Yang Lan: The generation that’s remaking China

Yang Lan, a journalist and entrepreneur who’s been called “the Oprah of China,” offers insight into the next generation of young Chinese citizens — urban, connected (via microblogs) and alert to injustice.

The night before I was heading for Scotland, I was invited to host the final of “China’s Got Talent” show in Shanghai with the 80,000 live audience in the stadium. Guess who was the performing guest? Susan Boyle. And I told her, “I’m going to Scotland the next day.” She sang beautifully, and she even managed to say a few words in Chinese: 送你葱 So it’s not like “hello” or “thank you,” that ordinary stuff. It means “green onion for free.” Why did she say that? Because it was a line from our Chinese parallel Susan Boyle — a 50-some year-old woman, a vegetable vendor in Shanghai, who loves singing Western opera, but she didn’t understand any English or French or Italian, so she managed to fill in the lyrics with vegetable names in Chinese. (Laughter) And the last sentence of Nessun Dorma that she was singing in the stadium was “green onion for free.” So [as] Susan Boyle was saying that, 80,000 live audience sang together. That was hilarious.

So I guess both Susan Boyle and this vegetable vendor in Shanghai belonged to otherness. They were the least expected to be successful in the business called entertainment, yet their courage and talent brought them through. And a show and a platform gave them the stage to realize their dreams. Well, being different is not that difficult. We are all different from different perspectives. But I think being different is good, because you present a different point of view. You may have the chance to make a difference.

My generation has been very fortunate to witness and participate in the historic transformation of China that has made so many changes in the past 20, 30 years. I remember that in the year of 1990, when I was graduating from college, I was applying for a job in the sales department of the first five-star hotel in Beijing, Great Wall Sheraton — it’s still there. So after being interrogated by this Japanese manager for a half an hour, he finally said, “So, Miss Yang, do you have any questions to ask me?” I summoned my courage and poise and said, “Yes, but could you let me know, what actually do you sell?” I didn’t have a clue what a sales department was about in a five-star hotel. That was the first day I set my foot in a five-star hotel.

Around the same time, I was going through an audition — the first ever open audition by national television in China — with another thousand college girls. The producer told us they were looking for some sweet, innocent and beautiful fresh face. So when it was my turn, I stood up and said, “Why [do] women’s personalities on television always have to be beautiful, sweet, innocent and, you know, supportive? Why can’t they have their own ideas and their own voice?” I thought I kind of offended them. But actually, they were impressed by my words. And so I was in the second round of competition, and then the third and the fourth. After seven rounds of competition, I was the last one to survive it. So I was on a national television prime-time show. And believe it or not, that was the first show on Chinese television that allowed its hosts to speak out of their own minds without reading an approved script. (Applause) And my weekly audience at that time was between 200 to 300 million people.

Well after a few years, I decided to go to the U.S. and Columbia University to pursue my postgraduate studies, and then started my own media company, which was unthought of during the years that I started my career. So we do a lot of things. I’ve interviewed more than a thousand people in the past. And sometimes I have young people approaching me say, “Lan, you changed my life,” and I feel proud of that. But then we are also so fortunate to witness the transformation of the whole country. I was in Beijing’s bidding for the Olympic Games. I was representing the Shanghai Expo. I saw China embracing the world and vice versa. But then sometimes I’m thinking, what are today’s young generation up to? How are they different, and what are the differences they are going to make to shape the future of China, or at large, the world?

So today I want to talk about young people through the platform of social media. First of all, who are they? [What] do they look like? Well this is a girl called Guo Meimei — 20 years old, beautiful. She showed off her expensive bags, clothes and car on her microblog, which is the Chinese version of Twitter. And she claimed to be the general manager of Red Cross at the Chamber of Commerce. She didn’t realize that she stepped on a sensitive nerve and aroused national questioning, almost a turmoil, against the credibility of Red Cross. The controversy was so heated that the Red Cross had to open a press conference to clarify it, and the investigation is going on.

