Sat, July 13

Power Hierarchy vs. Commercial Order: No Choice for Small Town Youth in China

The Lunar New Year is almost over, and as the tide of life continues to ebb and flow, a friend recently messaged me, inquiring whether it’s better to pursue career opportunities in their hometown or venture into the big city. Having spent several years striving in Guangzhou since graduating from university, I’m inclined to discuss a concept I’ve mentioned before: “In Liu’s village of nobles, the impoverished seek fortunes afar.” This saying resonates with the current career statuses of my former classmates. Those from well-off families in my hometown have predominantly returned to develop their careers locally, finding success either within the government system—benefiting from their parents’ connections—or in business, particularly in government projects like road construction.

Conversely, classmates who continued to strive in major cities usually came from modest backgrounds. For youths from small towns with no significant connections, even graduating from a top university doesn’t negate the necessity of leveraging relationships to find good employment back home. Moving to the city for rural college students can be akin to a second chance at life, offering more opportunities despite a challenging start, especially in a commercial environment rich in both business and power structures—a duality less prevalent in smaller locales.

The stark reality in small towns is that without connections, your only avenue is to align closely with the existing power hierarchy. However, cities with a developed commercial sector provide an alternative path, opening doors for young people without the need for powerful connections. Some may argue about the viability of securing a government job in smaller towns, but from my experience, particularly in underdeveloped areas of Guangdong, starting salaries in the public sector barely cover living expenses, contrary to the perception that such positions are a ticket to an easy life.

This period, typically spanning five to ten years, is crucial. It’s when the income gap between those within the governmental system and those outside begins to widen significantly. My advice? If you have connections, leveraging them in your hometown can be advantageous. However, for those of us from small towns without such privileges, heading to the city may offer better prospects.

Choosing a city doesn’t necessarily mean aiming for megacities like Beijing or Shanghai. Provincial capitals and cities excelling in specific industries also offer opportunities, enabling you to immerse yourself in the sector most relevant to your career ambitions.

Discussing personal choice, adulthood reveals that earning money is challenging, but it also teaches us that while making money seems effortless for others, it’s not the case for everyone. The most profound realization, perhaps, is understanding how easily others can earn money from you. In the grand scheme, the essence of capitalistic ventures boils down to the wealthy buying the time of the less affluent, perpetuating a cycle where the latter continually works for the former. Our primary asset is our time, and making it valuable is crucial.

Investing, while a direct route to making your time profitable, comes with its risks and challenges. For most working individuals, investing in financial markets or falling for financial scams are perilous paths. A more secure approach might involve savings, government bonds, or exploiting interest rate differentials. The key lies in enhancing the value of your time through skill development—skills that are in demand regardless of the broader economic environment, such as craftsmanship or professional expertise in fields like medicine or law. Equally important is focusing on earning in the present rather than speculating on future gains.

Reflecting on personal experiences, the encouragement and financial incentives derived from my endeavours, such as video creation on Bilibili, underscore the importance of finding a balance between passion and practicality. Ultimately, enhancing your skills and directly linking your worth to financial gain are imperative in navigating life’s financial challenges.

To summarize, choosing between staying in a small town or moving to a big city is a significant life decision, influenced by individual circumstances and opportunities. The essence lies not just in making this choice but in recognizing the importance of investing in oneself and directly tying one’s value to monetary gain, ensuring a level of financial security and independence regardless of external circumstances. Don’t fear making choices, especially in your youth, as each step forward, regardless of direction, is progress. If faced with indecision, embrace it, for life goes on, and how we choose to live it makes all the difference.