Values, identity and activism

The lives of others

Individualism reigns—and with it, more social responsibility

#MeToo, Chinese-style

AT THE GoZeroWaste workshop in Suzhou, a canal town near Shanghai, a dozen young people learn to hand-sew face masks. The single-use, surgical sort are hardly in short supply, as no country makes more masks than China. Yet the masks, which contain plastics, are rarely recycled; and Suzhou’s apprentices want to be greener. One participant says she is trying out vegetarianism, joining a tiny but growing group in China. Another “buys less stuff” since shopping binges began to “stress her out”. A third says “we are tired of consuming. We want to produce something, too.”

With China being the world’s largest polluter, environmental awareness is rising among the young. Lots use Ant Forest, a carbon-account scheme set up by Alipay, a payments giant, that tracks green spending and grants credits towards planting trees. More donate old clothes to Feimayi, an online charity, and buy from Xianyu, a website owned by Alibaba that sells second-hand goods. Plant-based meat is finding fans. Vegan nuggets at a KFC branch in Shanghai sold out within an hour last year. Dicos, a local rival, has launched meatless patties in over 2,600 stores since October. The young say the pandemic has attuned them to their health and even to animal rights.

The jiulinghou are the first generation in China to have grown up amid consumerism. To their credit, many now seek to improve society. They proudly exhibit their values by…