China’s economy may be growing but this doesn’t necessarily mean that young engineers have great living standards:
However, life as a Chinese engineer is not necessarily paradise or even a guarantee of decent living. Some of Beijing’s most recent graduates are labeled “ants” for their hardworking attitude but cramped living quarters. Until being relocated by recent redevelopment, many young Chinese engineers lived in small, 20 square-meter rooms in the poor Beijing suburb of Tangjialing. According to Chinese sociologist Lian Si, there are no fewer than 10 “intellectual slums” near Beijing.
Not exactly the choices that we assume the “creative class” has in the United States.
Here are some photographs of a Chinese “intellectual slum” that is slated for a transition from a poor village to new development. In a 2009 story, Lian Si describes his work summarized in the book Ant Tribe.
I became interested in this problem in 2007. I then spent two years researching; I visited seven ‘colonies’ on the outskirts of Beijing, living in them each for some time, and in total, interviewing 600 graduates.
I noted that the graduates earn an average of 1950 Yuan (€200) a month. Most of the time they work on stalls, as waitresses or doing other temporary jobs. The rent costs around 400 Yuan (€40) a month. They spend a lot of time travelling to and from the centre of the city on public transport.
The ‘ants’ have three characteristics in common. They’re graduates, they’re low earners, and they stick together. They’re labelled ants because they’re undersized and have limited living space, but at the same time they’re intelligent and they don’t grumble about their situation.
About 80% of them come from isolated villages cut from the world. They try to make a living in big cities like Beijing. It’s also because of this that they stay in a group, to have the feeling of community and security in their unfamiliar surroundings.
At what point will people in these communities start to grumble?