Urban joblessness is not a particularly common concept for most Chinese: under Mao the government championed cradle-to-grave employment, while the economic resurgence since his death has kept the large majority gainfully employed.
Things haven’t been so rosy for recent graduates. More than a quarter of last year’s 6.3 million university-leavers are yet to find work, according to the Ministry of Education. And that number is likely to go up again, with more than 6.6 million people entering the workforce this year.
The government’s advice? Stop whining and lower your expectations. Officials say too many graduates are expecting to land prized jobs, which is never going to be possible in a tough marketplace.
Graduates today must “dare to go to places to work where the country, society and the people have most need,” says Sun Xiaobing, head of the Education Ministry’s policy and regulations department. “They should not look at the big cities or the best work positions.”
But instead of poring over the classified ads, many of the country’s jobless seem to be employing an alternative strategy: watching the reality show Only You (Fei Ni Mo Shu).
Every Sunday night on Tianjin Satellite Television, contestants confront a jury of 12 seasoned business executives. It sounds like the job interview from hell: not just because millions are watching at home, but also because of the way in which failed candidates are informed of their failure. No polite “thanks, but no thanks” note from Human Resources here. Instead, the judges simply switch a light off on their desk. Darkness indicates departure…
Some contestants do make it through, of course. For the best ones, there are job offers from the judges, and the very best contestants can get even their own revenge, choosing between rival offers.
For many viewers, the game looks familiar, as a format copied from the popular matchmaking show If You Are The One (see WiC68). And like the dating show, Only You has got China’s online community talking.
Often it is the winners who come in for most flak. Xiao Dongpo caused a stir when he rejected an offer to work at CCTV without even asking about the salary, saying only that he wasn’t interested because it didn’t “follow his dream”.
Another contestant, Miao Jian, took a battering in the blogosphere when he left the stage having rejected two perfectly good offers because he deemed the starting salary too low, and reckoned he could “find a better opportunity elsewhere.”
But viewers say that they are also intrigued by the occasional life lessons delivered by the judges, some of whom are famous entrepreneurs.
In one segment, Liu Huipu, head of Jiayuan, an online matchmaking service which listed in Hong Kong this week, was also keen to temper salary expectations among contestants. Reacting to a complaint that a Rmb3,000 ($450) monthly salary was too low, Liu retorted that it was good enough to start out with. “Young people who are looking for a job should put themselves in the right mindset: don’t overestimate your own ability and your social value,” he complained. “If a high salary is the only thing you are looking for in a job and not the experience, you are only wasting my time and your time.”
Critics say the show is a decent reflection of reality on issues like this – and that young people are less prepared to deal with chi ku (literally “eat bitterness,” a Chinese phrase for enduring hardship), says Shantou City Daily.
But then you can see why some graduates may have high expectations. Last month, Professor Dong Fan, director of the Real Estate Research Centre of Beijing Normal University, seemed to advocate a materialistic outlook in his personal blog. Much more than that, he warned his students “not to visit him again or mention him as their mentor” if they were not worth Rmb40 million by the time they were 40.
“Poverty for those with higher education degrees means shame and failure”, he concluded rather darkly.
Dong – as is becoming customary in China – had to shoulder a barrage of online criticism for his remarks. But he brushed it off, retorting that he was merely motivating his students to work hard.
Will Only You make it to season 2? Possibly not if a recent survey is right. Published by CBN Weekly it says the job market for students is picking up: 84.9% of the graduates in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have received one or more job offers before graduation; last year’s figure was 58.8%. And hiring managers say they were particularly impressed with the quality of recent graduates. “They are independent, determined and not afraid to express themselves,” says Chen Yanli at Dow Chemicals’ China operations.
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