Rustication the Chinese way – fresh graduates seek pastures new

As employment pressure mounts, public-sector jobs represent a return to traditional ambitions.

An on-campus job fair in Yueyang, Hunan Province, May 25, 2022. Photo from CFP

An on-campus job fair in Yueyang, Hunan Province, May 25, 2022. Photo from CFP

By ZHOU Shuqi, WANG Yuezhu


Rural counties are now competing with first-tier cities for top talent. Funing, a small county in Jiangsu Province, has made 100 outstanding graduates from top universities their target. Being a target and taking up the offer are completely different matters, but in Suichang, Zhejiang Province, almost all candidates for 24 positions came from highly regarded universities.

Many of these so-called rural appointments are in vibrant small towns in contrast with stereotypes of the poor and brut countryside. A job there, for many graduates, means a high salary, generous extras, stability, and more opportunities for promotion. Employment pressure has never been higher and career options are extremely limited. Public sector jobs that provide security remain the number one choice of China’s pushy parents (for their offspring).

Money matters

ZHAO Xue, a graduate of Nankai University in Tianjin, failed the civil service exam earlier this year. So she concentrated on the talent project in Jiangsu and was admitted to a graduate program in Binhai. Binhai (pop. 1.2 million) is one of the small cities with the most investment potential in China. Its talent policy targets graduates from the 20 top universities in China and the top 200 worldwide.

XIAO Lu, a graduate of Yangzhou University has also chosen Binhai County. The salary and extras were a key reason. Xiao’s annual salary will be up to 60,000 yuan (US$9,000) higher than the average graduate with a bachelor’s degree. However, she was not accepted by her first-choice position as a junior high school teacher. “In urban areas of Jiangsu, teachers, even primary school teachers, have master’s degrees,” she said.

Work-life balance

Binhai offers a 200,000-yuan housing subsidy to buy a house in the county within five years. In Binhai, that means an extra 20 square meters. Those with master’s and doctoral degrees can ask for more.

The pandemic has hit demand across the job market. The private sector is slashing salaries and firing indiscriminately, as years of poor hiring practices take their toll. Fresh graduates, more than at any time in the recent past, are turning back to the timeless Chinese favorite - public institutions and state-owned enterprises.

Zhao said that the job in Binhai county had met almost all her expectations – security, steady income and generous social benefits in areas such as housing and education. “I can better balance my work and life with less pressure. It’s definitely good for my physical and mental health,” she said.

Not tough at the top

Many believe that graduates from prestigious schools are overqualified to work in small counties. Others worry that the recruitment of top students by small counties will lead to more intense competition for degrees.

CHU Zhaohui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Educational Sciences, pointed out that the talent in question must match the position. The advantage of top universities lies in their graduate’s high comprehensive qualities and abilities. Both under and over-qualified candidates present their own risks.