So far, as of today, we know that she herself made up that title — probably because she feels proud to be associated with charity. All those expensive items were given to her as gifts by her boyfriend, who used to be a board member in a subdivision of Red Cross at Chamber of Commerce. It’s very complicated to explain. But anyway, the public still doesn’t buy it. It is still boiling. It shows us a general mistrust of government or government-backed institutions, which lacked transparency in the past. And also it showed us the power and the impact of social media as microblog.

Microblog boomed in the year of 2010, with visitors doubled and time spent on it tripled. Sina.com, a major news portal, alone has more than 140 million microbloggers. On Tencent, 200 million. The most popular blogger — it’s not me — it’s a movie star, and she has more than 9.5 million followers, or fans. About 80 percent of those microbloggers are young people, under 30 years old. And because, as you know, the traditional media is still heavily controlled by the government, social media offers an opening to let the steam out a little bit. But because you don’t have many other openings, the heat coming out of this opening is sometimes very strong, active and even violent.

So through microblogging, we are able to understand Chinese youth even better. So how are they different? First of all, most of them were born in the 80s and 90s, under the one-child policy. And because of selected abortion by families who favored boys to girls, now we have ended up with 30 million more young men than women. That could pose a potential danger to the society, but who knows; we’re in a globalized world, so they can look for girlfriends from other countries. Most of them have fairly good education. The illiteracy rate in China among this generation is under one percent. In cities, 80 percent of kids go to college. But they are facing an aging China with a population above 65 years old coming up with seven-point-some percent this year, and about to be 15 percent by the year of 2030. And you know we have the tradition that younger generations support the elders financially, and taking care of them when they’re sick. So it means young couples will have to support four parents who have a life expectancy of 73 years old.

So making a living is not that easy for young people. College graduates are not in short supply. In urban areas, college graduates find the starting salary is about 400 U.S. dollars a month, while the average rent is above $500. So what do they do? They have to share space — squeezed in very limited space to save money — and they call themselves “tribe of ants.” And for those who are ready to get married and buy their apartment, they figured out they have to work for 30 to 40 years to afford their first apartment. That ratio in America would only cost a couple five years to earn, but in China it’s 30 to 40 years with the skyrocketing real estate price.

Among the 200 million migrant workers, 60 percent of them are young people. They find themselves sort of sandwiched between the urban areas and the rural areas. Most of them don’t want to go back to the countryside, but they don’t have the sense of belonging. They work for longer hours with less income, less social welfare. And they’re more vulnerable to job losses, subject to inflation, tightening loans from banks, appreciation of the renminbi, or decline of demand from Europe or America for the products they produce. Last year, though, an appalling incident in a southern OEM manufacturing compound in China: 13 young workers in their late teens and early 20s committed suicide, just one by one like causing a contagious disease. But they died because of all different personal reasons. But this whole incident aroused a huge outcry from society about the isolation, both physical and mental, of these migrant workers.

For those who do return back to the countryside, they find themselves very welcome locally, because with the knowledge, skills and networks they have learned in the cities, with the assistance of the Internet, they’re able to create more jobs, upgrade local agriculture and create new business in the less developed market. So for the past few years, the coastal areas, they found themselves in a shortage of labor.

These diagrams show a more general social background. The first one is the Engels coefficient, which explains that the cost of daily necessities has dropped its percentage all through the past decade, in terms of family income, to about 37-some percent. But then in the last two years, it goes up again to 39 percent, indicating a rising living cost. The Gini coefficient has already passed the dangerous line of 0.4. Now it’s 0.5 — even worse than that in America — showing us the income inequality. And so you see this whole society getting frustrated about losing some of its mobility. And also, the bitterness and even resentment towards the rich and the powerful is quite widespread. So any accusations of corruption or backdoor dealings between authorities or business would arouse a social outcry or even unrest.

