Younger generation find solace in a 'Buddha-like' attitude in daily life

Under great pressure in life, many of China's youth of today have opted for a detached ironic posturing and refer to themselves as the "Buddha-like" generation.

Life's tough for China's younger generation. Finding jobs or spouses, and settling down in a sometimes tough and cruel world often lend itself to either giving up outright, or detached ironic posturing. Many of China's youth of today have opted for the latter and refer to themselves as the "Buddha-like" generation.

Zhang Min, 23, is one of this generation. He is just about to graduate and has been informed that he has failed yet another job interview -- he has already sent out over 60 applications and attended 20 job fairs, but they all came to nothing, and he has no choice but to be philosophical.

"[Failure] does not bother me as much as before," Zhang says. "Whatever will be, will be."

 The phrase "Buddha-like youth" recently went viral after a popular WeChat article used the term to describe China's post-1990s generation.

"Having seen everything and keeping a casual and calm mindset toward life and career under mounting social pressure," the article wrote, "it's fine to have something or not. There is no need to pursue or win anything."

Young Chinese, perhaps ironically, have been quick to label themselves as Buddha-like youth. A Buddha-like relationship is, apparently, one of forgiveness, never forcing your better half to make changes, and accepting things as they are.

A Buddha-like career means employees no longer concerning themselves with promotion or office politics, but simply getting on with the job in hand instead.

But there has been a backlash against the Buddha-like mindset, particularly among the older generation. They argue that such an approach is one defined by pessimism, indolence and sloth, leading to a reduced work ethic, lack of self-motivation and apathetic demeanor.

"A rapidly developing China brings about many reforms and changes, which inevitably create challenges and great pressure to its younger generations, notably in career and life," says Tian Feng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It's understandable that such a self-mocking subculture is buzzing on China's internet and prevalent among youngsters."

Far awway from her hometown in east China's Anhui Province, Li Xiao, 22, works in an architectural design company in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province. Last year, she failed the graduate-study admission exam.

Li had intended to prepare for the exam in her spare time after work, but a lot of overtime caught her unguarded. She often gets off work at 11pm. And is invariably burnt-out.

After taking this year's exam, Li says she has little expectation about the result.

"I've tried and participated, that is what counts," she says, sounding every inch a Buddha-like youth.

The difficulties faced by the post-1990s generation lead them to describe themselves in mocking tones as, "prematurely balding," "monks or nuns," "divorcees," or the "middle-aged obese." Though they are nowhere near these things, they certainly feel like they are. Life has simply ground them down.

"Saying 'It's OK,' or 'All right it doesn't matter' is just a disguise we put on in the face of the rigors of life," says Zhang Li, who works as a product manager in a Beijing-based internet company.

A new product is about to be launched in Zhang's office, and she will have to stay in the office until 4 or even 5am.

She says the Buddha-like generation appear casual about minor matters but spare no efforts on things that really matter.

For Zhang Min, Buddha-like job seeking is "preparing for the worst outcome but still doing whatever one can to best present oneself in front of an employer."

"Life itself is hard enough, and we just can't afford to make it harder on our own," he says.

Several days later, he is invited for an interview to teach in a high school in east China's Ningbo city, six hours away by train. Without hesitation, he books a ticket and starts packing. He does not know if he will get the job, but instead resolves to "be Buddhist about it."

"The Buddha-like' mindset helps keep today's young people calm and flexible, which better prepares them to take more responsibilities in the future," says Xu Hua, professor of the School of Sociology and Political Science of Anhui University. "An ambitious, competent and responsible young generation is vital to a nation's development. We should pay more attention to their needs and create a suitable environment for them to prosper." 

Special Reports