The Joy of Be­ing an Av­er­age Joe

小人物折射时代

Special Focus - - Contents - Zhou Zhuben & Li Xiao­juan周竹本 李小卷

Sev­eral days ago, I re­turned to my home­town and no­ticed some­thing a bit odd: my neigh­bor’s live-in son-in­law who had come back dur­ing the Tomb Sweep­ing Fes­ti­val had gone out again for a job. It wasn’t just him; most of the vil­lagers there had left af­ter the fes­ti­val for a job­site some­where else.

The silk­worm in­dus­try in my home­town was much bet­ter than it had been for the past while, and more than a few of the peas­ants were mak­ing real money; they were pur­chas­ing re­frig­er­a­tors, mo­tor­cy­cles and the like in droves with their gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies. All of which showed that, to some ex­tent, an eco­nomic thaw had taken place.

I had been wait­ing in line af­ter line for sev­eral days try­ing to process my ap­pli­ca­tion for a mort­gage, and stand­ing there in the queue at the Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion I no­ticed among all the hus­tle and bus­tle that, of the many kinds of peo­ple stand­ing there in that gi­ant hall lin­ing up to get a li­cense, most were elderly men and women, and mid­dlea­gers. The num­ber of young thirty-some­things like me was so minis­cule it al­most wasn’t worth men­tion­ing.

If many of the peo­ple stand­ing in line for a house in the sales of­fice could just be hired hands there putting on a show, it wouldn’t be the case for the Hous­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion, for the clerks are vir­tu­ally is­su­ing prop­erty own­er­ship cer­tifi­cates on the site.

To me it meant that, with such high hous­ing prices, there were still tremen­dous de­mands for real es­tate, and the source of most sales rev­enues were still from the life sav­ings of mid­dle- agers or se­nior cit­i­zens, as young peo­ple just didn’t have the req­ui­site fi­nan­cial where­withal.

I have a niece who learned the art of cak­ery at a vo­ca­tional school and is in Shang­hai do­ing in­tern­ship. Find­ing a job is not a prob­lem, and when she goes full­time her salary won’t be low. In con­trast, her elder sis­ter who is study­ing eco­nomic man­age­ment at a univer­sity is go­ing to grad­u­ate in a year but her job prospects are look­ing pretty bleak. Her younger brother is study­ing at an au­to­mo­tive school, and many a 4S car deal­er­ship is clam­or­ing to hire the grad­u­ates from his school.

When I’m re­cruit­ing sea­sonal work­ers for my farm, I have to take into ac­count how I will pay their salary. If I pay by the hour, based on an eight hour work­day, the min­i­mum pay­ment wouldn’t be lower than 50 yuan per day. If I cal­cu­late it by their yield, then these tem­po­rary hires might clear 60 to 80 yuan per day. If it

were any­thing less than this num­ber, they would rather sit at home play­ing Mahjong and would be ex­tremely re­luc­tant to come out and break their back for star­va­tion wages.

In the past few months I hap­pened to go sight­see­ing with my fam­ily and friends and found that tourism in­dus­try in Guilin is boom­ing. There are peo­ple ev­ery­where, the trains are jam- packed and the air­ports are bustling. When we got off the train and tried to hail a cab, our re­quest for a short- dis­tance drive within city lim­its was ac­tu­ally met with a look of cold in­dif­fer­ence.

When we were buy­ing pipes at the hard­ware store the boss there kept re­ceiv­ing or­ders through the phone be­hind the counter. Many of the things I needed were sold out and I was told it would take sev­eral days to get them— the fac­to­ries them­selves were run­ning ex­tra shifts to keep up with de­mand. The shop owner told me that, just a few days prior, all the ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment in his shop had just been sold to the boss of a wa­ter­melon farm who had taken enough for 3 hectares.