So through some of the hottest topics on microblogging, we can see what young people care most about. Social justice and government accountability runs the first in what they demand. For the past decade or so, a massive urbanization and development have let us witness a lot of reports on the forced demolition of private property. And it has aroused huge anger and frustration among our young generation. Sometimes people get killed, and sometimes people set themselves on fire to protest. So when these incidents are reported more and more frequently on the Internet, people cry for the government to take actions to stop this.

So the good news is that earlier this year, the state council passed a new regulation on house requisition and demolition and passed the right to order forced demolition from local governments to the court. Similarly, many other issues concerning public safety is a hot topic on the Internet. We heard about polluted air, polluted water, poisoned food. And guess what, we have faked beef. They have sorts of ingredients that you brush on a piece of chicken or fish, and it turns it to look like beef. And then lately, people are very concerned about cooking oil, because thousands of people have been found [refining] cooking oil from restaurant slop. So all these things have aroused a huge outcry from the Internet. And fortunately, we have seen the government responding more timely and also more frequently to the public concerns.

While young people seem to be very sure about their participation in public policy-making, but sometimes they’re a little bit lost in terms of what they want for their personal life. China is soon to pass the U.S. as the number one market for luxury brands — that’s not including the Chinese expenditures in Europe and elsewhere. But you know what, half of those consumers are earning a salary below 2,000 U.S. dollars. They’re not rich at all. They’re taking those bags and clothes as a sense of identity and social status. And this is a girl explicitly saying on a TV dating show that she would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle. But of course, we do have young people who would still prefer to smile, whether in a BMW or [on] a bicycle.

So in the next picture, you see a very popular phenomenon called “naked” wedding, or “naked” marriage. It does not mean they will wear nothing in the wedding, but it shows that these young couples are ready to get married without a house, without a car, without a diamond ring and without a wedding banquet, to show their commitment to true love. And also, people are doing good through social media. And the first picture showed us that a truck caging 500 homeless and kidnapped dogs for food processing was spotted and stopped on the highway with the whole country watching through microblogging. People were donating money, dog food and offering volunteer work to stop that truck. And after hours of negotiation, 500 dogs were rescued. And here also people are helping to find missing children. A father posted his son’s picture onto the Internet. After thousands of [unclear], the child was found, and we witnessed the reunion of the family through microblogging.

So happiness is the most popular word we have heard through the past two years. Happiness is not only related to personal experiences and personal values, but also, it’s about the environment. People are thinking about the following questions: Are we going to sacrifice our environment further to produce higher GDP? How are we going to perform our social and political reform to keep pace with economic growth, to keep sustainability and stability? And also, how capable is the system of self-correctness to keep more people content with all sorts of friction going on at the same time? I guess these are the questions people are going to answer. And our younger generation are going to transform this country while at the same time being transformed themselves.

Thank you very much.


在我去苏格兰的前一晚, 中国达人秀邀请我 到上海主持总决赛 体育馆的现场有八万名观众. 知道特别嘉宾是谁吗? 苏珊大妈. 我告诉她,“我明天要去苏格兰.” 她不但歌声非常动听, 还学会了说几句中文. 她说:“送你葱” 这句话的意思不是“你好,” “谢谢,” 那类的话. “送你葱”意思是“免费的大葱.” 她为什么要说这句话呢? 因为“送你葱” 是来自有著”中国苏珊大妈”之称的 一位五十多岁 在上海卖菜的女摊贩, 她非常喜欢西方歌剧, 但她不懂歌词的意思 也不会说英语, 法语, 或是意大利语, 所以她以独特的方式来记歌词 将歌词全部换成蔬菜名. (笑声) 意大利歌剧公主彻夜未眠的最后一句 她当时就是以 “送你葱”来演唱的. 当苏珊大妈说了这句话的时候, 现场的八万名观众一起跟著唱了起来. 当时的场面十分有趣.

