One of my cousins works for a bank in Beijing. During her recent visit, she shared with me some stories of her colleagues from China’s second and third tier cities. These stories are history of struggles with happy endings. People worked really hard in school to move to the first tier city and get a better paid job. They continued to work really hard at work and save every penny they can. A standard formula for a happy ending: with all these struggles, he/she bought a flat.
Work really hard and get a flat. That is success for you, in reality. Chinese young people shall not feel lonely. On the west side of the Eurasia continent, in London house prices are also crushing the hopes of a young generation.
However there are extra layers of complexity on the China map.
Contrast – There is huge inequality between first tier cities and the rest, between urban areas and rural areas. Each province has its relative independent ecosystem, with its own infrastructure, governing team, subcultural, career opportunities. What people aim for is to move to a better system, better pay, more efficient administrative system, more job opportunities.
Mobility – But mobility is difficult due to the home registry system (户籍), a ‘sub visa’ scheme operating within the country. Each person’s home registration is attached to a local province, with gives him/her the title to study, work and receive welfare only within that province. It is a lottery where you were born. (Isn’t it universally true?). The usual channel to achieve upward mobility is to go to a university in first tier city which improves your chance to find a job in that city and settle down there significantly.
The channel is narrow but achievable, for someone from a less privileged family. One needs to eat bitter (吃苦). Eat Bitter is a concept meaning making huge sacrifices usually to obtain certain goal. In this context, it means studying extremely hard so that one can score higher than 1000, 10,0000 peers in the university entrance exam. It means try every possible way to get a better pay job and stay in the best city possible. It means work non step, count every penny you pay for living because the next thing on the checklist is to save enough money for a flat downpayment.
This has brought an interesting context for education – what is the purpose of you going through an official education system? To compete and win so you can beat the 1000 others and get to the next level?
What if you have a happy ending here? When everything that has been driving you is achieved, what is next? Run faster towards which goal? Eat bitter for what? For the better measured by what? Who are you? A winner at life but what is your cause?