Pre­sum­ably, the con­tent of a great many fo­rums speaks of all things cap­i­tal­ism, and maybe just as many write about the drop in the mid­dle class. Ac­tu­ally, the lit­tle life of a lit­tle guy most of­ten bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to that of the game of cap­i­tal­ism. The real econ­omy and the grass­roots econ­omy are sim­ply a mat­ter of ca­sual trans­ac­tions—there is money to be made and lost. Things be­come messy of­ten when peo­ple have too much leisure time, and when you have some­thing to do and some money to make, there won’t be a fuss.

So who gets hurt the most in a fi­nan­cial cri­sis or a re­ces­sion? I be­lieve it’s the new grad­u­ates. They are un­em­ployed as soon as they grad­u­ate. They are un­der­qual­i­fied, yet refuse to lower them­selves to take a po­si­tion which they feel is be­neath them. It’s re­ally tough out there in the job mar­ket. Most peo­ple are spir­i­tu­ally and emo­tion­ally un­pre­pared, and they also lack a prac­ti­cal spe­cial­iza­tion.

Our Chi­nese higher ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t keep pace with the speed of the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment, and doesn’t pro­vide the req­ui­site skilled tal­ent that is so hotly in de­mand in the coun­try. Then at the same time, ev­ery­body wants to be­come a man­ager so they can join the whitecol­lar work­force and the mid­dle class. But China’s place in the over­all food chain de­ter­mines the foun­da­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics of its in­dus­try and com­merce, and there just aren’t enough man­age­rial po­si­tions to go around for ev­ery­body.

Cit­ing a sim­ple ex­am­ple, for some of the cur­rent prob­lems in agri­cul­ture in ru­ral China, even a PhD stu­dent ed­u­cated at an agri­cul­tural univer­sity may not nec­es­sar­ily find the right so­lu­tions.

So, any­time any­one seek­ing my ad­vice about what sub­jects their chil­dren should study, I al­ways rec­om­mend that he or she learn a pro­fes­sional skill, and that at­tend­ing a ju­nior col­lege or a poly­tech­nic would be the way to go. The tu­ition is not ex­pen­sive and af­ter you grad­u­ate, find­ing a job that puts bread on the ta­ble is not a prob­lem. You will have the nec­es­sary skills to do the job and your in­come would be de­cent. Of course, this wouldn’t be for the hy­per­in­tel­li­gent; those who have their hearts set on go­ing to Ts­inghua or Pek­ing Univer­sity should go.

Some­times I think that peo­ple from the coun­try­side

at­tend­ing univer­sity need to get their heads straight. Although it’s true that the Chi­nese id­iom, “the dragon bears a dragon, the phoenix bears a phoenix, and a mouse’s son digs a nest” should be looked at with a crit­i­cal eye, we should nev­er­the­less ex­am­ine its prac­ti­cal and sen­si­ble as­pects. It doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence whether some­one has been born into a fam­ily that has been wealthy for more than three gen­er­a­tions. And no mat­ter if it’s crony cap­i­tal­ism, Amer­i­can style cap­i­tal­ism, Euro­pean style, or Ja­panese style cap­i­tal­ism, it’s all the same. If your fore­fa­thers weren’t loaded, then you need to start from the bot­tom rung of the lad­der, and whether you get rich or not all de­pends on hard work and luck. If you can’t join the ranks of the wealthy, you’d best just re­sign your­self to be­ing an av­er­age Joe. Study your spe­cial­iza­tion, raise a fam­ily, and do your best to pro­tect your me­nial in­ter­ests

We live in an era of plu­ral­ity, there’s the pow­er­ful cen­tral force of the crony’s and their cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and there are those strug­gling for sur­vival at the grass­roots level. There are also the headaches of be­ing wealthy, and the joys of be­ing poor. The grandeur of be­ing elite knows no bounds; while the bril­liance of be­ing a cipher yet re­sounds. I’m re­minded of the story of my grand­fa­ther who never wanted to live in any big city; he just planned to spend his whole life in the coun­try­side where he could live without a care in the world and en­joy all the sim­ple plea­sures of life, which to me sounds like a lit­tle slice of heaven. ( From

FromtheOf­fices­totheCorn­fields , Jiangsu Art and Lit­er­a­ture Press. Trans­la­tion: Chase Coul­son)

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