- China’s young adults have begun referring to themselves as the country’s “last generation.”
- The now-censored “last generation” hashtag conveys young people’s disillusionment and resentment.
- It’s also been used by some to lash out at China’s relentless push to increase its birth rate.
Shanghai resident Dylann Wang has spent a good part of the last two months casually contemplating what his life — and death — would mean.
Wang is single and childless, and his only living relative is his father, who lives in Wuhu, a city in Anhui province, approximately 300 miles away. Locked down in his studio apartment since April 1, the IT professional told Insider that if he were to die of starvation or suicide, it would take weeks for his friends and neighbors to realize he’d passed.
While he continues to work from home and clock in the necessary hours, Wang told Insider that he finds little to live for and nothing to look forward to other than eating a decent meal and getting a good night’s sleep. Beyond that, he says that during the lockdown, he found he started profoundly identifying with the idea of being a member of China’s “last generation,” a now-censored hashtag that trended on Chinese social media over the last week.
The term stemmed from a viral video that has since been scrubbed from Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like platform. In the video, several officers clad in protective gear are seen threatening residents in Shanghai, declaring that if they were to refuse to abide by the city’s COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, some “three generations” of their family would be negatively impacted. In response to the warning, a man replies curtly: “Sorry, we are the last generation, thanks!”
Wang told Insider that he admired the man in the video, commenting that “the man was speaking for all of the youths” when he called his own generation “the last.”
“There are many things that make me think my generation is likely to be China’s last, or its last ‘good’ one,” Wang told Insider, referencing the hashtag. “None of my friends want to have children. And I, for one, don’t want to bring a new life into a world like this, and for them to grow up to be lonely, aimless, and another useless statistic in the country’s birth rate.”
“Lying flat” and disillusionment amongst China’s “last generation”
The hashtag “We are the last generation” has, per the China Digital Times, been linked to a brewing undercurrent of anger that is bubbling and reaching a boiling point amid prolonged and draconian COVID-19 lockdown measures. Screenshots of now-deleted posts seen by the China Digital Times showed a woman with the words “We are the last generation” scrawled across the back of her T-shirt, while other posts appeared to reference imperial rule in China, and the country’s plummeting birth rate.
The new rallying call of China’s last generation might also have its roots in the phenomenon of “lying flat,” a mass movement that referenced the rebellion of disenchanted Chinese youth against the hyper-competitive lifestyle. Many young adults choose to “lie flat” rather than engage in China’s 9-9-6 “hustle” culture, where people work 12 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
At press time, Insider’s search of the term on Weibo yielded a clean slate, indicating that the platform had quickly censored “last generation” posts. Individual posts not linked to the now-censored hashtag, however, remained online.
Some posts appeared to critique the government’s prolonged lockdown in Shanghai. Meanwhile, other Weibo users used the hashtag as a platform to make posts lashing out at the pressures they face as Chinese youth to get married, have kids, and carry on the family line.
“People wonder why this idea of the ‘last generation’ is something that people our age strongly respond to. Where I’m concerned, I admire that man’s courage in voicing what we all feel. We face pressure to give birth. Women are continually harangued and abused. Even men don’t want children,” read one Weibo post.
Using the hashtag to comment on the country’s birth rate, some posters even went so far as to compare having a child to “giving birth to a hostage.”
“Our country’s history is built on blood. We give birth to children only to fight wars, work and suffer. There is no future, and no past worth looking back on,” wrote another Weibo user.
Other posts on Weibo referenced how it was not the fault of China’s young people that they might be their family’s “last generation.” Some posts even used the hashtag to laud the “DINK revolution” — a reference to the idea of some Chinese couples who choose to stick to a lifestyle of “Double-Income-No-Kids.”
“The fact that we are likely to be our family’s ‘last generation’ is not something that any of us really wanted. Property is unaffordable, and home loans would take several decades just to pay back. The cost of living is high, and rent is a problem, too. Let’s not even talk about sending kids to expensive private schools,” read the account of another Weibo poster. “And what’s more? The government doesn’t take any of this seriously.”
The now-censored hashtag belies a long-brewing undercurrent of rage
Insider spoke to Xie Donghua, a Changsha-based restaurant industry executive, who said that the concept of a “last generation” had been brewing online for months, but that no one had articulated it in such succinct terms until the viral video.
“We think it, but we don’t say it,” Xie said. “What’s the point of saying it when nothing changes? For most people my age, the idea of ‘speaking out’ feels like banging one’s head against a stone wall. But it does not mean we are not angry.”
Similar to the resentment expressed by Xie, comments on Weibo viewed by Insider linked to the now-censored “last generation” hashtag appeared to reference a deep dissatisfaction with life and the status quo in China.
“We see everything clearly, but we have no power to change anything,” read one Weibo user. “I’m resigned.”
Another Weibo post seen by Insider read: “Our hopes have been crushed, and there’s more desire for death than for life itself.”
One Weibo user based in Shanghai — where people endured a weeks-long lockdown to comply with China’s zero-Covid strategy — wrote, quoting the hashtag: “It’s understandable that with life, comes suffering. But now, apart from suffering, we have a stranglehold around our throats dictating how we live our lives. This is unbearable.”
Penning a short poem, another Weibo user said they were “tired of the future, and themselves.”
“The adventures are done. The aspirations are gone. The songs are finished,” read the poem. “For this last generation, nothing remains.”