China’s Young People Can’t Find Jobs. Xi Jinping Says to ‘Eat Bitterness.’

“To ask us to endure hardships is to try to shift focus from the anemic economic growth and the decreasing job opportunities,” said Ms. Zhang, who, like most people I interviewed for this column, wanted to be identified with only her family name because of safety concerns. A few others want to be identified only with their English names.

The party’s messaging is effective with some people. Guo, a data analyst in Shanghai who has been unemployed since last summer, said he doesn’t want to blame his joblessness on the pandemic or the Communist Party. He blames his own lack of luck and capabilities.

He canceled his online games and music subscriptions. To make ends meet, he delivered meals last December, working 11 to 12 hours a day. In the end he made a little over $700 a month. He quit because the work was too physically exhausting.

In other words, he failed in eating bitterness.

Mr. Xi’s instruction to move to the countryside is equally out of touch with young people, as well as with China’s reality. Last December he told officials “to systematically guide college graduates to rural areas.” On Youth Day a few weeks ago, he responded to a letter by a group of agriculture students who are working in rural areas, commending them for “seeking self-inflicted hardships.” The letter, also published on the front page of People’s Daily, triggered discussions about whether Mr. Xi would start a Maoist-style campaign to send urban youths to the countryside.

Such a policy would devastate the Chinese dream of moving up socially that many young people and their parents hold dearly.

Wang, a former advertising executive in Kunming in southwestern China, has been unemployed since December 2021 after the pandemic hit his industry hard. He talked to his parents, both farmers, about moving back to their village and starting a pig farm. He said they were vehemently against the idea. “They said they spent a lot of money on my education so I wouldn’t become a farmer,” he said.

In the hierarchical Chinese society, manual jobs are looked down upon. Farming ranks even lower because of the huge wealth gap between cities and rural areas. “Women wouldn’t consider to become my girlfriends if they knew that I deliver meals,” said Wang. He would fare even worse in the marriage market if he becomes a farmer.

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