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Weekly #5 Five China stories you need to read: Barbie in China; HK's scramble for mainland elites; Young people finding jobs for parents
Barbie was better received in China's big cities where people are more concerned with feminist issues.
The floods in north China's Hebei Province have raged for nearly a week, and early this morning, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck east China's Shandong Province. The North China Plain is having a rough summer. From all of us at GRR, our thoughts and hearts go out to those affected.
Here comes our #5 weekly roundup, another five captivating China stories selected by GRR from China's social media platforms, which delves into the following topics:
1) How was Barbie's box office performance in China and what does the movie mean to the Chinese audience
2) How the trend of 996 work culture has been reversed recently in China's tech firms
3) Hong Kong has been scrambling for mainland elites over the past years, but in a misaligned manner: a considerable proportion of applicants do not actually intend to work and live in HK
4) The predicament that the "younger elderly" face in finding an appropriate job after retirement; young people helping with their parents' job hunting
5) The costly college campus tours popular in summer vacation have been hyped up
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1.Those arguing over Barbie know nothing about Barbie 为《芭比》争吵的人并不了解芭比的这一切
Overview: The article tracks down the box office performance of the newly released movie Barbie and the history of Barbie doll. The toy has always echoed the trend of feminist movement in the US, transforming from initially an icon of independent women to a stigmatized figure under the "male gaze" and eventually to a female character in the new movie who is courageous in breaking the shackles and contented in finding her true self.
When this Hollywood movie meets the Chinese market, however, it was rather underrated at first since many Chinese audience knew little about this foreign doll. But with the touching plot and special theme, it triggered hot discussions online and won people's hearts. Even the co-branded merchandise was sold out. Yet it could be observed that Barbie was better received in big cities where people are more concerned with feminist issues. For them, the movie certainly carries some significance.
This article comes from 中国新闻周刊 [China Newsweekly], an influential organ of China News Service that provides insights into current political issues and social events.
Sales of co-branded merchandise to some extent reflect box office. According to Lighthouse Pro (an information and data provider of movies), first and second tier cities contributed 74 percent of the total box office of Barbie, with Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Beijing being the top four. In this competitive summer movie season, Barbie's ticket sales fell far behind its score, for the theme and cast of this movie were not as widely known to all Chinese audience.
"Hollywood has lost its appeal and credence to Chinese viewers with its mundane movies in recent years. This obviously encumbered Barbie, lending it only a tiny place on the film schedule the first day it was on," said reviewer Sha Dan to China Newsweekly. "Besides, due to the feminist theme of this movie, the audience was expected to be well-educated and concerned with social discussion of gender issues, or at least have such awareness. People in big cities apparently have the edge in receiving more information."
In China, Barbie dolls are not as widely known to everyone, either. The brand with a long history of 64 years did not enter Chinese market until the beginning of 21st century. At that time, "study first" was dominant in the philosophy of children's education, and many parents could not accept their kids playing toys that had nothing to do with study—dolls with a "sexy" image changing costume, doing make-up, and falling in love. It was not surprising that Barbie didn't receive a warm welcome then. In March of 2009, Mattel spent heavily to launch a six-storey flagship store on Huaihai Road, the busiest zone in Shanghai, only to hit a brick wall with Chinese consumers. In just two years, the store closed down. Though well-known as an international brand, Barbie was not the one accompanying Chinese kids in their childhood, and of course they would by no means know what the doll had done for feminism and women's independence.
Comments: Cultural feminist critiques of Barbie's body are a thing of the past century. While feminism is a trending topic and may have spurred the creation of this film, it primarily feels like a commercial endeavor that caters to the feminist wave, while ensuring the comfort and non-offense of male audiences.
In fact, beyond the dialogue from the mother-daughter duo that voices women's criticisms — which are somewhat interesting — the narrative largely adheres to conventional plot lines. The brief moments of pointed dialogue offer a satisfying, yet superficial layer of critique, reminiscent of a roast.
Despite its absurdity and senseless humor, the film lacks the profound impact of movies like “Thelma & Louise”. In the end, as Barbie assimilates into society, her initial action is a gynecological visit. This act suggests a return to prevailing gender discourses, hinting at the idea that some aspects of gender inequality are intertwined with sexual differences.
