Everyone knows that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. Even China’s president Xi Jinping recognizes that the dismal future of his communist regime must rely upon new blood. In a speech in 2019, he affirmed that “China’s hope lies in youth.” He flattered them by calling young people the most energetic force in society and encouraged them to defend the nation’s high ideals ardently. After all, the communist tyranny can only continue if the youth are on board.
Unfortunately for Xi, many Chinese youths are jumping ship. They seek something more than his “high ideals.” Many young people are well educated, and some work high-paying jobs. However, the pressures to survive in a highly competitive workplace have taken their toll. Many people just want out.
Using highly suspicious statistics, China claims to have averaged a growth rate of 10 percent GDP over the last thirty years. However, that rate has proven unsustainable with the COVID crisis and supply chain problems. In a perfect storm that is much of its own doing, Beijing’s totalitarian “zero tolerance” attitude toward COVID has triggered massive layoffs and an uncertain business climate. Its regulatory restrictions are suffocating companies in the private sector.
To make matters worse, 2022 has produced a record number of graduates from universities and vocational schools. More than 12 million jobseekers are now competing in a market that does not have enough corresponding jobs. This mismatch is causing rising frustration among applicants with high expectations.
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In April of 2022, 18 percent of China’s youth between 18 and 25 were unemployed, constituting 2-3 percent of the workforce. This year, officials expect 15 million unemployed young people. In addition, a shrinking GDP and an average 3.5 percent reduction in wages paint a bleak picture for youth trying to enter the labor market.
Thus, young people have little hope of succeeding in life, owning a home, starting a family, or retiring with savings. The prevalent attitude is confusion, despair, and uncertainty.
In 2021, the Chinese comedian Ali Wong coined the term “tang ping,” which means to “lie down,” to describe the passive attitude toward the hopeless future Chinese youth faced then. These youths rejected the hyper-competitiveness in the Chinese job market and the absurd working demands referred to as 9-9-6, meaning 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. Indeed, when companies insist upon such deplorable conditions, workers become frustrated, produce the minimum and “lie down.”
China’s young people see that they must make a herculean effort only to be rewarded with crushing mediocrity. China’s Internet is filled with comments about how many are just giving up. They reject the grueling competition, inhumane work demands and unachievable social expectations and get by with the minimum effort and lifestyle needs.
The communist state media claims that the “lie-down” attitude is due to “negative auto-suggestion,” by which a person is convinced that “I cannot make it.” However, the real reasons lie in the lack of social mobility and China’s alarmingly uncertain future.
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Indeed, China’s unemployment rate is twice that of the U.S. and at an all-time high. With disproportionally low salaries, many applicants are waiting for better offers or hoping China’s economy might turn around. Meanwhile, job offers are rapidly drying up. Amid uncertainty in the private sector, many are now seeking the lower wages yet better security of state-owned companies.
The expansion of private firms is increasingly difficult since Xi’s anti-capitalist regulatory crackdown resulted in hefty fines against lucrative Internet companies for “monopolistic behavior.” The real estate sector was suffering from a lack of financing. The private sector is contracting as a result. In addition, China’s top education companies trimmed their staff by 135,000 in 2021. Government interference in business continues to sow confusion, discontent and uncertainty.
Beijing has urged its citizens to “do whatever it takes” to rescue the economy. However, the response among the youth has largely been “bai lan,” which means “let it rot.” Youths are engaging in a voluntary retreat from pursuing primary goals because they are simply too difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
The problem is made worse because those pursuing “bai lan” are often the most qualified new workers. Like many other countries, China has over-emphasized the value of higher education, as seen by the increase of college graduates ten-fold in the last 20 years. With nearly 60 percent of their youth graduating from universities, there is a glut of highly educated people seeking professional positions and rejecting factory jobs. Thus, manufacturing suffers a loss of skilled workers while professionals are locked in mad competition for fewer positions.
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Communism has failed everywhere it has been imposed. And even in communist China, today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders; however, it seems they would just as soon let it rot.