Thursday, April 15, 2010

Beijing's "Ant" Problem

Desi and I have been thinking for a while now about what will happen to those millions of Chinese college graduates who do not find meaningful employment after all of those years of hard work. It turns out that we are not alone.

Huang Rixin is a retired engineer who has become concerned about the living conditions of the so-called "ant tribe" on the outskirts of Beijing. These "ants" are recent university graduates who have come to Beijing looking for work in their fields of study. Such work, they are quickly finding out, is really, really hard to come by. So many of these young men and women are taking simple retail jobs in Zhongguancun, the technology center that is right down the road from my office at Peking University. Given the low salaries that go along with these entry level positions, many ants have taken to crashing in large numbers in cramped apartments, some of which are right in the area where the four of us lived last year.

Watching these developments unfold, Huang Rixin decided to take action. Huang has rented three rooms in a local apartment building and converted them into eight units that provide private accommodations for individual occupants. Each unit comes equipped with a bed, table, chair, television, and Internet connection. As one young person put it, "Although the room is quite small, it belongs to me, like my own house. I can listen to my favorite music in it, or watch movies without any interruption. It's maybe a little cold in this small room, but I believe it will be a new fashion among the youth."

I sense a Balla "ant tribe" field trip coming on this summer...



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