我想苏珊大妈 还有那位上海的卖菜大婶 都有她们的独特之处. 大家通常会觉得 她们无法在娱乐圈这个行业里闯出天下, 但是才能和勇气让她们得到了肯定. 一场秀和一个平台 让她们有了一个 可以圆梦的舞台. 其实要与众不同不是什么难事. 我们都有独特之处 从不同的角度来看. 但我觉得与众不同其实很好, 因为你有不同的想法. 你也许可以在某一方面有影响.

我这个年代的人是幸运的 我们目睹并参与了 中国历史性的变化. 在过去的二,三十年里 中国发生了很多变化. 我还记得1990年的时候. 我刚好读完大学, 我当时申请了一个营销的工作 地点是北京的一个五星级宾馆, 这个宾馆现在还有, 叫喜来登长城饭店. 在被一位日本经理 询问了半小时之后, 他在面试要结束时说, “杨小姐, 你有问题要问我吗?” 我鼓起了勇气,镇定地问, “你能不能告诉我, 你们卖什么的?” 因为我当时完全不知道 一个五星级饭店的销售部要做什么. 那是我第一次 走进一家五星级饭店.

与此同时, 我参加了 由中国国家电台举办的试听会 这是第一个向大众开放的试听会 现场还有上千名的女大生. 制作人告诉我们 他们在找甜美,单纯 和漂亮的新面孔. 当轮到我的时候, 我起身问道, “为什么在电视上的女人 一定要长得漂亮,甜美,单纯 还要配合度高? 为什么她们不能有自己的想法 说自己的话?” 我以为我的话可能有点冒犯了评委. 但我的话反而得到了他们的认同. 因此我进入了第二回合, 然后第三,第四. 在第七回合比赛结束后, 我战胜了所有的选手. 我也因此在加入了黄金档的一个节目. 你也许不敢相信, 这个节目是中国第一个 允许主持人 表达他们自己的想法 他们不需要念之前写好的稿. (掌声) 我当时每周的观众人数 达到200-300万.

几年以后, 我决定去美国的哥伦比亚大学 读研究所, 同时也创办了自己的媒体公司, 这个想法 在我刚刚入行的时候并不存在. 公司的项目分很多类. 我访问过的人数已经过千. 有时候年轻人会对我说, “杨澜姐, 你改变了我的人生,” 这些话让我感到骄傲. 我觉我这代人很幸运 因为我们看到了整个国家的兴起. 北京竞标奥运的举办权我有在场. 我也代表了上海市博会. 我看到了中国拥抱全世界 也看到了全世界拥抱中国. 但我有时会想, 现在的年轻人到底要做什么? 他们到底有什么不同之处, 有什么样的变化会因他们而产生 这些变化会怎样改变中国, 甚至整个世界?

所以我今天的话题是关于年轻一代 通过社交媒体的平台来认识他们. 首先,他们是谁? 长得什么样? 照片上的女孩叫郭美美 20岁,很漂亮. 在她的微博上, 她炫耀了自己的名牌包, 衣服, 还有车 在她的微博上, 微博是中国版的Twitter. 她还说自己是商会红十字会在商会的 一名经理。 她没有想到 她的举动引起了大众的敏感 导致了一场全国性的质问, 差一点变成 一场针对红十字会的骚乱. 这场争论非常激烈 以至于红十字会开了一场记者会 来澄清”郭美美事件,” 该事件也因此被调查.

现今为止, 公众已知道郭美美给自己捏造了红十字会经理的职位 也许是因为她喜欢慈善二字. 她的那些奢侈品 是男朋友 送的礼物 她的男友之前是一名董事会成员 在商会红十字会下属的一个部门工作. 这个解释起来有点困难. 尽管如此,公众愤怒仍未平息. 热论还在进行中. 这个事件说明了民众 对政府机构或是政府所支持的机构的不信任, 而这些机构在过去都不够透明. 这个事件也说明了 社交网站的力量和影响. 微博就是个很好的例子.