2.This year, employees in the big companies are reclaiming their weekends 今年，大厂人正在找回周末
Overview: The 996 work culture of Chinese internet companies has long been criticized, but this trend is beginning to change under the scrutiny of the government and society, as well as due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the slowdown in economic development. The article depicts the struggles faced by employees in large corporations regarding work-life balance and weekend work. More and more employers, who initially obeyed weekend work demands, have eventually realized the importance of reclaiming their weekends for personal time and relaxation.
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.
In fact, for many working individuals in China's big tech firms, weekends are not entirely non-existent. However, the biggest issue is that long hours and dominant work responsibilities have encroached upon weekends for far too long, causing an imbalance between life and work. Reestablishing boundaries to protect personal time may not be as easy as one might imagine.
These working individuals in big tech firms need to constantly explore the boundaries between work and personal life. After dodging work by pretending to be asleep for the first time, Fu Dongdong realized that the urgency of the tasks at the big company might not be as pressing as it seemed. The hurried tone and rushed pace had become a habit, but it wasn't necessary to handle everything over the weekend. Since that day, she started pretending to be asleep more frequently during off-work hours and weekends.
Pretending to be asleep was the beginning of a new awareness. Fu Dongdong started actively seeking rest time during weekends. She set a principle for herself: if it's not urgent, and you contact me, I'll treat it as a message and reply to you on Monday. Maintaining this habit for a while, she found that it didn't have a significant impact on herself.
Her attitude towards rest became more natural and assertive. Sometimes, when colleagues sent work messages during the weekend, Fu Dongdong would intentionally wait for two hours before posting a social media update about watching a movie, "reminding" her colleague: "I'm watching a movie, so I won't be responding to messages." She gradually stopped bringing her laptop when going out, reclaiming the way life was meant to be.
Li Lin's approach is as straightforward as her personality. In the weeks following the department's announcement of the single day off policy, Li Lin insisted on taking the weekend off. As soon as Friday came, she would message her supervisor, saying, "If there's something important tomorrow, I won't come," and then promptly disappear from the office. No matter who tried to contact her the next day, she wouldn't budge and wouldn't show up at the office. Her stance was soon emulated by more people, and gradually, other colleagues in the office began taking leaves too. Under pressure, the management compromised and directly announced, "Those who are taking leave this week, just inform me."
Li Lin completely dispelled the allure of working at the big tech company. She no longer cared about her superiors' opinions or evaluations for salary increments, as she believed that "the people who are meant to get a raise have already been chosen by the management." She even showed a strong sense of disdain towards her job, saying, "If they decide to lay me off, so be it. That might be even better; I'll take the severance and leave the internet industry for good."
Qin Feng, the "good boy" in a big company, discovered that taking time off might not be as difficult as he thought. The business volume has significantly declined in the past two years, and the workload is not as overwhelming anymore. Even the supervisors would indulge in leisure activities, casually watching short videos and live shopping streams during idle moments. Qin made up his mind to handle his work with a more relaxed attitude.
For tireless financial executives in the big tech companies, the industry's winter has led to Fu Youli also taking "abnormal rest." "Now, even if you have a dollar in your pocket, you hold onto it tightly and dare not invest. Without investments, there are no projects, and the whole company is in a state of stagnation with nothing to do."
He took out the long-sealed brushes, ink, paper, and inkstone, laid out the rice paper, and then suddenly realized that it had been over twenty years since he last practiced the calligraphy he once loved in his youth.
Comments: Reclaiming weekends and reducing frequent overtime may be a more practical and fair compromise between firms and employees, especially when compared to the 996 working culture and the "quiet quitting" trend seen in both Chinese and U.S. companies in recent years. The newer generations' exploration of work boundaries is likely to shape the working culture in the years to come.
3.Hong Kong's scramble for mainland elites: a misaligned rush 香港争抢内地精英：一场错位的奔赴
Overview: The article reveals a surge in Chinese mainland elites seeking Hong Kong residency, driven by the desire to secure better educational opportunities for their children and the birthright citizenship policy. However, it also uncovers a paradox as many applicants are not genuinely interested in working or living in Hong Kong. The city's booming financial and tech industries were the primary magnets, but with the recent downturn in job prospects and rising office vacancies, the attraction for talents is waning. Hong Kong's government is actively encouraging talent migration, but to sustain its status as a global financial center, it needs to appeal to new sources of capital from mainland entrepreneurs.
The article comes from 36氪 [36kr], an outstanding brand and pioneering platform serving participants in China's new economy. It provides cutting-edge and in-depth business coverage, emphasizing trends and value.
