China’s “Ant Tribe”

A typical neighborhood in a Chinese city, in which graduates live four or five to a room.

There was an excellent article (link here) in the New York Times this week about the “ant tribe” in China—college graduates who find their value has depreciated over the last few years. They are finding it increasingly difficult to get a job among the mass of recent graduates.

“While some recent graduates find success, many are worn down by a gauntlet of challenges and disappointments. Living conditions can be Dickensian, and grueling six-day work weeks leave little time for anything else but sleeping, eating and doing the laundry.”

This, however, isn’t necessarily good work ethic. Companies are very poorly run, and though hours are long, production is often very low. Furthermore, dishonesty and corruption are prevalent. Often times, people buy diplomas off the street corner or just lie, which depreciates the value of a diploma even further.

Graduates move to the big cities in hopes of finding a job, but find that an overabundance of college graduates and a lack of what is called guanxi, or relationships, makes it hard to find any job and nearly impossible to find one that pays significantly more than a factory job. This quote by a recent graduate in Beijing, struggling to find work, seems to sum up the situation pretty well: “If you’re not the son of an official or you don’t come from money, life is going to be bitter.”

China is excellent at producing jobs for those who are content with blue collar jobs; however, those seeking white collar jobs with a degree are finding life increasingly difficult.


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