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Message in an Ipad box

I received the following as an email a few days ago and thought it was interesting enough to share with you here-

“Just wanted to share with you a message I received from my soon-to-be brother-in-law. He wrote:

On a completely unrelated and weird note, a few minutes ago I was breaking apart the box for the smart cover I recently bought for my iPad and discovered Chinese writing on the inner cardboard surface of the box. The writing was hidden between two layers that were glued together and I only found it because I was physically breaking apart the box. We immediately started to speculate about what it could possibly say and then I realized you may be able to read it. Anyway, if you have a minute and if you’re interested, would you mind taking a look at the attached picture for us? I’m praying it’s not the last will and testament of a depressed Foxconn worker or something terrible like that. More than likely it’s probably nothing, but we’re curious to know either way. Thanks a lot for your help.

The image is attached. Kind of hard to read, but it turns out it is not a suicide note, but a forlorn love letter. Nonetheless, it’s a good reminder that things like ipads may look like sterile, perfectly homogeneous products of the future, but are actually made by real people with real (if slightly melodramatic) feelings. I also like the idea that the author assumed the message could be thrown into the Apple distribution network like a bottle into the ocean, with virtually no chance that it would ever be seen–but it was!

Anyway, just thought it was a cool anecdote that might be of interest to you / your team.”

Chinese graduates hate their low paying jobs, but are hopeful about the future

Yesterday I shared the answers my former students gave to a short survey I sent them. Today we’re going to look more closely at the data, and try to get a better understanding of the lives these recent graduates are facing.

As I am currently living in Nanjing, where salaries have been moving steadily upward for my friends graduating from one of China’s best universities, it was very interesting to see that the top salary among these 9 from Guangxi was only 2,500 RMB. The average was just 1,842 RMB, which is slightly below the national average for urban residents (1,998 RMB/month). Only 3 of the 9 students reported salaries above that average, two of those earned 2,000RMB/month.

The second surprise for me was how little they worked. I think we often get the idea that Chinese workers are not only overworked, but also underpaid. While none of these students made as much as a Foxconn assembly line worker, only one of them worked nearly as many hours. My friends in Nanjing earning higher salaries, worked far longer than these recent graduates. From the 8 students that reported their weekly hours, the average was 37 1/4 hours per week. There was a clear division between public school teachers (27 hours per week) and employees of private companies (43 hours per week).

This brings me to my third finding, low satisfaction and low levels of loyalty. 67% of the respondents reported that they were not satisfied with their work (compared to 33% in the U.S.), with most of them citing low pay as the reason for their dissatisfaction. As a consequence, 78% said they would try to find a new job in the next year. This should serve as a reminder to foreign companies operating in China, that even though people are willing to work for a low salary, a few thousand yuan per month does not buy employee loyalty. As Hillary stated clearly yesterday, if the company offers opportunities for promotions, she’d stay; otherwise she would take the skills she gained working there to their competitors.

It seems while teaching may be a very low paying job (1633RMB/month vs. 2166RMB/month), the hours worked per week make it one of the more relaxed options. Teaching also offered a better hourly wage (16.5RMB/hour vs. 12.9RMB/hour) than anyone earned in a private company. Unfortunately, none of the rural teachers reported being satisfied with their jobs, and all of them planned to find a new job within the next year. This shows that hourly wage doesn’t matter nearly as much as the possible monthly wage, and this is consistent with what I have heard from virtually every other Chinese friend. I think most of the teachers would be more satisfied working longer hours if it meant higher monthly wages (perhaps providing tutoring to struggling students?), and it might make staying in the rural schools that need them more attractive.

The final take-away from this short survey, is that in spite of low salaries and even lower rates of satisfaction, recent Chinese graduates are overwhelmingly hopeful about their future. Even David, whose quote to all of you was that, “Life Sucks,” reported that he was hopeful about his future. The only respondent who was not hopeful, had one of the lowest hourly wages earning just over 10RMB/hour ($1.65) as a primary school teacher. This is consistent with what I am seeing with my friends in Nanjing, even though many of them are not satisfied with their current jobs, they have been able to hop from company to company in search of something better.

China’s well educated garbage men – Sorting through the waste of superfluous degrees

When you hear the words “migrant worker,” what kind of person comes to mind? Are they young or middle age? Are they poor? Are they educated?

While “migrant worker” seems at first to describe a fairly uniform group of lowly occupations – factory and construction workers, aiyis, taxi drivers, etc. Their backgrounds are actually quite diverse, and the term covers a far larger group of people than we might expect. So large in fact that over 55% of those between 14-35 living in Shanghai are counted as “migrants.”

Many of these people are ambitious college graduates entering a workplace with little need of higher education degrees. As a colleague from a Chinese charity recently told me, a large number of people working at factories like Foxconn are actually college educated but have no better prospects. Additionally, many of the students I taught in Guangxi now occupy low sales positions or factory jobs in Guangdong that only offer a few thousand RMB per month. One student recently told me that she’d left her sales job to become a teacher in rural Jiangxi due to the low pay and long hours.

What’s crazy is that these jobs are actually starting to require college degrees, even though they have little need for such educated people. This shows that there is both a glut of college graduates and too few jobs which require higher education.

The best evidence of this comes from an article published by the People’s Daily entitled “200 apply for 20 trash-sorter jobs.” The job required a college degree, and even attracted a number of postgraduates. While the salary was rather attractive at 4,000RMB per month (attractive in Guangzhou), this probably isn’t what drew so many applicants. As one hopeful applicant said, “Garbage classifiers for the city government are government employees, who can enjoy stable income and other social benefits,” and added that this was especially important at a time when the country’s economic situation was “not-so-good.”

This seems like a monumental waste of talents and resources. Not only could one probably find a qualified garbage sorter for much less in Guangdong, but why are college graduates looking for work in the dumps if China’s economy is as resilient as the gov’t is claiming?

My final year of teaching in Guangxi, I had a student who was considering dropping out of school. As his teacher I wanted him to stay in school, and helped his classmates stage something of an intervention on his behalf. They pleaded with him not to leave, but the young man said (in Chinese), “My English is terrible, our college isn’t famous, and experience is more valuable than education.” His classmates started crying; they told me later it was because he was right – college was a waste of time when there weren’t jobs for them.