all of a sudden basically pulls a total 180 degree turn from the whole hardline leftist thing. You just go straight from wearing red scarves in your teenage years to becoming a super-competitive business tycoon (or lackey) in what will soon become the fastest-growing economy ever, anywhere, at any time. All the Marxist stuff basically gets gently bumped out of the picture as GGKF evolves, and suddenly you go from being trained to avoid foreign spies and celebrate the proletariat to buying Japanese TVs and working for HSBC, or at a factory making Happy Meal toys for obese American children.
Now you’re flooded with foreign images of wealth you’d never imagined, and money seems to be pouring in. In two decades you go from being excited about your first Panasonic radio to cynically comparing the benefits of an Audi vs. a BMW. In your youth, the government provided the fangzi and nobody needed a che, but now you’re expected to have both to get a serious date.
So how could you, when it’s now your turn to lead society, not create a confusing mishmash? Your life has been a confusing mishmash, and the only constant thing you’ve been able to rely on is having enough resources and guanxi to pull yourself through whatever comes.
Ideology? What does that mean anymore? Cultural identity? Didn’t you spend a decade getting rid of that? As a kid you learned that sometimes you had to be a little ruthless to survive, and the hyper-competitive 80s and 90s rewarded that ruthlessness with piles of cash and the status symbols that came with it.
True, you still have an empty hole in the center of your being, but since you don’t have anything to fill it with you just throw consumption and hedonism (under the guise of “Western culture”) into it, hoping that eventually it’ll be filled up, or that at least it’ll distract you until you no longer care.
Anyway, that’s my best stab at it.”
Image is Deng Xiopeng featured as Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1979 http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,916563,00.html