The Chinese government has suspended the publication of youth unemployment data, an indication of just how dire the labor market is for 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas. Youth unemployment hit a record 21.3% in June. Censors targeted discussion of unemployment. Online, young people began comparing themselves to “Kong Yiji,” the destitute protagonist of a 1918 short story by Lu Xun. Now, as Claire Fu reported for The New York Times, the central government has simply stopped publishing statistics on youth unemployment, at least for the foreseeable future:
Fu Linghui, a spokesman of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a news briefing that the government would stop making public employment information “for youth and other age groups.” He said the surveys that government researchers use to collect the data “need to be further improved and optimized.”
[…] The data on youth unemployment is not the first economic report suspended this year by the Chinese authorities. This spring, the National Bureau of Statistics halted the public release of monthly readings of consumer confidence, a series that it launched 33 years ago.
[…] Rising youth unemployment could lead to broader problems, according to a June report from the China Macroeconomy Forum, a think tank at Renmin University of China.
“If it is not handled properly, it will cause other social problems beyond the economy, and it could even ignite the fuse of political problems,” the report said. [Source]
Many Weibo users derided the decision not to publish the data as farcical, and a violation of their right to be kept informed:
-超人不想上班：To clear things up a bit … the current data is not a pretty picture, so its best not to let everyone see it yet.
Chat-INN：At present, this is their only effective policy for dealing with high youth unemployment.
提三尺叉刺杀闰土的猹：Manipulating the data must have become impossible.
没头脑更加布高兴：If the data isn’t good, then there’s no data.
凯尔哔哔： “The publication of data on new daily COVID infections will be temporarily suspended.”
请自觉嗑上清方：Time for them to invent a new term [for unemployment] again? “Hikikomori-style employment?”
爱在阳台学习的小法师熊：The National Bureau of Stastics is truly capricious. The unemployment rate is an important indicator of national economic development—they can’t arbitrarily decide whether to publish it or not. The public has the right to know the real situation. [Chinese]
When Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, China’s national and municipal statistics bureaus published over 80,000 statistical series. Today, fewer than half of those series are still published. And youth unemployment is not the only negative economic indicator. Some analysts believe China is experiencing “all-out deflation,” an assertion the National Bureau of Statistics dismisses: “There is no deflation in Chinese society, and there won’t be in the future.”
Anecdotal evidence matches the economic indicators. Youth hostels in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are reportedly packed with unemployed youth. A satirical article that parodied the language of the National Statistics Bureau imagined other data that made-up universities might hypothetically stop publishing, such as cafeteria usage-rates (because the unemployed go to campus looking for a cheap meal.)
The government has often been less than sympathetic to youth concerns about the weak employment market. It has proffered solutions ranging from volunteerism in the countryside to more “Red Flag Spirit,” while instructing would-be Kong Yijis to doff their academic robes and take up manual labor. Online commentators who suggest that young people are not to blame for their own poverty are apt to see their writing censored. Such was the fate of one essayist who suggested that Xi Jinping himself might be the problem: “Rather than make Kong Yiji take off his scholar’s gown, how about stripping the Emperor of his new clothes?”