Over the past two years, Hong Kong has lost 140,000 labor force members; kindergarten enrollment for 2022 decreased by a quarter; and from July 1, 2020, to the end of 2022, over 400,000 residents left Hong Kong through the airport. These individuals have migrated to places like Singapore, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and other countries.
Today, the influx of mainland elites into Hong Kong has even overwhelmed the capacity of the Immigration Department's website servers. One applicant who successfully passed the "Top Talent Pass Scheme" had difficulties booking an appointment for identity card processing due to the high volume of traffic, leading to several days of unsuccessful attempts to access the reservation system.
Ideally, these mainland elites could fill the labor gaps left by the emigration from Hong Kong and alleviate the talent anxiety in the region. However, beneath the lively appearance lies an awkward reality: a considerable proportion of these applicants do not actually intend to work and live in Hong Kong.
A mid-level manager in a consumer company, who just obtained Hong Kong residency through the "Top Talent Pass Scheme," said, "It's just for the sake of my child, to give them an additional possibility for the future." She admitted that her life and social circle are primarily in the Chinese mainland, making it unlikely for her to relocate to Hong Kong. The "Quality Migrant Admission Scheme" and "Highly Skilled Professionals Scheme" require renewal approval every two years, and she is now concerned about how to renew her residency if she doesn't plan to move to Hong Kong.
This is also the most concerning issue for Gong Wu's clients. Among the customers he has consulted and assisted, the majority are from internet giants, particularly programmers.
In addition to the middle-class population, David, a young post-00s student majoring in finance at Tsinghua University, also applied for the "Quality Migrant Admission Scheme." His application was approved within a day, leaving him amazed by the efficiency of the Hong Kong government.
David is from northern China, and when he went to Hong Kong to apply for his identity card from Shenzhen, he experienced a small culture shock. Walking through the streets and alleys of Hong Kong, he could understand the text on street advertisements and menus, but he couldn't comprehend the Cantonese spoken by people with the same appearance and ethnicity as him. He even struggled to make himself understood when using Mandarin. "It felt like a mismatch," he said.
David joined several WeChat groups of people who have been approved through the "Quality Migrant Admission Scheme," and the members come from various professions. After asking around, he found that no one really intends to work in Hong Kong. Even his classmates and friends show little enthusiasm for Hong Kong, regarding it more as a two-year tourist visa opportunity.
Comments: While it's encouraging to see the desire for Hong Kong's permanent residency, the government must be cautious about the actual intentions of the applicants. Focusing solely on attracting elites might not address the broader talent needs of the city. Instead, it should strike a balance between attracting top-tier talent and nurturing local talent to foster a diverse and sustainable workforce. Ensuring genuine integration and commitment from applicants will be crucial for Hong Kong's long-term growth and prosperity.
4.Young people are finding jobs for their parents 帮父母找工作的年轻人
Overview: This article discusses the challenges that the "younger elderly" (under 70) are facing in finding appropriate jobs after retirement age. They still need work to do to fix financial difficulties or to achieve better self-actualization. Their children, trying to help them, find that people of old age are in a way already "excluded" from the callous employment market. Ironically, they are in the same predicament as the younger generation to find a job.
This is a report by 真故研究室 [Zhengu Lab], a niche Wechat official account that delves into controversial social issues.
These years, the phrase "younger elderly" was coined to refer to the population group which Ke Rui's and Liu Zhao's parents belong to—those under the age of 70, idle, but still in need of a job.
The younger generation has always been the dominant agent of social activities and public opinions, their employment being the focus of public concern in today's downward market. In contrast, the conservative and inert elders' voice is seldom heard, making them a latent unemployed group.
Data shows that over 60 percent of younger elderly in China still have the will to work. Their needs should be met.
It should also be noted that this need is often passively incurred. Let's take Ke Rui's case as an example. Her parents are farmers their whole lives, not considering much for old-age care. They mainly depend on the new rural social pension insurance to support themselves after retirement, getting only over 100 yuan (about 14 U.S. dollars) per month after 60 years old, which is impossible to cover daily expenses. In Liu Zhao's case, he was troubled by insecure jobs shortly after entering the workforce from MA studies. Worse, he is the only child of his parents, bearing a even heavier economic burden for his family.