微博在2010年兴起, 访客人数翻倍 浏览时间更是之前的三倍. 单是新浪网, 一个主要的新闻网站, 就有超过1.4亿的微博用户. 腾讯网, 2亿. 有最多人关注的用户 不是我 是个电影女演员, 她有超过九百五十万的跟随者, 网上的叫法是粉丝. 大约有80%的微博用户都是年轻人, 年龄在30岁以下. 大家应该都知道 传统媒体依然由政府控制, 社交网站提供了一个平台 让大家可以表达自己的不满. 因为其它的平台不多, 来自社交网站的激愤 有时可以变得非常强烈, 非常活跃 甚至带有暴力.

通过微博, 我们可以进一步地了解在中国年轻的一代. 但他们到底有什么不同之处? 第一,他们大部分是 80后和90后, 出生在一胎化政策的年代. 因为有了选择性的流产 很多家长选择要男不要女, 后果就是 现今男人的数量超出女人数量的3千万. 这个差别让社会存在 一种潜在危险, 但没人敢确定; 因为我们生活在一个全球化的世界, 男生们可以到其它国家找女友. 年轻人里的大多数都受过不错的教育. 中国这一代的文盲人数 少于百分之一. 在城市里, 有80%的学生上大学. 但他们面对的是一个在变化的中国 今年, 年龄超过65的人口 已经达到百分之7点几, 到2030年 人口老化会达到15%. 大家也许知道我们的传统是 年轻的这一代有义务供养老的一代, 在他们生病时候照顾他们. 这意味著已成家的年轻人 将需要供养4位父母 他们的预期寿命是73岁.

年轻一代的日子 不是那么好过. 大学毕业生的供应超过需求. 在城市里, 大学毕业生的起薪 大约在400美金一个月, 但平均的房屋每月租金 超过500美金. 那怎么办呢? 他们只能一起住 挤在一个狭小的空间里 就为了省钱 他们称自己为”蚁族.” 至于那些打算结婚 还要买房的人, 他们认识到自己要打 30-40年的工 才能买得起一套住房. 美国的比例是 一对夫妻5年的薪水可买一套房, 但在中国需要30-40年 因为房价的高涨.

在两亿的离乡打工族中, 60%是年轻人. 他们觉得自己有点被夹在 城市和乡村之间. 他们大多数都不想回农村, 但在城市他们没有归属感. 他们的工作时间长 薪水却相对较少,社会福利也不多. 很多因素都会影响他们 像失业, 通货膨胀, 银行贷款政策紧缩, 人民币升值, 或是欧美国家对 中国产品 需求的下降. 去年, 一场悲剧 在中国南方的设备生产工厂发生了: 13名工人 年纪在20岁左右 自杀, 就像是一场传染病一样. 只是死亡原因不同. 整个事件 引起了社会的关注. 大家开始关心 这些工人 身体和心理上的孤单.

有些选择返回乡村的人, 当地人十分欢迎他们回乡, 因为他们在城市获得了 知识,技术,和人际关系, 通过互联网的帮助, 他们可以创造更多工作, 在发展较落后的地区 将农业升级并创造更多商机. 过去几年里, 在临海区域, 出现劳动力短缺的现象.

这些图表显示 一个更概括的社会状况. 第一个是恩格尔系数, 它解释了每天生活必需的花费 的百分比 在过去的10年内, 从家庭收入的角度来看, 已经下降到37%. 但是在过去的两年里, 这个比例上涨到39%, 这说明了生活花费在上升. 吉尼系数显示 已经过了0.4的警戒线. 现在是0.5 比美国还差 说明的收入不平等. 你能看到整个社会 都感到沮丧 因为他们失去了一部分的流动性. 同时, 针对富人和有权利人士的 怨恨与憎恨 开始蔓延. 所以各种对腐败 或是官商勾结的指控 都可造成社会的谴责 甚至动乱.

通过观察微博上一些最热门的话题, 我们可以更了解年轻的一代. 社会公正与政府责任 是他们最关心的问题. 在过去的十年里, 大量的城市化发展 让我们看见了很多 有关强拆 私人住宅的报导. 这些新闻引起了 年轻人的不满和失望. 过程中有时有人死亡, 也有人以自焚来抗议. 当这类报导 大量在互联网上出现的时候, 人们强烈要求政府出面制止.

