A traditional future

Table tennis, education, and one of the oldest jobs in the world, being a mother. Traditional spheres which are being jazzed up.

I recently read an interesting article in an online Chinese magazine on traditions and the future. What was described was a departure from these traditions. The journalist highlighted an example, which may sound facetious but is illustrative precisely because it concerns a sport that has always been dear to the Chinese (which might be the reason why they always win!): table tennis.

In the middle country young people are less interested in the sport than in the past – the magazine pointed out. The Chinese Generation Z is more attracted to more western sports. So, because historically the country has always distinguished itself in table tennis, the government decided to address the problem. The ministry responsible for sports went about rejuvenating the sport, to give it new life, to make it cooler and hipper for children. Through apps and a committed effort to advertising tournaments on We-Chat (which is fundamental in China and is, to put it simply, a mix between Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp: everything in a single application) and with one recent idea. A mini-tournament involving twelve male and twelve female celebrities, super champions in the sport, who spent a lot of time mixing with the children who had come to embrace them and see them even for a quick shot. A robot to help you train with was also produced, called Pongbot, created with artificial intelligence to create unbeatable players.

Travelling, opening up to other countries and enrolling in renowned universities – from Oxford to Harvard – is reflected in a change of mentality. For example, there has been an increase in popularity for very “American” courses, from classroom debates to camping. And one of the oldest jobs in the world is adapting in this sense: being a mother. It is no longer the very strict tiger mum, who you may have heard about. She doesn’t necessarily want to control her children’s exam results but lets them experience as much as possible. Mind you, this could be the beginning of a huge change. Some speak of a merger between the American parenting style and the Chinese one. Because communication, leadership and participating in outside activities do not coincide precisely with mathematics (which was fundamental for the Chinese up to a short time ago): they are soft skills for a long time snubbed in China. Cool mums of course are not on the margins of Chinese society. They belong to the country’s increasingly growing middle class. According to the recent Hurun ranking for 2018, about 33 million families can be considered “middle class”, people who, after having spent money on basic expenses, still have 50% left of their salary to use for other things: many of these parents have managerial positions so they have a good understanding of how qualities like effective communication and critical thought are relevant and important when working in a company.

For the Chinese education is the most traditional investment and succeeding in making it more “pop” among younger Chinese, often only childs from which academic success is highly expected, is a great step forward. It doesn’t matter how traditional or small town a family’s approach is, everybody just wants to give their children all the opportunities.


Mariangela Pira

Mariangela Pira Giornalista professionista, responsabile del Desk China di Class Editori. Scrive per Milano Finanza e da Class Cnbc cura le finestre sulle borse per Skytg24. Per il Ministero degli Affari Esteri ha curato Esteri News, notiziario della diplomazia italiana, progetto per cui ha viaggiato in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libano, Israele, Palestina e negli altri paesi dove è presente la Cooperazione italiana. Ha iniziato la sua carriera all’Ansa di New York. Ha scritto per Hoepli La nuova rivoluzione cinese.