Beijing Calls on Unemployed Chinese Youth to Work in Agriculture as 20% Remain Jobless in Cities

As youth unemployment rates surge in China, the Guangdong province has announced a controversial plan to send 300,000 unemployed young people to the countryside for two to three years to find work. The plan follows President Xi Jinping’s call to revitalize the rural economy by encouraging urban youth to seek jobs in rural areas. However, the plan has been widely panned on social media. Unemployment among young people has largely been a result of China’s economic slowdown, which has affected consumer spending and hit small businesses hard. The private sector provides over 80% of jobs in China, and a crackdown on internet, real estate, and education companies has further hurt the sector. While China’s youth are the most educated in decades, they also face a growing mismatch between their expectations and opportunities, and increasingly are losing hope that a college degree can bring once guaranteed returns.

The Kong Yiji meme, which describes disillusioned youth, has become the latest trend on Chinese social media. The meme describes highly educated people living in poverty because they are too proud to do manual labor. Young college graduates face difficult choices: pursue a white-collar career and risk unemployment or “take off their scholar’s gown” and work a blue-collar job they had hoped to avoid through education. As youth protests regarding zero-Covid policies occur, the Chinese government is concerned that wide youth unemployment could trigger even more social unrest.

Xi’s plan echoes the Down to the Countryside Movement launched by Mao in the 1950s to 1970s, which dubbed the people sent to rural areas, “China’s Lost Generation.” However, today’s generation of young people may not accept the policy meekly. Some have expressed unease with the similarity between the two campaigns, and others believe that young people have a right to pursue more fulfilling work and not be blamed for their predicament.

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