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February 13, 2010

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Trouble brews on way to happiness

THE generation of Chinese born in the 1980s, when the country started economic reform and opened itself up, are coming of age and starting to make their mark on Chinese society.

As the economy rapidly developed, so too did the expectations of the 1980s generation, the first generation of the country's single-child families to enter the workforce. They grew up with dreams of becoming the next business tycoon or Internet guru. But they are now confronting harsh reality.

"I used to be proud of my work, but that feeling is fading," says Xiao Yuexin, a 26-year-old working in advertising. "I've worked for three years since graduation. But I have more and more debt every month, and I am always wondering where my salary has gone."

Xiao earns 5,000 yuan a month, a good income for a recent graduate. But she loves luxury goods and is very active socially - she calls these her "happiness investments."

Xiao is reluctant to give up luxury goods and a fine apartment. She feels it is through these things she can enjoy her life, even as the increasingly large monthly repayments on her debt cause stress.

"I am exhausted. I'm like a slave. I don't know where my happiness went," she says.

Xiao's situation reflects one of the problems younger Chinese face: their pursuit of happiness has met with the reality. They feel they have become slaves to their house, their car, their credit card, and their baby - all the things they thought would make them content.

In an Internet survey on, nearly 61.5 percent of 2,384 respondents regarded themselves as "slaves" to their baby.

Some complained they had spent all their money on their child.

"Some people's expectations for their lives, including those relating to babies and houses, are too high. They can't afford them. So they become slaves to themselves," one said.

The 1980s generation grew up in an environment where things improved and developed quickly, and as a result, they are more susceptible to temptations and pressure, said Professor Zhang Zhimin of Hubei University.

"This generation will become masters of their own happiness when the government reduces the pressures on them, and when these young people themselves rethink what their 'ideal life' is," she said.


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