Weekly #1 Five China stories you need to read
Zhang Xuefeng's words are like a sharp blade, uncovering the glamorous exterior of all majors and revealing the harsh reality.
I'm shaking things up a bit in today's newsletter by launching a new column. It's a little experiment where I'll pick out five intriguing articles I've stumbled upon this past week on China's hottest social media app - WeChat blog - and share the juicy bits with you. This is a time-saver and lets me deliver even more content to you compared to the usual full article translations from WeChat.
But, I'm not entirely sure if you like this new style, so I need your help. If you're digging this format, please hit the 'like' button on this newsletter. If I see enough likes rolling in, I'll make sure to keep this format in our regular newsletters.
This week on the first piece of the new column, your Ginger River selects five readable articles from the Chinese language world, offering insights on following trending topics:
1) An internet educational influencer's controversial comments on the career-defining choice dilemma about college major faced by Chinese students
2) Why some Internet startups could quietly make money while big corporations downsizing
3) Why the grassroots research department has no time for research
4) How underground idols become a new refuge for the city workers
5) Grassroots governments are paying students to come back as teachers and doctors.
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1.Who dares to speak the truth when he is silenced?
The article comes from 她刊 [Gentle Woman], a WeChat blog aiming to be a powerful voice in women's perspective and focusing on everything about women. The blog pays attention to social trending events related to women and provides sharp commentary, gaining much recognition with an average number of views exceeding 100,000 per post.
Quoting from Zhang Xuefeng, an internet influencer making videos of consultations on postgraduate major selection, the article explores difficulties that ordinary people in China face when choosing a major and career path, as well as the practicality behind Zhang's views.
The article describes how ordinary students and their parents struggle to find the right choice amid the chaos of available options and the inevitable information gap. Amid the harsh employment environment and uneven distribution of resources, Zhang's advice provides a fair advantage for ordinary people seeking guidance, and his live broadcasts help people navigate the job market and plan their careers.
The article discusses the controversy surrounding Zhang's views and how he has become a popular figure among parents seeking advice for their children's career choices. However, it is uncertain whether his advice is reliable, and it is challenging for ordinary people to rely solely on College Entrance Examination to choose their career paths, just like putting all eggs in one basket.
In the last part, the article also highlights the issues that students face in China's competitive education system, where many students lack clarity regarding their aspirations and future plans. Zhang's advice offers practical solutions to these problems while also acknowledging the importance of idealistic aspirations.
In addition, People's Daily, a flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC), published an opinion article without directly naming Zhang Xuefeng. The article points out that the market for college major selection advisory services in China is becoming increasingly popular but the reliability of these services is in question, so there is an urgent demand for the improvement of corresponding market guidelines, clear entry thresholds, and regulation of market development.
"What if majoring in philosophy can't earn you a living in the future?" asked Zhang Xuefeng in a live stream.
He is completely oriented by pragmatism, considering which major you choose could help you find a job that can feed you well, pass the civil service exams to get a life-long position, or just enable you to survive in this competitive society.
If you choose to study finance, but don't have good connections or resources and dare not to take risks, don't expect to make a fortune.
If you choose to be an English major, it is really pointless because nowadays everyone regards English as a tool and those who know nothing else but English have no competitive advantage.
If you choose to major in education, do you know how saturated the market is for education majors now? The teacher qualification certificate now is accessible to everyone and it can crowd out those education majors in the job market.
Zhang Xuefeng's words are like a sharp blade, uncovering the glamorous exterior of all majors and revealing the harsh reality.
Given the current international climate and national development goals, the Chinese government is undoubtedly encouraging more people to choose STEM subjects, or other disciplines that could boost the development of high technology. On the other hand, the immense pressure of university graduate employment is compelling the government to contemplate how to better plan for long-term university specializations and align them with the job market.
The process of filling out college entrance exam (Gaokao) applications is a crucial part of this, and voices like Zhang Xuefeng's play a significant role. To some extent, Zhang’s words can help young people strike a balance between aiding national development and assessing their own circumstances to find a career direction that best suits their personal growth.
