Sat, July 13

Why is public opinion so harsh on this generation?

Let’s start by discussing an article today. There was an article in the “Sanlian Weekly” that mentioned how universities are becoming more like high schools, and college students are increasingly immature. In the article, professors tell students that they haven’t even seen a pig, don’t want to go to the countryside, and spend their days typing on keyboards while claiming to care about rural issues. The students all wear masks, not to prevent disease, but to avoid greeting people they know, turning their faces away and pretending not to see. After three years of the pandemic, the atmosphere in the classrooms is eerily quiet, with no one chatting or discussing conflicts that arise in dormitories. Despite being just a palm’s distance apart, students prefer to communicate through WeChat rather than face-to-face conversations. Some classmates who live together may not have shared a meal together throughout the year. Parents are extremely worried, voluntarily joining parent groups and even hiring tutors to oversee everything, from the sky to the ground, and even the air, fearing that their children may not be able to take care of themselves and might develop even the slightest psychological issues.

As I understand it, the term “late bloomer” probably means someone with a high IQ, good grades, adept at using the internet, but both afraid and not good at, and unwilling to interact with people, lazy to clean, cook, or do laundry, a bit sensitive in mindset, lacking some carefree and thick-skinned attitude. Maybe these situations do exist. As I read through the whole passage, I feel that the current online criticism of college students is a bit excessive. The evaluation system and standards have changed from before to now. Friends, there weren’t so many constraints before. From studying, exams, daily life, to entertainment, you handle it yourself. There were many who were raised in a relaxed manner from childhood, and many who dropped out halfway through. The competition wasn’t so fierce back then. Only a few took certification exams, graduate exams, or civil service exams. In 2008, there were 446,000 people taking the graduate entrance exam, this year it’s 4.38 million, a tenfold increase even after 8 years of continuous growth. The number of people taking the national civil service exam in 2008 was 640,000, and in 2023, 2.59 million people applied. After the qualification review, the ratio of applicants to the number of positions filled reached 70 to 1. Initially, only 172,000 people took the teacher qualification exam, but in 2021, it reached 11.442 million, a 66-fold increase in 10 years.

During that time, there was an atmosphere of entrepreneurship and making quick money in society. Taking the postgraduate entrance exam or civil service exam was one option, and finding a job with low entry barriers was another. After graduation, there were various paths taken by different individuals – some opened stores, some started companies, some set up stalls, some took unconventional routes, and some even pursued careers unrelated to their majors. Online platforms were filled with speeches by Jack Ma, and those who became teachers felt like they had seen everything in life. There were fewer constraints and more choices, and society’s evaluation criteria shifted to focus on how clever a person was. If parents always said their child was too honest, it was considered an insult. College students naturally learned to adapt and become more worldly-wise. Back then, there were no short videos, and photos taken with mobile phones were often blurry. Face-to-face social interactions were more common, and the standards were different. There were more rules and regulations now. From middle school to high school to college, students were closely monitored – their friends, what time they came home, what extracurricular books they read, how many sets of clothes they brought to school, even down to their underwear, were all under scrutiny. Besides eating, all they did was study. Their career choices were often decided by their parents, and once in school, they were under the supervision of dormitory managers, counselors, psychologists, class monitors, and student unions. The rules became increasingly detailed, not turning universities into high schools, but rather applying the strict management style of high schools to create late-blooming college students.

Secondly, the social evaluation system has become increasingly singular, all geared towards adding weight to one’s livelihood. I have seen certification enthusiasts, with qualifications in English proficiency, Mandarin proficiency, teaching credentials, securities industry certification, basic accounting certification, and even a driver’s license. They have a plethora of certification apps on their phones, all in the pursuit of being able to list more credentials on their resumes, to appear more substantial. The hierarchy within schools is becoming more and more detailed, from second-tier universities to first-tier universities, from 21 to 985 Project universities, from 985 Project universities to C9 League universities, and now even a C7 League has emerged. It’s acceptable to be ambitious for oneself, but not for others. Roommates grumble and complain, the sound of gaming consoles lulls me to sleep peacefully, while the sound of a roommate quietly flipping through books keeps me awake all night. Finding a job has become a monumental task, with the only difference being that taking the civil service exam is to secure a job with stability, while pursuing a postgraduate degree is to aim for a bigger opportunity. Only those with issues in their minds or a wealthy family dare to venture into entrepreneurship. In such an environment, socializing becomes a challenge, and maturity in interpersonal relationships is hard to come by. Even if you fold your bedsheets into tofu blocks, what good does it do?

