Xi’s 'Bitterness' for China

Unemployment could spark revolt and democracy

Xi’s 'Bitterness' for China
Young people attending a job fair in Beijing on Aug. 26, 2022. China's slowing economy has left millions of young people fiercely competing for an ever-slimming raft of jobs and facing an increasingly uncertain future. (Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images)
Anders Corr
China’s economy is in the doldrums, and youth unemployment is at an all-time high. More than 20 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds seeking jobs cannot find work.
In a throwback to the disastrous Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is now telling college graduates to “eat bitterness.”
He recently congratulated agriculture students for “seeking self-inflicted hardships” by “going to the fields and villages to solve the people’s livelihood.”
Only through struggle and sacrifice, according to leading communist media, will the youth make China great.
There is plenty of sacrifice to go around. Nearly one-third of recent factory-floor hires at a Chinese tobacco company have college and postgraduate degrees.

“Today, the party’s propaganda machine is spinning stories about young people making a decent living by delivering meals, recycling garbage, setting up food stalls, and fishing and farming,” according to The New York Times. “It’s a form of official gaslighting.”

A countryside in Shaanxi Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)
A countryside in Shaanxi Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)
The gassed careers of grads throughout China don't seem to bother Xi, whose father rose to the position of vice premier before Mao Zedong exiled him to factory work. The Red Guards beat, interrogated, and paraded Xi’s father on a truck.

Xi’s mother denounced her son, and his sister was “persecuted to death,” according to the regime. Xi reportedly wore a cone-shaped hat and endured seven years of rural exile. He became depressed, and the normalization of brutality that apparently broke him is now being turned, in a paranoid fashion, against his perceived enemies.

Xi likely sees foreign-educated college graduates who can’t find white-collar jobs in China as soft. Indeed, about 75 percent of graduating students want to work in cushy government jobs rather than the private sector.
But those go to only 2.5 percent of civil service exam takers. The rest would be lucky to find a factory or service sector job that pays $1,000 a month.

Crackdowns on foreign and tech businesses within China, along with the utilization of trade as a weapon against countries such as Australia and Lithuania, are hurting China’s economy.

For example, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) precipitous ban on for-profit tutoring disappeared employment opportunities and disrupted demand signals from the job market to college students.

Degrees in education and sports rose by more than 20 percent between 2018 and 2021, when the regime banned the $150 billion industry. As the education and sports market fell beneath them, those graduates had few prospects and are now more likely to take lower-wage jobs.
While grads in state-supported industries such as biology, aerospace, and electrical engineering do marginally better on the job market, the regime now disfavors the property and online tech sectors, both of which are hard to break into for fresh grads.

Concern is rife on social media—and spreading. In response, the regime encourages local governments to hire more grads in the hopes of blunting any potential street protests.

But those jobs must be paid with growth-restricting taxes. Governments have never excelled at predicting demand and supply or producing the innovation found in a thriving market economy. The regime is thus strangling the market goose that laid China’s golden egg.

Lacking opportunity, some of today’s youth in China have joined the “lying flat” movement, which avoids hard work and striving. The regime recently ennobled the movement by criticizing it in the party’s top paper.

If Xi pushed his plan to invade Taiwan, sanctions would worsen the economy. The crisis in which China finds itself today is precisely because it has allowed the CCP to lead down a path of aggression rather than friendship and peaceful trade. It would be in a much better position had it followed a peaceful path, with fewer adversaries and more soft power from its global development and trade successes.

Instead, China must contend with not only international opprobrium but also instability within its own borders.

For the discontented and unemployed, Xi’s comment to “eat bitterness” may remind them of Marie Antoinette’s supposed comment about the discontented poor in 18th-century France. The comment, “Let them eat cake,” could be apocryphal. But the economic boom and collapse that resulted in the French Revolution was real and set in motion a series of revolts in Russia and China that changed the world for the worse.

A corrective revolution in China, where three people cannot gather in Tiananmen Square without the police breaking it up, would be difficult. But a nonviolent one that yielded a truly representative government and market economy to free the people and realize their democratic ambitions would certainly be welcome.

A democratic China would be not a threat but a boon to the world.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).