2.Big corporations downsizing, while these Internet startups quietly make money
This is an original article published by 每日人物 [Daily Person], a WeChat blog owned by People magazine, which aims to explore hot topics, discover business stories, and gain a better understanding of the joys of life. Its slogan lies as "Light on Business, Insight into Life."
The article discusses how some small companies in China are making money during the current wave of layoffs, while larger companies like Alibaba and Tencent have been reducing their workforce. The article mentions companies such as Qudian, Sohu, Vipshop, and Shangde Education, which have their own unique business models and advantages that allow them to be profitable.
For example, Qudian relies on asset income, Sohu relies on real estate and cash assets, and Vipshop focuses on differentiated positioning and business models. The article also mentions how companies like Weibo and Momo have been successful in their respective fields.
Vipshop with its focus on "big brands at low prices"
During the past decade of quietly making a fortune, Vipshop (NYSE: VIPS) has always focused on "big brands at low prices", helping brand merchants reduce excess inventory and doing differentiated business as a comprehensive e-commerce platform. While its peers have adjusted their strategies, Vipshop has persisted in its flash sale model. This is because the pricing system of Vipshop's core clothing category is complex, unlike electronic products with high profits and transparent prices, or low-priced brandless products that rely on small profits and large sales to make money. Vipshop has perfectly avoided subsidy wars and traffic competition, without spending so much on marketing. Although its revenue is not high, its profits are still considerable.
In the current Chinese economic climate, it's truly inspiring to see these companies still managing to turn a profit in niche markets through their own exploration and effort.
3.Grassroots governance: The research department has no time for research
半月谈 | 写讲话稿、汇报材料都忙不过来 基层调研科，没空搞调研？
The article highlights the issue of some grassroots research departments being too busy with writing speeches and report materials, leaving them with no time for actual field research, which is worth noting in the context of the Party-wide campaign of in-depth research and studies this year, aiming to identify and resolve major problems that could hamper high-quality development and the modernization drive of China, according to a work plan released by Central Committee of the CPC early this year.
These departments, intended to strengthen investigation and research, end up primarily focusing on writing various documents for leaders instead of conducting in-depth research. The article reveals that the lack of research affects the quality and depth of the materials produced, leading to a disconnect between the grassroots reality and the decision-making process. It also points out that some leaders heavily rely on written materials for assessment, which further reinforces the emphasis on producing extensive reports rather than conducting meaningful research.
The article emphasizes the importance of conducting research at the grassroots level and calls for leaders to actively participate in field research to gain practical insights and make informed decisions. It suggests enhancing the research capabilities of grassroots officials through training and practical experiences.
The grassroots research department officials are busy drafting materials in the absence of actual research evidence.
I am busy writing materials all day, and how can I have time to do research?
"Although the department is named 'Research Department,' it is not actually involved in research work. Its main responsibilities include drafting speeches, reporting on situations, summarizing meetings, and drafting documents for leaders," said a cadre from the research department of a policy research office in a western region. The department consists of a total of four personnel, with two of them being temporary transfers. With a shortage of staff and a heavy workload, they often have to prepare materials at short notice for occasions such as inspections by superiors. Overtime work is the norm, and there is simply no time to gain a deeper understanding of the grassroots situation."
"Our research primarily involves requesting materials from various departments, conducting symposiums and online searches. Some on-site situations and data also require coordination with higher-level departments. We rarely employ methods such as on-site visits, questionnaires, and data analysis," said a cadre from the policy research division of the district-level Party Committee's Office. This type of research, where materials are exchanged back and forth, lacks depth and quality, ultimately resulting in mere literary skills.
As a result, officials in the relevant departments are forced to rack their brains, meticulously choosing words, using new terminology, creating new expressions, and introducing new concepts. They emphasize parallelism, literary references, and rhymes, highlighting achievements with great emphasis while downplaying shortcomings. They may even resort to exaggerating effects and inflating data. However, upon closer inspection, many of the reported materials lack substantial content, making it difficult to truly clarify the situation, identify the problems accurately, and propose practical solutions. This approach only fosters an atmosphere of superficiality.
