By Rick King and Chang Wang, contributors
Editor’s Note: Both Rick King and Chang Wang consider themselves lucky, and the luckiness is generational. King, a “baby boomer” who was born in California and grew up in Massachusetts, believes overall, his generation is better off than his parents’ and his children’s; Wang, originally from Beijing, belongs to “Generation ’89” in China, even believes his generation is the luckiest in Chinese history since 1842.
China Insight invites King and Wang to author a conversational style essay to compare the lives and the key characteristics of the “baby boomers” in the U.S. and the “Generation ’89” in China.
In this last installment, King and Wang will describe and compare how healthcare, values and growing global citizenship affect the two groups and how the systems work in their respective countries. Who were their cultural icons and was there any overlap?
King: For my generation, healthcare is at the whim of the employer. That was also true for my parents’ generation. There was very little regulation so we have explosive issues of healthcare costs. That the United States chose to make healthcare a benefit from the company where you work is problematic. My father worked for one company for his whole career, even though the company was acquired by another company; but the healthcare stayed. That is very rare indeed for my generation. Healthcare follows the job, so if you change the job, your healthcare dramatically changes. Healthcare issues continue to be a part of the national discussion. I believe that we received good medical attention when we were growing up; it was a good period of time.
Wang: My generation has healthcare benefit – if you are in the public sector in China, or have health insurance – if you are in the private sector. The government promises a pension, too.
China’s healthcare industry is for-profit, so if you don’t have coverage, they won’t even admit you into the ER. I witnessed patients who were sent back home to die because they could not pay at the hospital. Now the Chinese government promises minimal healthcare benefit covering most citizens. We will see.
King: My parents’ generation has some of the finest ethics and values, many of which were passed on to my generation. My generation got corrupted in many respects by material things. There are many people in my generation who are actually responsible for the financial problems that hurt the banking and housing industry so badly in recent years. We saw a lot of organizations go down because of that. It’s sad to admit, but many people responsible for that disaster are members of my generation.
My kids’ generation has a different set of values. They tend to be more skeptical toward large institutions, such as government and banks. That’s why Google is valued by its corporate motto of “Do no evil,” which resonates with the young people who work there.
My generation had the freedom to define our own value system: we could be simultaneously nationalistic in supporting our country, but also against the war in Vietnam. That was a freedom given to my generation that my parents’ generation did not have. Unfortunately, some people of my generation took that freedom to an excess, e.g., creating the banking crisis. My generation took the freedom and made a good decision to be good and involved citizens - that was a big strength of our time.
Wang: My generation is both conservative and progressive. We are conservative because we received a complete education, filled with traditional arts and culture, literature and history. We are progressive because we grew up in the 1980s, which was marked by its idealism, openness, forwardness, westernization, academic freedom, cultural renaissance and religious tolerance.
My parents’ generation was educated to be atheists by the Communist propaganda. On the contrary, most members of my generation are either religious or spiritual. There are many Tibetan Buddhists and Christians in my generation.
The Lama Buddhist Temple in Beijing
Arts and culture are valued by my generation: we like museums and galleries more than bars and nightclubs; poets and artists are treated like heroes. We value diversity and inclusion, and despise discrimination and exploitation in any form.
We have a simple value system and we believe there is a clear distinction between what is right and what is wrong: freedom of speech is right, censorship is wrong; helping people in need is right, turning away refugees fleeing from war is wrong; freedom of worship is right, and religious persecution is wrong.
Wang: 1980s was the most open and creative period in contemporary Chinese history. Thousands and thousands of western books were reprinted or translated into Chinese western philosophy studied, and western art exhibited. We had the opportunities to familiarize ourselves with Freud, Einstein, Solzhenitsyn, Max Webber, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Thomas Mann, Hanna Arendt, Karl Popper, Jean- Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, George Orwell, Michel Foucault, Marcel Duchamp, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Eugene O'Neill, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Yasunari Kawabata, and Yoko Ono.
My generation is well connected to the outside world, particularly during the information boom. The Internet came to China in 1994, and we were able to connect to it without restrictions. China’s “Gold Shield Project” or the Great Fire Wall, was implemented in 2000 and isolated China from the rest of the world.
My generation also benefited tremendously from studying abroad, some ultimately returned to China, but many stayed on overseas.
King: The world opened up during my generation. Most of us had an education that brought us a glimpse of the world as very young kids. It was not a global education, but as we entered high school, the world opened up considerably. For example, the Oil Embargo made us realize that somebody in another part of the world could suddenly impact our household.
My generation also became more curious, and we had the freedom to explore those curiosities by experiencing more. The world indeed became smaller or as Thomas Friedman said, “the world is flat.” It also became more necessary to be a global citizen, just to be more effective citizens of our country. At the beginning of our generation, people might just think about the United States versus being a citizen of the world; but we are more and more aware that the United States is just one country in the world and our job is to be collaborative and work with people all over the world.