The World of Chinese - - Contents - BY SUN JI­AHUI (孙佳慧)

It's said that China's me­trop­o­lises are good for money and cul­ture, yet smaller cities are better for one's soul. By of­fer­ing cushy benefits, re­gional cities are com­pet­ing to lure ed­u­cated and com­mute-weary pro­fes­sion­als from Beijing and Shang­hai, but some won­der if the model is sus­tain­able— and how to fairly mea­sure “tal­ent”?

To stay or leave—it’s the ques­tion many in China’s first-tier cities are ask­ing. Faced with sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing prices, rising ex­penses, and in­creas­ingly fierce competition for jobs, those liv­ing in Beijing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou, and Shen­zhen are con­sid­er­ing al­ter­na­tive op­tions.

Tra­di­tion­ally, though, there haven’t been many: Most sec­ond- and third-tier cities lack promis­ing work op­por­tu­ni­ties, en­ter­tain­ment, and nightlife as­so­ci­ated with a mod­ern city, and the well-de­vel­oped in­fra­struc­ture to woo the mid­dle class away. On so­cial me­dia, the dilemma has been skew­ered in a world-weary vi­ral phrase: “The first-tier cities can­not ac­com­mo­date my body, while the lower tier cities can­not fill my soul.”

En­ter the “New First-tier Cities”— as coined by CBN Weekly in 2013— hop­ing to solve the prob­lem. Ev­ery year, the mag­a­zine ranks hun­dreds of Chi­nese cities’ com­mer­cial at­trac­tions based on five in­di­ca­tors— con­cen­tra­tion of com­mer­cial re­sources, trans­port links, the “vi­tal­ity” of cit­i­zens, va­ri­ety of life­style, and “flex­i­bil­ity to­ward the fu­ture.” Those in the “new first-tier” cat­e­gory— which is po­si­tioned be­tween China’s four first-tier cities (Beijing, Shen­zhen, Shang­hai, and Guangzhou) and 30 sec­ond-tier cites—are aim­ing to be the next lo­cus and en­gine of China’s ur­ban growth.

Ac­cord­ing to CBN’S lat­est rank­ings, Chengdu, the cap­i­tal of south­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince, is the high­est-ranked among the 15 New First-tier Cities, fol­lowed by Hangzhou, Chongqing, Wuhan, Suzhou, and Xi’an. Mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional Yang Hao, a 30-some­thing who moved to Chengdu from Beijing in 2012, says he’s not sur­prised. “Chengdu is de­vel­op­ing very rapidly,” Yang tells TWOC, “So much has al­ready changed since I first got here.”

In June 2012, Yang was sent on a busi­ness trip to Chengdu, where he en­joyed the re­laxed pace of life, a far cry from his hec­tic life in the cap­i­tal (dur­ing which he changed jobs three times in five years). Yang likens Beijing to “a huge ma­chine. Liv­ing there, you can­not have your own shape; you can only be forged into what­ever shape it needs.”

By con­trast, he felt that peo­ple liv­ing in Chengdu do not seem as anx­ious about the fu­ture. “There’s just a feel­ing that no one is go­ing to shove you in the sub­way.”

When his com­pany of­fered him a new po­si­tion in Chengdu, Yang ac­cepted it with lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion. Though he wouldn’t say he was “flee­ing” Beijing, Yang re­calls never re­ally hav­ing a sense of be­long­ing in the city. “In Beijing, al­most ev­ery day I heard peo­ple men­tion the term ‘外地人’ (“out­sider,” those with­out a Beijing house­hold reg­is­tra­tion, or any­one not born and raised in the city)!” “But I have never once heard that phrase in Chengdu.”

Not only does Chengdu seem more open to out­siders, but the lo­cal govern­ment has am­bi­tions to at­tract more to the city. In 2017, the “Plan for Mi­grants in Chengdu,” was re­leased, al­low­ing peo­ple with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or above, who have com­mit­ted to work­ing at least two years for a lo­cal com­pany, to ap­ply for a Chengdu reg­is­tra­tion, or hukou. The city even set up 20 spe­cial hos­tels, pro­vid­ing seven days’ free


ac­com­mo­da­tion for job-seek­ers.

