There are more "millennials" in China than there are people living in the United States.
At well over 320 million people between the ages of 20 and 34 living in China today, the scope of the generation we in the US would define as China's "millennial" generation is astonishing.
If there was such a thing as a "millennial" in China, of course. Over the last two weeks, as I spent time traveling across China with a small delegation of American columnists and reporters, I discovered that there isn't really a concept of being a "millennial" at all in China. Some I spoke with referenced a "Post 90s Generation" — a narrower version of America's "millennial" that more specifically focuses on those born after the 1980s, post-Tiananmen. Others simply talked about "the young people today."
But in conversation after conversation, from Shanghai to Beijing to Guiyang and more remote areas of Guizhou province, with those from the business world or think tanks and media organizations, I heard the same sorts of phrases used to describe this "Post 90s Generation".
Confident. Maybe a little cocky. Optimistic.
In the words of one Chinese business leader with whom I spoke, young adults in China today "think they're going to own the world."
The data backs this description up very well. While survey research of young Chinese citizens is not as readily available as it is of young people in other countries, economic and existing opinion research data both support the idea of a generation that has only seen the boom times of China, that has grown up exposed to far more American culture than their parents' and grandparents' generation, and that feels things are only going up from here.
The economic picture has been extremely bright for China's young adults during their entire lives. Chinese young people are far, far more likely to be employed than those their same age in the rest of the "BRIC" nations, according to a study by research firm J. Walter Thompson. For their entire lifetimes, China's economy has grown at rates the U.S. economy could only dream of, even during what we in the U.S. now longingly think of as the boom times of the 1990s.
One common way pollsters measure optimism is by asking if people think they will be better off than their parents' generation, and on this question, Chinese millennials are among the most likely to say they will be "happier" than the generation before, according to Deloitte's global millennial study. And compared with young people in other countries, it is young people in China who are the most likely to say they think the world is generally becoming a better place, while young people in most other countries say the opposite.
But there are other aspects of China's young population that left me feeling uneasy as I returned home. Coming from the United States, it is hard to imagine how our population would react if the government tomorrow decided to block America from using Google or Facebook, or if there was wide-scale censorship of free speech. I half-expected to at least encounter some agitation or frustration over the Chinese approach to media, censorship, and the Internet. The young people in China with whom I spoke on the trip did not seem particularly agitated about these facts, but not having conducted my own scientific survey on the matter, I left uncertain that this was a widespread view. As it turns out, however, such research does exist, and does show China's young adults as the world's least enthusiastic about free speech (though support for free speech globally is far from robust, even in the U.S.).
With an economy that is going strong and a belief that tomorrow will be better than today, it may be easier to just shrug it off if, say, an internet service you use like WhatsApp gets turned off by the government as the Communist Party's national congress approaches.
But there's no guarantee that China's economy will continue to sustain astronomic GDP growth. While 6.7 percent growth sounds great to us in a country where we're happy to just get 2 percent growth these days, it's also a far cry from the double-digit growth China saw at the start of the decade. And just like outsourcing and automation threaten American jobs here, China is now facing some of the same issues, with 77 percent of Chinese jobs "at risk" from automation, and with rising wages in China pushing jobs to factories in neighboring countries like Vietnam.
The good news? Even if young adults in China don't seem to be clamoring for our same constitutional rights, at least they seem to like us. Despite the fact that young Chinese adults are very upbeat about their own country and the notion that China will come to dominate the global economy, they're also pretty positive about us too, with 59 percent saying they have a positive view of the United States.
And it seems the feeling is mutual; while older Americans take a quite negative view of China, a majority of American millennials feel positive about China. Just one more thing our young people seem to have in common.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote."