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Weekly #4 Five China stories you need to read: AI's role in China-U.S. relations; Young people in chip sector; Quandary of university graduates
"A future China-US balance in AI might form the basis for a 'Grand Bargaining'."
If you took a train from Beijing to Shanghai today, you'd find that it's overcast outside the window all the way. I'm not sure if this is due to the typhoon that just made landfall along the southeast coast of China, but it seems that this kind of overcast and rainy weather will be seen in the coastal cities of Eastern China this weekend.
Here comes our fourth weekly roundup, another five captivating China stories selected by GRR from China's social media platforms, which delves into the following topics:
1) How the Chinese academically influential voice views Kissinger's recent visit to China: concerns about China-US Relations; AI and International Politics; US Perception of China and Internal Divisions; dwindling "China experts"
2) How the ups and downs of the Chinese chip industry share the same breath and destiny with the young workforce
3) The growing trend among Chinese young people to pursue financial success through entrepreneurship in a small city known as the "World's Commodity Capital"
4) The quandary of university graduates in China to choose "a second battle" for the postgraduate entrance exam while discouraged by their universities
5) Chinese young people found a new and recession-proof job: conducting assessments for the elderly
It is worth noting that the first two stories both talk about the Chinese chip industry, respectively from the macro and micro perspective: the chip sector could be a critical strategic point for superpowers with its heavy influence on technological advancement and AI while also sharing the same breath and destiny with Chinese young workforce.
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1.Prof. Zhengyongnian: Meeting with Kissinger show willingness to talk 侠客岛对话郑永年：基辛格确实“有话要说”
Overview: The article presents a recent interview by 侠客岛 [Xiakedao, or Knight Island], a WeChat account edited by the People's Daily international department, with Zheng Yongnian, an academically influential voice in the Chinese mainland, on former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger's visit to China last week. Prof. Zheng is currently the Presidential Chair Professor and the Founding Director of the Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies (GCCS), the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen (CUHK-SZ), and he previously served as the former Director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore (2008-2019). The interview mainly covers four aspects.
Concerns about China-US Relations: Kissinger's recent media interviews reveal his worries about the current state of China-US relations. He believes that if the current trajectory continues, the two countries may slide toward war in 5-10 years.
AI and International Politics: Kissinger views AI as the new basis for dialogue between China and the US, akin to nuclear weapons during the Cold War. AI's implications for military applications and its potential to amplify the power of nuclear weapons raise concerns about global stability.
US Perception of China and Internal Divisions: Prof. Zheng highlights the prevailing negative perception of China in the US, driven by fear, domestic politics, and a collective sense of panic. The lack of a unified policy approach and internal divisions within the US government contribute to the current low point in bilateral relations.
Dwindling "China experts": Prof. Zheng notes that many younger experts in the US are now focused on big data rather than visiting China, and that there is a trend towards labeling those who are objective and neutral towards China as "pro-China". He also highlights the structural issues in the relationship, with the US defining China as a competitor or even an enemy. However, he argues that this is not a determinative factor and that China should continue to pursue its own path of development while promoting its global initiatives, which have the potential to play a significant role in shaping the emergence of a global "third force."
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Beijing on July 20, 2023. (source: Xinhua)
Highlights: (the transcript of 2nd Q&A)
Xiakedao: Your insights on Kissinger's views on AI are interesting. Wang Yi's meeting with Kissinger covered topics on artificial intelligence. Recently, Xiakedao cited a New York Times report discussing why the US wants to “bottleneck” China's chip industry, seen as a key leverage to contain China.
Zheng Yongnian: Yes, major powers seek to dominate the world through AI. I agree with Kissinger's perspective; we must strategically understand AI.
AI's impact on domestic and foreign affairs can be significant and, if militarized, may escalate conflicts and cause catastrophic consequences worldwide. AI might even strengthen nuclear weapons, potentially leading to new international negotiations.
Chips are crucial, as they heavily influence technological advancement and AI. In the high-end AI chip sector, China-US competition may intensify. Just as the "Cold War" era relied on mutual possession of destructive nuclear power between the US and the Soviet Union, a future China-US balance in AI might form the basis for a "Grand Bargaining."