Yang mar­vels at how Chengdu has changed over the last five years. “Fol­low­ing the devel­op­ment process of Beijing. It is ex­pand­ing from a First Ring [Road] and a Sec­ond Ring all the way to a Fifth Ring.” He ad­mits, though, that the west­ern city still has a long way to catch up with first­tier me­trop­o­lises. Ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties are not as easy to come by—es­pe­cially for his Korean wife. In Beijing, she found ca­ma­raderie in Wangjing’s Korea Town, as well as a plethora of work op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Yet in spite of mi­nor set­backs, Yang and his wife now plan to pig­gy­back on the rise of Chengdu to the very top. “Chengdu is chang­ing...the city rec­og­nized that its fu­ture devel­op­ment depends on at­tract­ing peo­ple, or tal­ent.”

“What’s the most ex­pen­sive thing in the 21st cen­tury?” asked the vil­lain in Feng Xiao­gang’s 2004 movie, A World With­out Thieves. “Tal­ent!” Four­teen years later, its prophecy has come true. Since 2017, dozens of cities, in­clud­ing sev­eral “New First-tier Cities,” have rolled out fa­vor­able poli­cies to at­tract grad­u­ates—a “tal­ent-grab war,” in the words of Chi­nese me­dia.

Though each cities’ poli­cies vary, they gen­er­ally fo­cus on is­sues such as hukou and hous­ing sub­si­dies. In 2017, Wuhan, the cap­i­tal of Hubei prov­ince, per­mit­ted univer­sity grad­u­ates to buy and rent at prices 20 per­cent lower than mar­ket rates. That same year, Chang­sha, cap­i­tal of Hu­nan, an­nounced that it would of­fer hous­ing and liv­ing sub­si­dies be­tween 6,000 RMB to 15,000 RMB per year for grad­u­ates with de­grees that could con­trib­ute to the city’s devel­op­ment.

And in Jiangsu prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, Nan­jing, hold­ers of bach­e­lor or vo­ca­tional de­grees, over­seas re­turnees, and self­em­ployed grad­u­ates were in­vited to ap­ply for 30-squareme­ter pub­lic ren­tal houses or sub­si­dies be­tween 600 RMB to 1,000 RMB per month.

“In the short term, th­ese poli­cies, like hous­ing sub­si­dies, are at­trac­tive, es­pe­cially in cities with a large amount of uni­ver­si­ties, like Wuhan and Xi’an,” Li Yan, leader of 58 Re­cruit­ment Academy, told 21st Cen­tury Busi­ness Her­ald.

Tian­jin, a mu­nic­i­pal­ity near Beijing, upped the ante ear­lier this year by of­fer­ing a hukou for any­one un­der 40 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree, or un­der 45 with a mas­ter’s de­gree, and all who have a PHD; less than 24 hours af­ter the an­nounce­ment, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity was be­sieged by over 300,000 ap­pli­ca­tions on its app. In 2017, over 142,000 grad­u­ates regis­tered their hukou in Wuhan, six times that of 2016, ac­cord­ing to Guang­ming Daily; 245,000 peo­ple trans­ferred their hukou to Xi’an; and Chang­sha saw a regis­tered pop­u­la­tion in­crease of about 273,000.

In May, a sur­vey car­ried out by, one of China’s lead­ing re­cruit­ment web­sites, sug­gested over 40

per­cent of grad­u­ates in 2018 wanted to work in six of the ma­jor New First­Tier Cities—hangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Tian­jin, Nan­jing, and Wuhan; about 34 per­cent had al­ready signed a con­tract.

Among th­ese cities, Hangzhou is widely con­sid­ered the most at­trac­tive: Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from re­cruit­ment web­site Boss Zhipin, nearly 90 per­cent of grad­u­ates from uni­ver­si­ties in Hangzhou chose to stay af­ter grad­u­a­tion. For ev­ery 100 who leave, it’s es­ti­mated there are 132 grad­u­ates set­tling, a ra­tio com­fort­ably ahead of other first-tier cities. Hangzhou is also the most pop­u­lar city among over­seas re­turnees, even out­per­form­ing Beijing and Shang­hai, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Linkedin in 2017.

For many, the charms of Hangzhou are as ob­vi­ous as the old say­ing sug­gests: “There’s heaven in the sky, and Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth.” For job-seek­ers, though, it’s Alibaba, and other com­pa­nies head­quar­tered in Hangzhou’s well-de­vel­oped tech sec­tor, that are the key to this “par­adise.”

