- A variety of nicknames, such as “moonlight tribe” and “strawberry generation,” sprang up for youth in China in the early 2000s.
- Nicknames generally describe the younger generation as weak-willed and a burden to their parents.
- They show the gulf between the environments in which China’s older and younger generations grew up.
“Tribe of Strawberries”, “Tribe of Moonlight”, “Tribe of Old Rodents”.
These are some of the most popular and enduring generational labels used to describe youth in China and, to some extent, Taiwan. And they all have a common theme: they portray the younger generation as weak-willed, spoiled, and a burden to their parents.
Like a strawberry, which bruises easily, the phrase “strawberry tribe,” or cao mei zu (草莓族) in Mandarin: used to label the younger generation as fragile and unable to withstand pressure.
The term is widely believed to have been coined in the 1993 book “Office Story” by Taiwanese author Weng Jing-yu. While the label is most often used in Taiwan, it is also used in countries with significant ethnic Chinese populations, such as Singapore.
“Tribe that gnaws old people”, or ken laozu (啃老族) in Mandarin, is used to describe those who are dependent on their parents for financial support. It is similar to English NEET, short for “Not currently engaged in employment, education, or training.”
But “moonlight tribe” is the most widely used term in China. A pun on the word Mandarin Yeah (月), which means moon or month, and guang (光) meaning light or empty, the label describes those who empty their funds and have no savings at the end of the month.
A gulf between the generations of China
These labels, which emerged during a rise in internet culture in the early 2000s, show the chasm between the environments in which China’s older and younger generations grew up, Justine Rochot, research associate postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology in Taiwan, he told Insider. Rochot studies the sociology of aging and retirement in the Sinophone world.
Born in early Maoist China in the 1950s, the older generation of parents grew up during the cultural revolution. They faced difficulties such as poor access to quality education, but thanks to the early commodification of the housing market and a strong culture of thrift, many managed to buy property in the 1990s, Rochot said.
On the other hand, their children and grandchildren were born into an era of economic reform, with greater access to education and a highly materialistic culture, Rochot said.
“But despite this, these people, as well as those who followed them in the 2000s, came of age in an era of high inflation, stagnant incomes, job pressure and concurrency, and therefore very dependent on financial support — from their parents to access property or work,” Rochot said.
The disconnect between generations also comes with dependency
The term “moonlight tribe” is meaningless in an economy where many people struggle to keep up, according to people posting on Weibo, China’s main social media platform.
“It seems that now ‘moonlight tribe’ has already faded from the buzzword market. After all, many people have to pay out of their own pocket to survive on top of working a month,” said one. mail read
“I think the environment in the past was much better than it is now. So, there were still people scolding the ‘moonlight tribe’, scolding the ‘elder tribe’. But now no one says anything anymore, because everyone is ‘moonlight’ and ‘old man biter’”, another Weibo mail read
Rochot told Insider that this phenomenon of generational labeling exists in the context of “paradoxically high intergenerational dependency, especially financial” in China.
“Many older people know that they may need to rely on their only child for help and support when they grow up, they also see helping them access property or helping them in other ways as a way to create future reciprocity,” she said.
And, in contrast to the idea that the young “gnaw at the old,” research tends to show that older parents use the support they give their children as a way to deepen relationships with their children, Rochot said.
The gap is widening and young people are giving up.
Although cynical generation nicknames have long been around as part of the universal “kids these days” phenomenon, the trend has been particularly reinforced in the 20th and 21st centuries, Rochot said.
“The intense pace of social change that has characterized the past few decades has greatly strengthened the experience gap separating different cohorts around the world, along with wars, shifting ideologies, the rise of capitalism, and the spread of social networks and new technologies,” he said. .
These differences make it difficult for generations to identify with one another, leading to the recent explosion of generational labeling around the world, Rochot said.
The reception of Chinese youth to these generational labels is also noteworthy.
Instead of retaliating with a clapping phrase like “Ok boomer,” Chinese millennials and Generation Z have been reclaiming these negative labels to “lying down” and “letting it rot.”