Historical geopolitical shifts often relate to technological changes, not just economic and trade factors. Over the past four decades or so, due to economic globalization, there has been a prevailing belief that technology would perpetually diffuse, leading to global sharing of technological progress. But what do we see now? Others are blocking you in core technologies.
In today's world, the core technology is being controlled, making it essential for countries to rely on themselves. The true indicator of a rising great power is not just its economic size. To maintain world peace, possessing the means to defend it is crucial. "To stop war, be prepared for war" — you must have the means to defend peace.
Comments: It is undoubtedly remarkable for Kissinger, a 100-year-old man who could have retired at home just reading and enjoying life, to painstakingly make this visit to Beijing at a crucial moment, out of such a tremendous sense of responsibility towards the bilateral relations between China and the United States and the world.
"Dr. Henry Kissinger's visits to China give him an opportunity to listen, learn, and comprehend China's perspectives and then convey these viewpoints to relevant figures in the United States as an ordinary citizen," said Joshua Cooper Ramo who has always been engaged and worked with Kissinger in an interview after this visit.
As shown in the highlights above, the chip sector could be a crucial arena among superpowers with its heavy influence on technological advancement and AI. However, it would also share the same breath and destiny with many young professionals. Follow up to see more in the next story.
2.How long can young people stay in the chip industry boom? 芯片行业里的年轻人，能在风口待多久？
Overview: The article discusses how the booming chip industry in China has attracted young professionals with high-paying job opportunities and promising career growth. However, challenges like geopolitical issues and market trends have introduced uncertainty, leading to job insecurity and disillusionment among the young workforce.
While some remain optimistic about the industry's impact on technology and national growth, others are reevaluating their career choices and seeking new opportunities. The rapid changes in the industry's landscape force young professionals to adapt and reconsider their career paths.
This article comes from 每日人物 [Daily Person], a platform that highlights the people involved in societal hot topics and even victims of overlooked everyday accidents. Through fact-based and in-depth reporting, it showcases the diverse facets of human nature and conveys a sense of humanistic care.
张江 Zhangjiang's talent apartments in Shanghai. Many of the country's top chip talents live here.
Just one year later, the high-speed elevator came to a halt, and this highland gradually succumbed to the rising sea waters. The global consumer electronics industry faced sluggish demand, and chips transformed from being in short supply to being unsellable, leading the semiconductor sector into a downward cycle. The domestic chip industry was also affected, with a total of 5,746 chip-related companies being revoked or deregistered throughout 2022.
Xie Rui remembers how the recruitment requirements in chip companies suddenly skyrocketed. They demanded engineers with 5 or even 10 years of experience, or simply said, "We have no need for headhunters; we're not hiring anyone." Some larger companies were even downsizing due to poor performance.
One male candidate, specializing in AI chip algorithms and a graduate from a prestigious university, previously worked for a state-owned enterprise before switching to a startup where he received a 60 percent salary increase. However, after just one year, he was laid off. When he asked Xie Rui if there were any new job opportunities, he felt some regret, saying, "If I hadn't left, maybe things would have been more stable."
This is the most peculiar aspect of the chip industry. When companies face crises, these young professionals in the booming field, who have high costs and limited experience, are the most easily discarded. When they search for new jobs, their previously high salaries become a burden. Xie Rui knows of a similarly-aged young man still searching for work, and she wants to help him find opportunities, but she also finds no way out. "Someone who used to earn 40,000 yuan ( about 5,577 U.S. dollars) in a month, now asking him to settle for just over 10,000 yuan (about 1,394 U.S. dollars), he definitely can't accept it."
Comment: The production, manufacturing, and sale of a single chip involve complex processes and span across the cutting-edge technological fields within the country. It embodies the narrative of a rising nation and independent research and development, and also represents the aspirations and imagination of ordinary people. Despite the current downward cycle of the chip industry, many Chinese netizens' comments below the article still hold an optimistic attitude toward this "sunrise industry", saying there is still a long way to go for domestic chips, which also means vast development prospects.
3. Chinese young people compete for entrepreneurship in World's Largest Wholesale Market 中国最富小城，已经卷疯了
Overview: The article discusses the growing trend among Chinese young people to pursue financial success through entrepreneurship in Yiwu city of east China's Zhejiang province, known as the "World's Commodity Capital." Many are leaving stable jobs in big cities to explore various business opportunities, driven by the desire for quick money and freedom. However, they encounter challenges in a fiercely competitive market with product homogenization and marketing difficulties.
