Is China America’s Mirror?: Newsweek: Smart, Young, and Broke: White-Collar Workers are China’s Newest Underclass

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Melinda Liu and Marjie Vlaskamp, p. 40, June 28 & July 5, 2010; online version: China’s New Underclass: White-Collar Workers – NewsweekAnd you thought it was bad here. Must we wonder why globalization may not be such a good idea? Because when a bunch of countries jump on a bandwagon, say the proliferation of higher education, there’s little to no room for recovery, and no I’m not referring to fleeing to another country, well not necessarily!

“Guo and an estimated million others like him represent and unprecedented and troublesome development in China: a fast-growing white-collar underclass. Since the ‘90s, Chinese universities have doubled their admissions, far outpacing the job market for college grads.” [emphasis mine] My word, does this sound familiar? I know these blogs are dedicated to the law school (graduate level) industry, but I am sure that American undergraduate universities have been doing the same thing. I’ve read commentators and some bloggers suggest leaving the U.S., should you be that desparate—choose wisely!

I wonder if the author’s been reading these blogs, then again just the sad, universal reality of university systems here and abroad:  This year China’s universities and tech institutes churned out roughly 6.3 million graduates.  Many grew up in impoverished rural towns and villages and attended second- or third-tier schools in provinces, trusting that studying hard would bring them better lives than their parents had.  Interesting, we see that the promise of upward mobility is not only promoted here as the American Dream, but in other countries for hope as well. I wonder how their medical and legal fields are doing?

They may be smart and energetic, but some are starting to ask if the promise of a better life was a lie. If you have to ask, then you likely know the answer.

They’re known as “ants,” for their willingness to work, their dirt-poor living conditions, and the seeming futility of their efforts.  “These ants have high ambitions but virtually no practical skills”…

The similarities between those Chinese graduates in the tech field and American law graduates is simply astonishing. It’s a potentially explosive situation. It sure is. Just imagine how many millions of unemployed, educated persons who were deluded will lose patience with the current trend. Someone commented before about potential riots and living near concentrated urban areas.

The discontent rising among the ants is even more worrying. Blue-collar wages have actually soared recently, while white-collar pay is shrinking. This resonates so deeply right now I’m confident we can superimpose attorney with computer programmer and change the geographic region and we will have a sufficient description of the American legal industry.

…the government admits that at least one in eight is permanently unemployed. And those who get jobs don’t always find work in their chosen fields. Ditto. College grads have far higher expectations than the migrant laborers who have fueled China’s growth for three decades.  “Ants are educated. They speak foreign languages. They’re Internet-savvy.  It’s that potential for trouble that has the government worried,” he says.  “If they aren’t satisfied with their living conditions and want to start a movement, like the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, it becomes a huge problem.”

This is an interesting take, the Chinese government is concerned about the educated persons becoming unruly. In a way it makes sense. People who lived in poverty most of their lives and chose not to attain higher education and debt are accustomed to a lower standard of living. Those who work hard, with aspirations of attaining a “better life” are crudely disappointed with the all-encompassing economic reality. Thus, the former, really did not have any thing to lose, while the latter has invested time, money, effort and sacrificed aspects of normal social living based on societal and other assurances that it will be compensated for upon completion. Very interesting. Though it’s not simply black and white, of course there will be poor people who are willing to cause harm and take what’s not theirs, but I think this article shed some light (at least for me) on how we compartmentalize (poor vs. middle class or wealthy, educated vs. uneducated, etc) but the variables may cross depending on the circumstances.

This guy gives some ideas on how an uprising would occur. Is it just me or do governments tend to look at suppressing uprisings, stemming tides of frustration but oft-times do not offer or work with those affected to create solutions to the circumstances that originated the frustrations?

The ants don’t seem to be organizing in any big way so far. But they clearly have the necessary technical skills and a sense of common backgrounds and objectives.  “it’s like I’ve joined an army,” says Wang Lei, a young University of Innder Mongolia graduate who has found steady work as a computer programmer after months o searching.  “For the rest of my life, I’ll meet former Tanjialing inhabitants and have strong ties with them because of our shared experience.” Comments like this make China’s leaders nervous, not least because the ant tribes are so fluid and difficult to monitor.  If they were somehow to make common cause with other restive rural-born Chinese, such as landless farmers or migrant workers, they’d be extremely hard to suppress.”

This wouldn’t happen in America, we’re too individualistic, judge people by their clothes and there’s too much racism and haves vs. have-nots. In China, although there are ethnic Chinese and others, they’re more homogenous than Americans. So, it’s not just bad here for educated folks, just look around you.

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6 Comments »

  1. ScammedHard! Said:

    As I was reading this, I was struck that you can change the names and the word “China” to make this article based in the U.S., and it would read exactly the same, and reflect the same situation.

    Good find!

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      Yeahy, it’s crazy, wonder if this the result of globalization = template problems.

  2. Ford Said:

    I think the problem in the US is that we rely on the sense of shame to accomplish things. If someone isn’t a success, nobody ever asks how they can help out. Instead, we ask “why don’t you have a job yet, why aren’t you married yet, why haven’t you figured out where you want to be in ten years?”

    It’s hard to build a community when there’s no ownership of other people.

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      I agree, it’s never let’s work together and create solutions, it’s well “you’re doing something wrong” mentality. Ugh.

  3. Anonymous Said:

    “Ants are educated. They speak foreign languages. They’re Internet-savvy. ”

    Isn’t it interesting that they are simultaneously described as above, and as having “no practical skills”? When the system decides that all rewards must be funneled to the top, it also decides that the peons must be convinced that their impoverishment arises from their lack of usefulness.

    • A Law School Victim Said:

      It’s the old back-handed compliment, to take what you said is to really translate it as “our system provides education and no practical skills to make them employable upon graduation.” It’s ironically an admission of failure by the educational system!


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