Wang Jifan is about to graduate from his media studies course at Zhongshan University and needs a miracle. What worries the 22-year-old Guangzhou student isn't career prospects but the future of Rice, an indie magazine that he founded with some friends two years ago. Full-time jobs and overseas studies threaten to tear apart the student editorial team as most members will complete their studies this year. Still, they are determined to keep publishing and hope to include contributions from members studying abroad, says Wang. 'So many things are uncertain in our lives,' he says. 'All I know is we can count on Rice [to give us a sense of accomplishment].' Although the flourishing mainland economy has led to a media boom, few ventures have targeted young people, largely because they are seen as having little buying power - but that's starting to change. Following the success of youth-oriented broadcasters such as Hunan Satellite Television, publishers are focusing on 16- to 26-year-olds, a free-spending group raised in the consumer culture of the liberalised economy. And young people in Guangzhou have filled the vacuum by launching print and online journals that reflect the concerns of their generation. Rice grew out of exchanges in a chat room, says Wang. 'We had worked on student publications, but they were too removed from our lives. There was no place for students to air their views.' Dubbed Generation-i because they grew up with i-Pods and the internet, people in his age bracket are often criticised for being selfish, says Wang. So he and his friends have made it a goal of Rice to let others know they aren't apathetic. 'We care about the world around us and we're engaging it.' Their main aim, though, is to give a realistic picture of what young people's lives are like and encourage them to follow their dreams rather than take the path their parents may have chosen for them. The arty quarterly is a labour of love for its five-person team, who do the editing, photography and design with input from a pool of contributors. It sells for 20 yuan but without advertising the group often has to dip into their own pockets to keep it going. Its latest issue, entitled Spring Sleeping, draws from a line by the poet Li Bai to discuss the difficulties of getting a good rest. Features include a photo spread of young people falling asleep in odd places and uncomfortable positions, articles on the science of sleep and interviews with people regarding their sleeping habits. Although Rice's coverage of subcultures - photo spreads of heavily made-up Goth fans and interviews with bootleg DVD retailers, for instance - has drawn criticism from some readers, most are clamouring for more. 'Some kids thought we were delinquent, but most thought it was really fresh,' says Wang. 'They felt a connection; some even got inspired.' He cites a reader who wrote to say that their articles helped him pluck up the courage to switch to studying design instead of taking the overseas course his parents earmarked for him. 'We were really surprised,' Wang says. 'He thanked us for helping him pursue his dreams. We never imagined we'd influence people. When that letter came, we knew we were doing something right.' Like Rice, four-year-old webzine Cold Tea began in a chat room. Its editor Alex Su Hanguang, then a photographer for the Modern Media Group, set it up with friends as a response to the lack of quality photography sites. 'When we started, people online were just bragging about what kind of equipment they used,' says 27-year-old Su. 'We thought, 'who cares?' A camera is just a tool. It's your vision that counts.' From a photo-driven chat room, Cold Tea morphed into a design site and then a webzine with the motto, Youth Talks, Picture Tells. 'We had no business plan. We didn't even care if we had viewers,' says Su. 'But we believed that there were others like us and if they liked our site, they'd spread the word.' They were right. Within two years, Cold Tea was getting between 20,000 and 30,000 hits a month, including young people from Shanghai and Beijing. It also attracted the attention of Thomas Shao Zong, Modern Media's chief executive, who called Su into his office to propose joining forces. 'I wondered what I'd done wrong,' recalls the tattooed, spiky-haired Su of their meeting. 'I never thought that he'd suggest we work together.' Shao told him he'd long been interested in promoting pop culture and developing Web content, and the edgy Cold Tea was a good fit on both fronts, Su says. Cold Tea operates out of a swank office in the bustling Tianhe district of Guangzhou , with 10 full-time staff, including editors and photographers. Su gets 500,000 yuan to produce each monthly issue, and Cold Tea is attracting advertising from event organisers and extreme sports associations. The webzine is largely image-driven and focuses on sharing young people's views without much analysis. Although last month's issue had global warming as its theme, the exploration was cursory; the features included an illustration of Guangzhou's daily rubbish output, photo spreads on a school for the blind and abused animals at a zoo, and, more controversially, a clip of Chinese rappers on death row. 'Our stuff may be a bit more commercial now, but it's also more comprehensive,' Su says. 'We can do a lot more. It's a struggle to find the balance, though, between doing what you want and what you need.' People in Guangdong have a talent for finding this middle ground, says video artist He Ying, an occasional contributor to Cold Tea. The province has the strongest background in design on the mainland. 'We also have a strong business sense, so it's easier for us to combine creative ideas with commercial needs.' So it's not surprising Guangzhou also produces 1626, perhaps the most successful of the mainland's mainstream youth magazines. The bi-weekly was founded just over two years ago in collaboration with Hong Kong magazine East Touch, but has since gone its own way. Owned by the Vision Group (Feng Cai Wei Xun), it covers similar ground as many Hong Kong infotainment magazines, with a steady diet of celebrity gossip, entertainment news, fashion and shopping tips. It has a 30,000-copy print run in Guangzhou, and produces similar-sized runs for its Beijing and Shanghai editions. Everyone in the magazine business is looking to youth publications as the spending power of the 80s generation strengthens, says 1626 editor Liang Feifei. Named after the coveted youth market, the magazine hopes to expand to every major city and has Chengdu in its sights this year. It faces stiff competition from the mainland editions of Hong Kong publications such as East Touch and Milk, but 1626's biggest challenge at the moment is to stabilise revenue and operations, says Liang. At Rice, after two years of doing it all on their own, Wang and his team are seeking advertisements and investors. 'But they have to be the right kind of investors,' he says. 'We've done all this with our hearts and we won't give up our founding spirit.' Wang plans to go to graduate school where the more flexible schedules should allow him to keep publishing, but still needs funding to keep the magazine afloat. 'Nobody knows what will happen next in China. We've already seen so many miracles. Maybe the magazine miracle is next.'