Despite the risks, the allure of potential success continues to attract more young people to Yiwu. Social media platforms contribute to the perception of easy money. Whether they find success or face setbacks, this pursuit of entrepreneurship represents a search for meaning and new possibilities in life.
This is a report by 槽植 [Cao Zhi], a new emotional consumer brand under NetEase Culture and Creativity, advocating for a more stylish and high-quality way of living.
Yiwu International Trade Market, the landmark of the city
Why Yiwu? The answer is simple: it is renowned as the "World's Commodity Capital." According to relevant data, Yiwu boasts over 70,000 commercial booths, trading in 33,127 product categories, and offering 1.7 million individual items. It is said that "anything in the world can be found in Yiwu, and often at even more affordable prices."
People who come to Yiwu are amazed by the feeling that money is everywhere. Earrings that cost just over 3 yuan are sold for around 20 yuan in online stores; baroque-style heavy metal jewelry priced at 30 yuan is sold for over 200 yuan in some popular shops. "All kinds of sought-after trendy bracelets are piled together. Visiting Yiwu is like embarking on a journey to indulge in consumerism and charm."
Product homogenization is severe, and the competition threshold is low, posing a significant challenge for entrepreneurship in Yiwu. "There are plenty of opportunities in Yiwu, but the entry barriers are so low that they are almost non-existent, leading to fierce price wars. While there are legends of wealth being made in Yiwu, the reality is that most struggle to make ends meet or just maintain stability."
"After working for ten years, I realized that many things at work were meaningless - endless meetings, never-ending weekly and monthly reports, and countless PowerPoint presentations to revise... Unconsciously, I was constantly drained by internal struggles."During my days in a large corporation, I lost the ability to truly experience life and the capacity to be happy." Is having a regular job really the right way to live? They attempted to explore other possibilities.
Going to Yiwu is just one of the paths that young people take when they resign from their jobs or face unemployment; it represents their rejection of internal struggles. In the process of trying and experimenting, they seek a better way forward, and perhaps, this is where they find the true significance of exploration.
Comment: In China's current high-pressure work environment, many individuals are seeking alternative paths, and entrepreneurship appears as a viable option. However, entrepreneurship is also a bumpy road. After seeing challenges and opportunities in Yiwu, some young people might get inspired to contemplate their own aspirations and consider if entrepreneurship could be their avenue to a more fulfilling and rewarding career path.
4.No "second battle" of postgraduate entrance exam, said university staff “阻击”脱产考研“二战”：多所高校举办学生座谈会
Overview: The article zooms in on the quandary of university graduates in China - to enter the job market before it gets even worse, or to study on zero income for another year for the postgraduate exam. But the university seems to have made the choice for them. Eyeing for the employment rate, the administrative staff are using lectures and meetings to persuade the students to get a job. However, the report also discovered that some universities did support the "second battle" - those that already had high employment rates.
This is a report by 南方周末 [Southern Weekly], an influential newspaper based in Guangzhou, south China's Guangzhou Province. It is known by its investigations into social issues.
Qin Xing recalls that in April 2023, the student supervisor gathered "everyone in the college who hadn't found a job" for a "job mobilization meeting". For students preparing for the "second battle" of the postgraduate entrance exam, the supervisor said: "A postgraduate program is not better than three years' working experience."
Qin Xing believes she failed the postgraduate exam the first time only because she got sick. And she decided to take the exam again because she "likes learning", not because of "blindly following the trend".
As the number of postgraduate applicants enters a period of high growth, the population of "second battle" students continues to increase and has started to become an object of attention for student affairs staff at universities. Southern Weekly reporters noticed that mobilization meetings are often organized by science and engineering colleges. From April to June 2023, the School of Energy at Xi'an University of Science and Technology, the Petroleum Engineering College at Xi'an Shiyou University, the College of Civil Engineering at Nantong Polytechnic College, and others successively held such meetings.