好消息是在今年早期, 国务院在房屋申请和拆建方面 颁布了一项新政策 同时允许法庭 传唤那些强拆的 地方政府官员. 还有很有其它让民众担忧的问题 在互联网上受到了强烈议论. 大家应该都听说过空气污染, 水源污染, 有毒食品. 但应该不知道我们还发明了山寨版牛肉吧. 这种牛肉精包含多种成分 如果你把它们涂在鸡肉或是鱼肉上面, 那就鸡鱼肉看起来就像牛肉了. 最近, 民众们开始担心食用油, 原因是有上千的人发现 餐馆使用的油 是加工过的阴沟油. 这类现象 在互联网上引起了大众的强烈不满. 幸运地是, 我们看到政府 更及时和更平常地 来消除公众的担忧.

虽然这些年轻的一代确信 他们在政策制定上 的影响, 但在自己生活方面的追求上 却有点找不到方向. 中国很快会超越美国. 成为第一大 奢侈品消费市场 这还不包括在中国人 在欧洲和其它地方的消费. 但你也许不知道, 这其中一半的消费者 收入还不到2000美元. 他们根本就不是有钱人. 但这些名牌手袋和衣服 对他们来说是一种身份的象征. 这个女孩 在一个相亲节目上 公开表明她宁愿坐在宝马车里哭 也不要坐在脚踏车上笑. 但当然还是有年轻人 觉得宝马脚踏车都无所谓, 只要能开心就好.

在这张图片里, 是一种很流行的现象 叫做“裸婚”. 他们不是在婚礼上不穿衣服, 但已经决定要在 没有车房,没有钻戒 没有婚宴的情况下结为夫妇, 来实现他们对真爱的承诺. 通过社交媒体, 人们还做了有很多意义的事. 这张图片上展示了 一台卡车上的500只将会被加工成食物的 流浪狗和被绑架的狗 在高速路上被发现和停了下来 整个国家都在微博上 关注此事件. 有人捐钱, 捐狗粮 志愿去停下那台卡车. 几小时的协商后, 这500只狗获救了. 同时也有人帮助找走失的孩童. 这位爸爸将儿子的图片上传到网上, 在成千上万的转发后, 孩子找到了, 我们通过微博见证了 一家的团聚.

幸福是最近两年里 听到最多次的词语. 幸福不单只是 和个人经历和价值相关, 它也同样关系到我们的环境. 人们在思考这些问题: 我们到底应不应该牺牲我们的环境 来换取GDP的增长? 我们应该如何来实现社会和政治的改革 才能赶上经济的增长, 让发展更持续和更稳定? 还有, 自行纠正的制度 到底有多大的能力 让人们在这么多冲突的情况下 还能感到满足? 我想民众们会给这些问题一个答案. 我们年轻的一代 将会改变他们的国家 同时也改变了自己.



Yang Lan: Media mogul, TV host

Yang Lan’s rise to stardom in China has drawn comparisons to Oprah Winfrey’s success in the US. It’s easy to see why: Yang is a self-made entrepreneur and the most powerful woman in the Chinese media. As chair of Sun Media Investment Holdings, a business empire she built with her husband, Yang is a pioneer of open communication.

Yang started her journalism career by establishing the first current-events TV program in China. She created and hosted many other groundbreaking shows, starting with the chatfest Yang Lan One on One. The popular Her Village, which now includes an online magazine and website, brings together China’s largest community of professional women (more than 200 million people a month).

Yang, who served as an ambassador for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, wields her influence for philanthropic endeavors, too. She founded the Sun Culture Foundation in 2005 to raise awareness about poverty and to promote cross-cultural communication.

“Yang stands out as a role model for women who want to achieve across the industry spectrum in an increasingly global society.”
The Paley Center for Media, “She Made It” Initiative, 2007

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