The article was published three months after the launch of the Party-wide campaign of in-depth research and studies and reported by a top publican like Banyuetan, which provides a window into China's awareness and determination to progress, while also revealing some hard nuts to crack in the process.
4.Underground idol -- refuge for the city workers
The article comes from Houlang Institute, self-titled "account for the youth", namely the succeeding waves, takes its name from a traditional Chinese metaphor for the younger generation, and dedicates its content to the stories of Chinese young people. Presenting an assorted array of lifestyles and career choices, articles by the Houlang Institute focus on the desperate job hunts of top university graduates, annoying dress codes for working women, social anxiety investigations among the young, etc.
The article tells the story of an underground idol group in Beijing -- how the passion for the stage brought together four young girls and how they earned themselves the first permanent venue. The four girls all have a daytime job, either in the media or advertising business. But they spend all the scraps of spare time entirely on training, rehearsing, and performing. The article is an investigation into what attracts and motivates them to such a time-consuming activity.
The article also taps into the spread of Japanese idol culture in China, giving a detailed description of the fans' chanting (called mixes) and fan meetings. Having experienced the live performances of underground idols, the author was deeply impressed by their devotion and love for the work. The key to the popularity of underground idols, the author concluded, at least among the 400-people fanbase they currently have, is the close-knit connection between the performers and the audience.
"Our daytime jobs only earn us the daily bread. If being an underground idol should someday support my living, I would not hesitate to quit." said the girls.
The performance by the audience was no less captivating than that on the stage. There were about 50 people in the venue, and in the center was a group of veteran lovers of Japanese idol culture, having the most fun in the world dressed in red and black haoris printed with kanji and holding uniform lightsticks. And they were bouncing and jumping like tribesmen around a campfire.
A subculture, which is what the underground idols have been often categorized into, is gaining ground in the little corners of the metropolis. The show attendees range from students to middle-aged couples, and senior locals. It is probably the feeling of being needed and connected that has kept the idols and audiences going, and that has put a smile, so pure and full of love on their faces.
5.Grass-roots governments paying students to come back as teachers and doctors
This is a report by Southern Weekly, a prestigious newspaper based in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong province. Established in 1984, it offers insights into hotspots in Chinese society and is oftentimes the provider of exclusive stories.
The report addresses two problems: the brain drain for small towns in less-developed regions of China and the not-so-effective government funding programs to retain local talents. It is a timely insight into grass-roots medical and education support as millions of high-school students are heading to university and millions more are graduating from university.
The county government of Maqu in northwest China's Gansu Province, for instance, issued a proposal to call on high school graduates in the county to apply for medical colleges and "not be intimidated by temporary difficulties".
Counties in east China, which are supposed to enjoy better economic conditions, also appear to be in dire shortage of teachers and medical staff. Programs targeting brain drains have long offered students with financial aid during college, provided that they return to their hometown after graduation. In some regions, however, there's been an increasing number of defaults on the student side, even though it means that they would have to turn in the government money they received.
The proposal issued by the Maqu County Health Bureau mentioned that "At present, the county is facing the dilemma of a large number of graduates waiting at home and the shortage of professional discipline talents on the other hand, making it difficult to introduce professional talents and retaining even more difficult." ”
According to the "Gansu Province 2015-2019 Rural-oriented Medical Students Default List" issued by the Gansu Provincial Health Commission in 2020, the number of rural-oriented medical students defaulting in five years was 251. Among them, the number of defaults by graduates of Lanzhou University increased from 7 in 2015 to 85 in 2019.
It seems that although young people are stressed out in megacities in China, they still feel reluctant to return to small towns. The gap between first-tier cities and those lower on the hierarchy is still considerably large, in terms of pay, job prospects, infrastructure, education, medical care, and recreational activities. Moreover, those who have got used to the comforts of big cities are starting to shun the little rural societies where everybody knows everybody.