The rea­son Li Jing (pseu­do­nym) moved from Beijing to Hangzhou was the op­por­tu­nity to work for the e-com­merce gi­ant. When her com­pany was ac­quired by Alibaba in 2015, the prod­uct de­vel­oper im­me­di­ately ac­cepted the of­fer of a new con­tract. “For me, it was just an op­por­tu­nity to work in a big­ger plat­form to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing my prod­uct,” says Li. “But my par­ents were very glad I came to Hangzhou, be­cause they were con­cerned with Beijing’s hous­ing prices.”

Alibaba’s pres­ence has given Hangzhou the nick­name “Cap­i­tal of E-com­merce,” and Qdaily re­ported that over 36 per­cent of rentals in the city were to IT work­ers. But while many hope that life in the New First­Tier Cities will be less chaotic and more ful­fill­ing than the old first-tiers, Li’s ex­pe­ri­ence sug­gests this is not nec­es­sar­ily true. She be­lieves her life in Hangzhou is more stress­ful, even though she earns five times her Beijing salary. “Ev­ery week­day, I leave home at 9 a.m. and ar­rive home at 10 p.m. I also work over­time at week­ends.”

“In my free time, I need to im­prove my­self,” she adds. “In this in­dus­try, if you want to catch up with oth­ers, you have to work re­ally hard.” Li says that cur­rent poli­cies are far from enough— high-end, ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers are still in short sup­ply. “I never heard of any depart­ment in Alibaba with­out va­can­cies.”

Oth­ers dis­agree. Lu Ming, a scholar from Shang­hai Jiao Tong Univer­sity, be­lieves the poli­cies are in­trin­si­cally un­fair. “All of th­ese tal­ent-grab­bing poli­cies are just us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to sub­si­dize univer­sity grad­u­ates, who al­ready have the po­ten­tial to earn high in­comes,” Lu told the 21st Cen­tury Busi­ness Her­ald. “It is not right if cities only try to keep stu­dents, while those with­out a di­ploma are forced to leave be­cause they can­not ac­cess the same pub­lic wel­fare.”

Zhang Shuguang, deputy di­rec­tor at the Unir­ule In­sti­tute of Eco­nomics, be­lieves that tal­ent-grab­bing poli­cies are gen­er­ally good. “We used to not re­spect tal­ent,” he noted at the 2018 China’s Eco­nomic Growth and Cy­cles Sum­mit. How­ever, Zhang warned that there are prob­lems with “the stan­dard that de­fines a high-end tal­ent, and the set­tle­ment pack­ages…on the one hand, we see gov­ern­ments are at­tract­ing high-end tal­ents; on the other hand, we also see some lo­cal gov­ern­ments evict­ing low-end la­bor.”

“Tal­ent is multi-faceted,” said Zhang. “With­out free move­ment of peo­ple, I think such poli­cies won’t pro­duce sat­is­fac­tory out­comes.”

There’s also the ques­tion of whether the in­flux into th­ese New First-tier Cities is sus­tain­able: While Yang felt that one can re­ally “have a life” out­side work in Chengdu, Li, in Hangzhou, feels it may soon be time to leave. Although she has al­ready mar­ried and bought two apart­ments in the city, “I can see the ‘ceil­ing’ of my ca­reer, and if [so]…i don’t want to in­vest all my time and en­ergy on it,” Li says, ex­plain­ing that she feels it is “the right time” to leave. “Many friends feel I can just con­tinue work­ing at Alibaba for the rest of my life, but they don’t re­al­ize how ex­haust­ing that is.”

Days af­ter she spoke with TWOC, Li up­dated her Wechat Mo­ments, an­nounc­ing that she has quit. She’s plan­ning to re­lo­cate, per­haps even go abroad to New Zealand. “I do not want to set­tle down in any spe­cific place now,” she tells TWOC, adding per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in th­ese de­ci­sions, “I think the in­ter­net has re­duced the re­gional in­flu­ence on peo­ple’s lives.”


On a clear day in Chengdu, res­i­dents or­ga­nize an im­promptu tea house in Wangjiang Park

Source: CBN Weekly

Alibaba’s Hangzhou head­quar­ters is known for its sleek cam­pus and long hours for IT work­ers

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