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China’s Youth Struggle with Unemployment: Challenges and Controversies

The unemployment crisis among China's young people is explored, including President Xi Jinping's controversial stance on enduring hardships. This article discusses the difficulties faced by young graduates, their skepticism towards government rhetoric, and the potential consequences of these challenges.

The unemployment crisis among China’s young people is explored, including President Xi Jinping’s controversial stance on enduring hardships. This article discusses the difficulties faced by young graduates, their skepticism toward government rhetoric, and the potential consequences of these challenges.

China’s Young People Face Unemployment as President Xi Urges Resilience

Unemployment among young people in China is a growing problem, leading the Communist Party to emphasize enduring hardships as a way to reshape expectations regarding social mobility. Gloria Li, a recent graduate in graphic design, is among the many struggling to find employment. Despite her qualifications, she is faced with a difficult job market that offers low-paying internships that do not meet her expectations. Feeling frustrated and uncertain about her future, she reflects on the changing opportunities in China.

China’s young generation is experiencing an unprecedented wave of unemployment as the country’s post-pandemic recovery falters. These young professionals not only lack job prospects but also face emotional distress. President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party are urging them to let go of expectations for comfortable and stable lives and instead embrace manual labor or even consider relocating to rural areas. President Xi’s call to endure hardships, known as “eating bitterness,” suggests that personal growth can be achieved through such experiences.

However, many young Chinese people are skeptical of this narrative. They pursued higher education with aspirations for a prosperous future, only to encounter a contracting job market, declining wages, and increased work hours. Now, the government is urging them to accept further hardships. They question the motives behind these directives and see them as a way to shift blame and divert attention from the larger economic challenges faced by the nation.

Traditionally, parents and teachers have praised the virtues of hardship to young Chinese individuals. However, they are now hearing similar rhetoric from the country’s leader. President Xi Jinping, in an article featured in the official People’s Daily on Youth Day, repeatedly emphasized the need to “eat bitterness” as a path to future rewards. Yet, these repeated references have raised suspicions among the younger generation.

Cai Shenkun, an independent political commentator, raises important questions about President Xi’s intentions. He questions why the leader would encourage young people to abandon stable lives in pursuit of suffering, viewing it as a dismissive act toward their concerns. The Chinese youth, with 11.6 million college graduates this year, represent a critical demographic whose unemployment could pose a threat to the Communist Party’s rule. In the past, during the Cultural Revolution, millions of urban youths, including President Xi himself, were sent to rural areas for labor-intensive work. This experience ultimately led to the party embracing self-employment and non-state-planned jobs.

Today, the Chinese Communist Party presents a narrative of young people achieving decent livelihoods through unconventional means such as food delivery, recycling, setting up street stalls, farming, and fishing. This narrative attempts to shift accountability from the government for policies that have hampered the economy, such as the crackdown on the private sector, overly stringent COVID-19 restrictions, and the isolation of China’s trading partners.

However, the emotional toll on the younger generation is evident. Ms. Zhang, a city planning graduate from Shanghai, has sent out numerous resumes but received few job offers or interview opportunities. Struggling to make ends meet as a part-time tutor, she shares her emotional distress and hopes for relief from constant disappointments. She rejects the notion of “eating bitterness,” attributing it to an attempt to divert attention from the economic slowdown and diminishing job opportunities. Many young individuals interviewed for this article echo her sentiment, highlighting the challenges faced by an entire generation.

While some individuals, like Guo, accept the party’s narrative and attribute their unemployment to personal factors, the majority find fault in the government’s policies and question the effectiveness of President Xi’s proposals. Guo resorted to delivering meals to sustain himself financially but found the physically demanding work unsustainable. His experience highlights the difficulties of adhering to the notion of “eating bitterness.”

President Xi’s suggestion to relocate to rural areas is equally out of touch with young people and the reality of China’s current landscape. His call for officials to guide college graduates to rural regions and his admiration for agricultural students who willingly face hardships have fueled speculation about a campaign resembling Maoist policies, redirecting urban youth to the countryside. However, such a policy could jeopardize the aspirations of many young people and their parents, who hold the Chinese dream of social advancement dear.

Critics argue that President Xi’s proposals fail to consider the rapidly evolving landscape, where technological advancements make physical labor increasingly replaceable. Young individuals like Steven, who holds a master’s degree in interactive design, question the compatibility of President Xi’s vision for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation with the idea of physical labor. He argues that as robots and other technologies advance, these jobs become easily replaceable. This sentiment is echoed by other young graduates who have witnessed their peers finding success abroad in technology-driven fields while their own prospects in China remain uncertain.

As months pass with little progress in their job searches, many young workers, including Steven, consider leaving China in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The feeling of hopelessness prevails, leaving them disillusioned with the country that once promised opportunities. They view migration as the best alternative and seek approval from their parents to embark on a new journey.

In conclusion, the increasing unemployment crisis among China’s young population has prompted President Xi Jinping’s call to embrace hardships and endure bitterness. However, the youth remains skeptical of these proposals, recognizing the economic challenges they face and questioning the government’s intentions. As the Communist Party addresses this issue, it must consider the aspirations of the younger generation and develop comprehensive solutions that foster genuine opportunities for growth and success.

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