The word "employment" frequently appeared during meetings. The website of the Xi'an University of Science and Technology School of Energy states that the purpose of the meeting was to "steadily advance the employment of 2023 graduates" and "guide students to rationally choose the 'second battle' of the postgraduate exam." At one meeting held by the College of Plant Protection at Northwest A&F University, the supervisor said that "due to the pandemic's impact, many employers have substantial recruitment demand for the college's graduates."
Qin Xing's theory is that supervisors are discouraging the "second battle" in order to "make some achievements" in graduate employment rates.
More precisely, this refers to the "graduate employment fulfillment rate." According to relevant 2021 notices from the Ministry of Education, the calculation of the "graduate employment fulfillment rate" includes the employment rate through agreements and contracts, entrepreneurship rate, flexible employment rate, and admission rate for further studies.
Apparently, suspending studies to take the "second battle" does not fall into any of these categories. But it is an important cause behind the unemployment of university graduates. Huazhong Normal University once disclosed a 2021 graduate employment fulfillment rate of 73.78%, in which 58.53% of unemployed graduates continue to prepare for the "second battle".
For universities, the "employment rate" does not just represent "face value". On July 14, 2023, the Ministry of Education issued a notice stating that "for majors with low employment rates that do not meet social demand, universities should be cautious about increasing their enrollment and promptly abolish them." Previously at the end of 2020, the "Evaluation Measures for the Effectiveness of 'Double First Class' Construction" issued by the Ministry of Education and other departments listed "graduate employment quality" as part of the overall construction evaluation system for universities.
Comment: In June, the National Bureau of Statistics in China put the youth unemployment rate at 21.3 percent, although some argued for a higher figure. Anxiety certainly prevails in the younger generation and their families. As the economy struggles to recover, "Erzhan" (namely, second battle) is becoming more of an answer than a choice for fresh graduates, who believe a master's degree will make a difference in the job market.
When the interests of university staff and university graduates diverge, there seems to be no middle ground for agreement. The government needs to put in more efforts to reconcile such conflicts through fine-tuning and policy guidance.
5.People born in the 1990s have found a new job that is recession-proof: conducting assessments for the elderly. 90后找到了不会失业的新职业：给老人做评估
Overview: The article discusses a promising career opportunity for the Chinese born in the 1990s: becoming elderly capability assessors. As society grapples with challenges related to an aging demographic and declining birth rates, the demand for professional evaluations to determine appropriate care for the elderly is rising. Elderly capability assessors not only evaluate physical capabilities but also consider mental and emotional well-being, aiming to empower seniors and help them regain independence.
Despite its significance, misconceptions have caused a shortage of qualified professionals. Becoming an elderly capability assessor offers a fulfilling path to positively impact the lives of senior citizens.
This article comes from 三联生活周刊 [Sanlian Lifeweek Magazine], an influential Beijing-based weekly.
到 2035 年左右，我国的老年人人口规模将突破4亿，老龄化人口空前严峻。但生育率却在逐年下跌，2022年首次出现人口负增长，总和生育率跌破了1.1。
By around 2035, the elderly population in China is projected to exceed 400 million, presenting an unprecedentedly serious aging population challenge. However, the birth rate has been continuously declining each year, and in 2022, the country experienced a declining population for the first time, with the total fertility rate dropping below 1.1.
This job appears to involve assessing elderly individuals, but in reality, it is a formulation of elderly care plans. It acts as a central hub, guiding all subsequent services and determining how to allocate future caregiving resources.
We are not here to replace the elderly in their tasks; instead, we assist them in rediscovering their independence. Declining physical abilities in the elderly do not mean they no longer yearn for an independent life. Not a single person wishes for a life of dependency.
If life were condensed into a day, twilight would be the most challenging to endure. It represents the last phase of life, the most difficult path to tread. Wang Junlan and her colleagues are striving to make this journey smoother and fill it with beautiful scenery along the way.
Comment: China is moving towards a gray society. The challenges posed by an aging population require specialized care, and elder care assessors play a pivotal role in providing tailored services. As a result, Wang Junlan's dedication to helping the elderly maintain their independence and dignity is commendable.
Moreover, it's crucial to address the misconception that this profession is menial work and instead recognize its complexity and the need for compassionate individuals. By empowering seniors and understanding their unique needs, elder care assessors contribute to a fulfilling and dignified life for the elderly.