Unemployed Youth Skeptical That “Red Flag Canal Spirit” Will Alleviate Their Woes

China’s youth employment crisis is at least partly a matter of attitude, according to People’s Daily. In two recent editorials calling for youth to “establish a correct perspective on employment” and “seek out hardships,” the Party’s flagship paper sought to assure young graduates that their future—if dedicated to the motherland—is bright. Specifically, the Party hopes that unemployed urban youth will seek out opportunities in China’s underdeveloped countryside in order to “revitalize the rural economy.” The opinion piece on “establishing a correct perspective on employment” lectured youth: “Applying your gifts where the nation and the people have the greatest need will allow you to look back on your youth without regret. What’s more, by honing yourself at the grassroots, you will attain lifelong spiritual wealth that will provide an endless source of nourishment as you embark on your career.” On Weibo, there was widespread backlash to the editorial, with some commenters volunteering for jobs at famously nepotistic and cushy state-owned enterprises, or suggesting that the children of the People’s Daily editorial staff might “lead the way” on rural work: 

New-bing新必应趣探:If you don’t endure hardship, how will the People’s Daily editorial staff be able to recline on sofas in their air-conditioned rooms while sipping milk tea, enjoying all life has to offer?

IT搬砖民工一枚:Third-generation China Tobacco employees, third-generation China Power employees, thank you for all your hard work and generations of sacrifice! Now please allow us to take your places, and we’ll dedicate the rest of our lives to applying our gifts! 

明天下雨呢:Here’s a request: could the children of top officials step out of their bubble for a second?

Xby1954:“Go where we’re needed, go where it’s hard…” Who’s going to pay our mortgages? With 30-year mortgages, at least we won’t turn lazy in our old age. 

欧哈几图:Let Prince Zhou & his ilk lead the way. [“Prince Zhou” (周公子 Zhōu gōngzǐ) is derogatory slang for the children of officials and top managers at state-owned enterprises.]

子非语ddd:Establish a correct perspective on employment = awake to your role as a good little chive. (Otherwise, the bureaucrats and capitalists won’t have it so sweet anymore.)

Ebbdindnmwm:The children of the People’s Daily leadership should lead by example. 

Warmiess:This group of assholes really has been estranged from the masses for far too long. [Chinese]

The second editorial, exhorting young workers to “cultivate a spirit of ‘seeking out hardships,’” was written in a similar vein. A jumble of mixed imagery extolled the moral value of such hardships: “As for youth, they should come to know ‘the turbulence of stormy seas.’ Learn how to deal with ‘hot potatoes.’ Experience what it’s like to ‘jump from the frying pan into the fire.’ Only then can they develop true mettle and professional excellence.” The editorial encouraged youth to draw inspiration from the 1960s, when—in the midst of the Cultural Revolution—a group of 300 youth formed a “commando unit” to build a difficult portion of the Red Flag Canal, a Mao-era irrigation project Xi Jinping visited after securing a third term at the head of the Party. This past week, The Economist’s “Chaguan” columnist visited the Red Flag Canal to inquire about a proposed Patriotic Education Law, and found only vague explanations for the law’s necessity—rationales that rely partly on fears of corrosive foreign influences

Highfalutin theories of governance are only part of the puzzle, however. When asked, ordinary Chinese instinctively call laws important and different from a mere policy or practice. To explore what they mean by this, Chaguan headed to the Red Flag Canal, a vast irrigation project in the central province of Henan, dug through forbidding mountains by farmers and workers in the early 1960s. Mr Xi chose the site for a visit last autumn, just days after he secured his third term as party leader. At the canal he urged youngsters to abandon their “pampered” ways and learn from their forebears, including members of a youth brigade who died digging a tunnel through solid rock. Chaguan visited the canal because it is just the sort of “red tourism” site that the draft Patriotic Education Law singles out for praise.

[…] On a recent weekday, the Red Flag Canal was thronged with students holding Communist Youth League flags, workers from state-owned companies and briskly marching columns of soldiers. In interviews, visitors quoted Mr Xi’s words about the Red Flag Canal spirit, and his call to “eat bitterness and endure hardship” to build a strong nation. Asked why China needs a patriotic-education law, many offered a version of the same two thoughts. First, a law sets out citizens’ obligations. Without a law, ventured a young woman studying at Henan Agricultural University: “We may have patriotic thoughts, but not show patriotism with our deeds.” Second, a law will allow the unpatriotic to be punished. Legal tools are needed to combat “foreign influences” that the young encounter online, in films or magazines, suggested a middle-school English teacher from Jiangsu, as his wide-eyed pupils crowded around. [Source]

The Party’s exhortations to sacrifice are but one form of the state’s apparent unwillingness to face the scale of the unemployment crisis. Censors recently took down a series of graphics published by Sohu News that showed youth unemployment above 20% and juvenile criminal prosecutions up 42.8%, among other hair-raising statistics. The Ministry of Education and its provincial branches have mandated that universities report authentic graduate employment figures, a sign that rampantly fraudulent reporting might be obscuring the real picture on youth unemployment. The best anecdotal evidence about youth unemployment might be the latest fad in graduation photography: students sharing images of themselves “lying flat,” splayed across the ground in defeat, or tossing their theses into the trash. 


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