It must be that society has changed, and so have college students. For this generation, you can’t expect them to have a mature way of handling things like before, while also demanding them to be study machines in the fierce competitive environment. If you want them to be free, graceful, optimistic, and independent, you have to create a relaxed environment without too many restrictions. Parents and schools want to cultivate a generation of students who are not only mature but also resilient, but this is not education; it’s like a production line of clones in a science fiction novel. I remember someone saying that their college roommate was a bit pretentious, always using expressions, dressing, and speaking like a middle-aged person, deliberately acting older, and everyone found him annoying. So, I don’t think this is about being late to mature. People should do things according to their age. If you compare them to the 70s and 80s generation who had to work and study by the light of kerosene lamps, how can they compare? Times have changed. From childhood to adulthood, everyone tells you to focus only on studying and not worry about anything else, that everything will be taken care of, and you can play around in college. But when they actually get to university, they realize it’s not like that at all. The pressure to find a job is even greater than the academic pressure in high school. Those with a better mindset grit their teeth and continue to study hard, while those with a poorer mindset give up and stay up late playing games. Then they become the typical examples of failure in the eyes of parents and teachers.

Criticism towards college students for being late bloomers is not only directed at university students, but also many people are following the trend of criticizing liberal arts students, as well as expressing disdain towards fresh graduates. I feel that the public opinion towards college students is overly harsh. Recently, Zhang Xuefeng made two statements that went viral twice. This person seems to have a strong ability to trend online, perhaps not quite at the level of Dong Yuhui or Luo Yonghao. He implied that liberal arts rely on flattery as a service industry, and another time mentioned that his company does not hire fresh graduates, as they need to experience the harsh realities of society, otherwise they will not appreciate things and will always feel inferior. A job with three days off per week may sound good, but once it spreads on the internet, a certain statement can be quite terrifying. Even if he didn’t mean it that way, the tone has changed. However, discrimination against liberal arts students and fresh graduates has been intensifying in recent years. Those with lower education levels are not wanted, nor are liberal arts students or recent graduates over 35. Who do they want then? They want STEM graduates, full-time master’s degree holders, they look at the first degree, they want young people, unmarried and not pregnant, and they want the public opinion that supports working overtime on nights and weekends.

There may be two reasons why there is less tolerance towards college students nowadays. Firstly, the advent of mobile internet has brought about information equality, allowing resonant viewpoints to go viral and reach millions of people within a day, which was previously unimaginable. Criticisms towards liberal arts students and recent graduates have always existed, but they did not have the same level of impact and volume. Nowadays, liberal arts students can open their phones and see content on platforms like Weibo, headlines, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin that directly target them. However, this does not lead to any significant change. They may admit their mistakes and apologize, but the criticisms continue.

Secondly, when the opportunities become scarce, being picky, mocking, internal conflicts, and belittling others become more acceptable. People say that college students mature late, that liberal arts students are useless, and that recent graduates lack diligence, but these are just excuses. Companies have choices, and job seekers are often seen as being cut from the same mold. Therefore, companies naturally become more selective, considering factors such as age, education, major, experience, and work intensity. While everything else can be considered inferior, only students pursuing higher education have no choice.

A friend said that doing manual labor is where the real money is now – whether it’s being a bricklayer, an oil worker, a carpenter who not only works but also delivers meals, or an electrician who installs lights, unlocks doors, fixes toilets, and repairs pipes. However, this statement is not entirely accurate. It’s not just about doing physical labor to make money, but rather about doing skilled physical labor. Look at the factory workers, the laborers on construction sites, the security guards, the delivery drivers – some may or may not like their jobs. According to the data from the Ministry of Human Resources and the 2022 China Blue-Collar Employment Research Report, although there are over 400 million blue-collar workers in China, the demand for skilled laborers exceeds the supply by a ratio of 1.5, meaning that for every 150 job positions, there are only 100 job seekers. The demand for highly skilled workers even exceeds a ratio of 2, resulting in a gap of millions of job vacancies. Yes, people do make money in these professions, but wait a minute. Dealing with year-round oil stains, high-decibel noise, inhaling dust, smelling paint, having your ears ring day after day, no social security, relying on luck for meals, and constantly having to please the supervisors and homeowners – this kind of work is not something that anyone with skills can just jump into. I’ve talked to a bricklayer before. Moving 80×80 bricks around, squatting and bending over year after year to lay floors, leveling them out – he managed to earn a house for his child, but now his lumbar disc can’t take it anymore. If he doesn’t drink a few ounces every night, the pain keeps him from sleeping.

The current environment can be summarized in one sentence: the growing disparity between the frustration levels of college students and the society’s critical attitude towards them. I have previously discussed a viewpoint with everyone, and the key still lies in the word “expectation”. If someone graduates from a vocational school and enters society, it’s fine; they can face challenges, experience ups and downs, develop a strong heart, and do anything without any burden. However, after studying for so many years, obtaining a pocketful of certificates, it is now being said that studying was all in vain. People see others making more money in construction work and claim that college students are immature. Even liberal arts students are said to have wasted their time. Graduates are too rarely criticized. You’ve all had your say, right? Media, please be kind with your words. There is no sweetness at both ends of the sugarcane.