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College Graduates Face Job Market Overflow in Big Cities

Chinese college graduates are facing tremendous competition for employment due to a glut of college students in recent years, particularly in big cities. Estimates predict that 60 percent of the summer’s college graduates will have trouble finding jobs.

Every year, June 7 and 8 stand as the two most important days for millions of Chinese families. This is when China’s high school graduates take the two-day college entrance examination, or gao kao in Chinese. The Xinhua News Agency reported a record figure of 9.5 million high school graduates sitting for gao kao this year. Each aims to score high enough to obtain one of the 2.6 million available undergraduate spots, making for a success rate of 27 percent.

This annual two-day event in June puts China under pressure. While more than 68 percent of the students are reported to experience tremendous pressure, a survey shows that over 80 percent of the parents suffer from pre-examination anxiety. News media take pictures and conduct interviews around campus. Nearby construction sites are ordered to minimize the noise so that students can concentrate on the examinations. The Xinhua News Agency reported that hotels and rental accommodations close to test centers are busy as many parents are eager to find somewhere comfortable and close at hand where their children can rest between examinations. Banners carrying the words "Keep Silent" are hung in hotel lobbies at the request of parents. Some parents in Shanghai hire chefs to cook for their children at a cost of 100 to 200 yuan (US$12.50 to $25) per day. Weather reports during the examination period become of intense interest to everyone.

In 2002, Hu Liangkui sat for gao kao and considered himself one of the lucky ones after winning a spot among millions of competitors to enroll into the School of Arts and Communication at Anhui Economic and Finance University as an advertising major. Four years later, Hu graduated but now has to face competition from millions of his college peers to land a job. He now works as a warehouse guard for a shoe factory in Foshan City, Nanhai District, Guangdong Province for a monthly salary of 800 yuan (US$100). This artistic college graduate made fun of himself: "I have the highest education level in our factory. I wonder if I am the first one in China who has fallen into this situation."

Hu is competing in a job market consisting of 4.1 million college graduates this year, a 22 percent increase over 2005. What makes his job search more challenging is that the locations he is considering are only limited to big cities.

According to Southern Weekend, the saying "a bed in Beijing is better than an apartment in the West" has become the general motto among Beijing college students when it comes to job selection. In recent years, a growing number of college graduates from Midwest China have been moving to Beijing and other large cities near the Southeast coast. This trend, driven by a strong desire for the city life, has further exacerbated an already existing imbalance in the job market.{mospagebreak}

To find a job, Hu moved to a ten-yuan-per-night (US$1.2) hotel near the job market on North Baoan Road, Shenzhen City. Only when he moved there did Hu realize that he, like many other college graduates, had fallen into the new category of "blind influx" job seekers.

The streets near the job market and the ten-yuan hotel are full of gloomy college graduates, with packs on their backs and maps in hand. Hu lived in a small crowded room of 14 people, the air stinking of foot odor. The hotel’s shabby building held several hundred recent graduates eager to try their luck in Shenzhen City, which is located in a special economic zone.

In Shanghai, over 100 graduates from other places gathered in Lujiazui, a prosperous area of Pudong. They live in rooms on the 12th floor of an old building that has the fashionable name of "Job-Seeking Village." People living here have stayed anywhere from several days to one or two years. They eat fried rice that costs 3 yuan (US$0.40), and sleep on 15-yuan-per-night bed boards; they go out early looking decent, and come back late exhausted; they have to share a water heater with scores of other people, or even sleep on a slab of wooden door.

In these graduates’ minds, big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, or Shenzhen always signify opportunity, high income, and a promising future. A news report circulating on China’s online discussion forums, including Xinhua Net, Qihoo, and City, estimated that there could be as many as 300,000 college graduates like Hu Liangkui in the Guangzhou Zhujiang Golden Triangle region of Southern China. This "blind influx" trend has certainly worsened the imbalance in the job market. Big cities’ job markets overflow with college graduates, while few graduates consider finding jobs in the places where they are most needed.

According to The Washington Post, the National Development and Reform Commission estimated that 60 percent of the summer’s college graduates will have trouble finding jobs. It said: "It is hard to create new jobs in large numbers due to surplus production capacity, more trade frictions and the revaluation of the yuan. As a result, it will be less easy to tackle employment pressures."

A recent survey conducted by China Youth Daily among 2,323 readers shows that 35 percent of those surveyed feel that it is useless to study when there is no job market, and 43 percent think that a diploma means nothing. Many concerned analysts, including writer Guo Songmin, concluded that China has limited itself as a mass market for manufacturing and processing, which requires mostly blue-collar workers. The result is that life for a college graduate could be more difficult than for a peasant worker.

Lukun Yu is a writer based in New York.