Under a millennia-old Confucian system, Chinese were taught to worship their ancestors, their parents, and the emperor in a stone-hard hierarchy that was cut off from the rest of the world.
Then came the Internet. And young "Netizens," like harp student Sun Lingsheng, are among the 10 million Chinese today who are chipping away, at mouse-click speed, the great walls of xenophobia and fear of change.
As in most cultures, youths are the vanguard of this societal shift. But here, China's one-child population policy, an injection of free-enterprise ethos, plus a growing disillusionment with communism, all contribute to the creation of a generation of individualistic, pampered "little emperors." They have the means to go online to explore new values and the desire to join a "pop planet" cultural movement.
The following cybersurfers interviewed in Beijing offer a snapshot of this blossoming trend.
Each day at dawn, Sun Lingsheng attends classes at the prestigious China Academy of Opera and Dance, where he studies the guzheng, or ancient Chinese harp, centuries-old rules of music, and the official state creed: a mix of Confucianism and Communism.
Yet each day at dusk, Mr. Sun enters a world that is as freewheeling and eclectic as his mornings are structured and steeped in tradition. As he settles into a chair in one of the cybercafes that crisscross Beijing, Sun pulls out a Palm Pilot to record his favorite Web sites, and begins skipping from site to site on the cafe computer.
"I love the Internet because you have complete freedom to talk with people all over the world, hear music from any point on the planet, and you never know where you're going to end up next," he says.
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