Anxieties and Hopes for China’s Future

There are many causes for anxiety in Chinese society today: a weak job market, a stressful work environment, food safety issues, poisonous air, the list goes on. Tencent News recently produced a video profiling young, urban Chinese and the causes of anxiety in their lives. Tea Leaf Nation translates:

Several days ago, a 24-year-old employee of Ogilvy in Beijing died from sudden cardiac arrest, which initial reports say occurred after the employee worked overtime for one straight month. His last post on Sina Weibo went viral, drawing countless comments from other overworked netizens, many of whom noted that China had become the number one country in the world for death by overwork.

Studies show that many Chinese are unhappy with their jobs — or lack thereof. This year, millions of Chinese students are graduating and face what is reportedly the worst job market in the country’s history. Even if they are able to find a job, their worries will not end. A recent Regus study showed China ranked first among 80 countries in workplace stress.

A video produced by Tencent News depicted sources of anxiety felt by Chinese in the workplace: financial troubles, interpersonal relationships, and endless overtime. While the short video included facts and figures about stress in China’s workforce, it focused on individual stories — a 26-year-old who believes he will never be rich enough to buy a house, and a low-level office worker who dreams of emigrating. Chinese increasingly see their anxieties and dreams as individual matters, rather than collective issues.

The video depicts the anxieties of those in Chinese workplaces. For those just graduating from China’s universities, finding a job itself is becoming increasingly stressful. As the Financial Times reports:

According to the ministry of education, 6.99m students will graduate from university this summer, 190,000 more than last year and the most since records began in 1949.

Tough competition and slackness in China’s economy have made 2013 what many in the media have described as the “hardest” yet for graduates looking for jobs. According to Shanghai Evening Post, the situation is even more severe than it was in late 2008, when the global financial crisis was at its height. [Source]

Amid all this doom and gloom, ChinaFile published a roundtable discussion looking at what China is getting right, which generated a range of responses from Michael Zhao, Orville Schell, James Fallows, and Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn. From Fallows’ response:

It’s this difference of tone and attitude, more than any specific contrast in investment patterns or growth percentages, that to me represents “what is going right in China.” Like anyone who has been in China recently, I can give you a hundred-item list of serious problems for the country and its institutions. But so far, I’ve always been able to list of a hundred-plus-one strengths, assets, and ambitions expressed by individuals and organizations there. I was in Beijing again last week, and, in addition to being reminded of all the crises, I was exposed again to a sense of national movement and ambition. That may seem a vague reed on which to rest an assessment of a nation, but I think it’s unignorable, it’s important, and it’s part of why it’s foolish to bet against the Chinese system’s ability to cope with its challenges. [Source]


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