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Young Chinese face the unknown - economic hardship
Tue Dec 9, 2008 2:00am EST
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By Ian Ransom
BEIJING (Reuters) - While his father grew up wondering where his next meal would come from, Beijing resident Ran Zhao wonders whether he should buy a car, study in the United States or try to build up his fledgling snake medicine business.
The 25-year-old office worker is one of about 360 million Chinese born after 1978, when the Communist government officially launched economic reforms kicking off 30 years of spectacular growth and lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.
Ran, like many of his city-dwelling friends, has vague childhood memories of family austerity, but for the most part has enjoyed privileges and freedoms his parents never dreamed of.
"My father said that when he was my age, he thought China could never be anything but poor," Ran said at a classy dim sum restaurant in Beijing. "Now he's amazed that there are millions of people who actually own cars."
The 30th anniversary of economic reforms is a landmark state media have used to praise the Communist Party's sound economic stewardship, and some academics have used to call for wider political reform in the one-party state.
For many young Chinese, however, the date remains an abstract notion for a generation raised in a relative era of plenty.
"For me, the anniversary is not a big deal because 10 years later there will be a 40th anniversary, and 20 years later there will be a 50th anniversary," said Sarah Lai, a business graduate studying for a Masters at a British university.
Decades of growth and the unwinding of China's monolithic nanny state has brought young Chinese new entertainments and, increasingly often, the spending power to consume them.
It has also created a dangerous expectation that the good times will roll on, even as growth slows and the job market tightens amid the fall-out from the global financial crisis, said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a political analyst from the University of California, Irvine.
"The real challenge will come not from people being left behind in the short run, but if the sense disappears that there are still years of growth ahead from which those people may be able to benefit," said Wasserstrom.
"Young people frustrated by a sense that they won't have the opportunity to be part of a period of growth, that they missed out somehow on the good times, could become a volatile force."
China has warned that unemployment will rise next year as the global slowdown forces companies to shed staff and cut salaries, and has made finding jobs for the record 6.1 million university graduates a priority of social stability.
"The decrease of the youth share in the total population and the increase of the idle youth in the labor force are the two biggest contradictory factors of China youth employment," the Center for China Study, at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, said in a recent report.
University graduates have been told to lower their work and salary expectations, but have proved to have little tolerance when they have felt they have been duped. Continued...
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