[Note: The original text here is "新农合" (new rural medical insurance). The author might have confused it with "新农保"—new rural social pension insurance which was launched in 2009 to provide old-age care for the farmers. It is voluntarily paid by individuals and subsidized by communities and government. Those over 60 can get a sum of pension (usually no more than a few hundred yuan) proportionate to how much they have chosen to pay. In contrast, urban old-age insurance is largely paid by one's employer according to how much one earns. Normally, urban pensions are much higher than rural pensions. ]
"Much time, no money" can best describe the current state of most younger elderly. Previously, some experts proposed a policy of "voluntary postponed retirement" in order to expand job market for the old-aged and address the problems of low birth rate and labor shortage.
But here follows another problem. When the elderly take a step out and give up their familiar workstyle for new jobs, they are offered few available choices. Their old age and society's intolerance hinder them from being employed.
Ke Rui, taking netizens' advice, listed some jobs suitable for her mother. They are mainly nine types of work, including janitor, cleaner, shopkeeper, caregiver and so forth. It seems plenty of options, but other factors such as the mother's degree of education, sense of direction, working experience, economic and physical conditions should also be taken into consideration. In the end, there's not much work she can do.
Comments: In China's rapidly aging society with low birth-rate, the "younger elderly" are expected to continue working as part of the labor force. Paradoxically, they are not given much choice by the employers even though they are willing to learn new things to overcome their incapability. They are both discriminated and ignored by the society. In the meantime, the younger generation is under dual pressure of employment insecurity for themselves and old-age care for their parents.
To address this issue, it is important for the policy-makers to take into account the needs of the aging population. While focusing on youth unemployment is crucial, it's equally important to understand and cater to the demands of the elderly. By doing so, China could potentially harness the capabilities of its elderly population and foster a more balanced job market.
5.Summer holiday college campus tour: a money-wasting trap 暑假奇葩研学团，坑人又坑钱
Overview: The article reveals the fraudulent nature of holiday college campus trips designed for pupils and secondary school students that are said to be helpful in enhancing their capabilities. Participants end up finding themselves in completely opposite situation as the tour agencies have hyped up, neither enjoying their trips nor learning anything valuable. The real story behind the costly and glamorous study tours are the anxiety and comparing mentality of the parents.
Not only the children and parents are bothered, though. People who live or work in the colleges, museums, and offices being visited—their lives are also disrupted. Even the attendant tutors are victims deceived by the agencies; their real job is more like a babysitter and photographer.
This report comes from 每日人物 [Daily Person], a platform that focuses on the individuals involved in everyday events. It features humanistic care and in-depth analyses of social phenomena through accounts of small stories.
In chaos, Chen Ling saw the slogan that astounded him a lot—"a week in Beijing, a life in triumph". This line was printed right in the center of the white T-shirts conspicuously worn by the kids in the study tour group. He said, "I understand what parents are worried about. But it's not realistic that a few days' stay in a city can change a child's whole life."
Whether it can or can not is uncertain. But it is sure that the flood of study tours has affected the normal life of college students. Chen recalled that when he was taking graduation photos at west gate of his school, he and his mates had to be quick to snap a picture without those kids in the background.
At the same time, university students like him became part of the study trip themselves. For example, Chen was asked by some parents to take photos with their kids.
This was not seen merely in Beijing.
Pei Yun from Xiamen once ran across a bunch of study trip children outside Xi'an Museum. It was a cloudy, windy day, but the little ones were still reciting the Book of Songs in front of the gate while the teachers filmed them.
Pei noticed that the teachers were very careful in capturing the most active expression of every kid. After entering the museum, however, the children were left to themselves, no guide service for them to learn something, only pictures taken.
When the photography was done, they were urged by the teachers towards the next museum.
What's more ridiculous, some study tours even found their way into Internet companies.
"They were already 'studying' my office," said 26-year-old Susu who does video planning for a Beijing-based company. According to her, the pupils kept emerging in her working building since the end of June. On weekend a few days ago, she felt like she was in an amusement park when stepping into the company.
Susu described this "office study tour" and posted it online. "First, they walked around the office, watching us working like dogs. Then they went to visit the gym, watching those who slack off exercising."
In a sense, the meaning of study trips was reduced to learning about future life in advance. She once met a group of kids from a county-level middle school and felt that what lies between the real workplace and children's simple perception is the knowledge of the adult world. The desire and anxiety to bridge this information gap are what makes the study tour so popular.
Comments: Many Chinese parents believe that setting a clear goal for their children at an early age can motivate them to study more purposefully and diligently during their primary and secondary school years. In Western countries, activities that allow middle school students to experience an enriching cultural environment in advance are not uncommon. However, such study programs in China seem to need more standardization and oversight, or they might lead to greater controversies in the future.