Once upon a time, China made a silent promise to its citizens: Go to college, stay out of politics, and a comfortable life awaits you. This worked for years. College graduates would get jobs that paid well enough to make their parents’ sacrifices seem worth it. But lately, this assurance seems to be crumbling, and the Chinese Communist system might be to blame.
Communist economies always fail. Mao’s initiative to transform agriculture into a collective system is a poignant example. This endeavor not only proved unsuccessful but tragically resulted in the starvation deaths of approximately 25 million people. Fast forward to recent times, China, in its bid to reshape its economy through central planning (while allowing free enterprise under varying degrees of control), is grappling with issues in its welfare system. Pensions and social security provisions are proving inadequate, and the age-old tradition of sons supporting their families is failing as well, as many find it difficult to secure employment. The two sided coin of capitalist free enterprise under the strict control of the Chinese Communist Party does not appear to be working.
Years ago, students dreamed of studying abroad, especially in English-speaking countries like the U.S. It was believed that mastering English and gaining international exposure would guarantee a lucrative job back home. However, this scenario is changing. Today, a degree from an esteemed university in China might be just as valued, or even more so, than a foreign degree. According to an expert named EF, “We can hire someone who went to one of the top-tier institutions in China, and they’re possibly better-trained than if they went to a school in the U.S. or the U.K.”
Despite these institutions growing in repute, young Chinese individuals face growing anxiety. The idea that a college degree assures a good job is now more myth than reality. And while studying overseas used to offer an advantage, it’s not the golden ticket it once was. For many, the financial burden of overseas education isn’t justified by the diminishing returns.
And what about those Chinese students who went abroad to study? Many once saw this as a gateway to a brighter future back in China, but now, a shift seems evident. The increased uncertainties in China are driving more students to find ways to stay overseas after they complete their studies. The allure of “running away” from China’s challenges is real.
So, what’s the root cause of this job crisis for young people? While the global pandemic known as COVID-19 did shake the world’s economies, it seems China was already on shaky ground even before. For years, reports of graduate unemployment in China have been surfacing. The once low and stable unemployment numbers are now skyrocketing.
China’s economy, once heavily reliant on cheap labor, is now competing with countries offering even cheaper labor like Indonesia, Vietnam, and India. The government knows it needs to shift from making small gadgets to pioneering technologies. But this evolution isn’t necessarily good for employment because these high-tech industries might require fewer human hands.
Another problem is the country’s overreliance on investments, especially in real estate. In the past, construction jobs provided employment to many. But the construction and real estate boom is unsustainable.
Amidst all this, ordinary citizens are burdened with other worries. They’re concerned about the rising costs of education and housing. Though education is technically “free,” accessing good schools might require buying expensive property in the right neighborhoods. Healthcare is another nightmare. Despite the state’s investment in insurance, many fear a single illness could bankrupt them. The pension system is inadequate, forcing the elderly to depend on their only child who might already be struggling.
So, what’s the solution? It’s simple: Increase wages and provide better social protections. But implementing these solutions in a country governed by communism is challenging. Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has expressed concerns about providing too much welfare, even though it’s may be what the nation needs to prevent a Mao style meltdown. It’s ironic that the Communist Party, which should ideally support government welfare for its citizens, is hesitant to do so.
To wrap up, China’s situation is a lesson in the perils of communism when it comes to governing an economy. The promise of a good life post-education is fading. The dreams of international studies are shifting. And amidst it all, the common citizen struggles to find solid ground in an ever-changing landscape. As the famous George Orwell once said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” The Chinese are now living through a history they might have never imagined.