May 27, 2016
Hip-hop-loving Chinese millennials are no longer reading magazines, they’re reading Marx
by Ian Dreiblatt
By general consensus, Karl Marx is one of history’s more consequential writers. He certainly seems to have made his mark on the modern history of China, a country where Marxism nominally remains the official state ideology, even as capitalism runs terrifyingly rampant on the ground.
By a different and equally general consensus, millennials don’t get it. Always with the selfies, the ridiculous expectations in the workplace, the endless golfing. And in China, where Marx is officially it, Marxism appears to be one more part of an old order millennials would like to see crushed beneath their terrible, instagrammed wheels. In fact, a recent survey of around 1,000 Chinese university students found that only about half claimed to understand the ideology.
Rap music to the rescue! As the website Sixth Tone has recently reported, a new song that’s taking off among members of China’s “Post-90s” generation may help revive an interest in Big Poppa. Called Marx is a Post-90s, it bears an important message: Karl Marx is totally awesome, kids! Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s an actual sample of the lyrics:
I first encountered Marx during politics class,
I studied his teachings just to pass the exam,
I thought I’d pass and be done with it, never read the book again,
But when I opened the book, I discovered I didn’t hate it at all,
Life is always full of surprises,
One day I discovered how awesome he is,
Others saw my faith and never asked why again,
I’m no longer reading magazines, I’m reading Marx.
Ridiculously, the song’s author, Zhuo Sina, says she herself has never read the guy, while adding, “If this song could change students’ attitudes toward Marx and prompt greater willingness to learn about Marxism, then I think that’s a good thing.” (But would she know?) The production’s kind of eh, and the beat rips off Usher a little, but it’s not the worst thing? It definitely feels like a spiritual cousin to A Guy Like Putin, the Russian hit from 2002 best known for the improbable and excellent fact that it exists.
Much has been written about China’s “Post-90s generation,” including this survey that discovered hard scientific evidence of teenagers “pay[ing] a lot of attention to be[ing] stylish.” Whoever the Post-90ses are, it’d be nice if their enthusiasm for reading Marx could take root among more American teens. (Just kidding, guys, you’re perfect. Now go forth and live your tragedy, that it may return to you as farce.)
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.