China's 'ant tribe' searches for better future

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, January 16, 2010
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Every day Yang Hongwei takes the bus home from work, staring silently at the European-style villas, luxury sedans and twinkling lights from plazas as they pass by.

The 25-year-old from northeast China's Heilongjiang Province says he dreams of living such a life and that hope has kept him in Beijing in the past three years since he graduated from university.

Yang eventually squeezes his way off the bus to the reality of his life: a collection of ramshackle buildings clustered in garbage-littered lanes of Tangjialing village in northern Beijing.

He scoots home -- a 10-square-meter room that costs 550 yuan (81 U.S. dollars) or about one fifth of his salary in rent every month.

He pulls tight his coat. "It's very frigid inside as the house is without a central heating system, but I am getting used to it."

Yang says many of his fellow graduates and other tenants at Tangjialing have to endure the same long and cold winter, too.

Finding love is another problem in a money-centered society like Beijing. "How could dare I date a girl? That costs."

He has been alone since 2006 when he came to the capital after graduating from Heilongjiang's Daqing Petroleum Institute.

Yang's frustration over his life is shared by many other low-income graduates that have moved into China's big cities like Beijing. Together the highly educated groups come to be called the "ant tribe", a term coined by Chinese sociologists to describe the struggles of young migrants, who, armed with their diplomas, scramble to big cities in hope of a better life only to find a low-paying jobs and poor living conditions.

They live in Tangjialing for cheap rents. The slum-like village, for instance, originally had a population of 3,000, but it has exploded to 50,000 with the influx of new "ant tribe" villagers.

"They are like ants: clever, weak and living in groups," says Lian Si, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Chinese and Global Affairs of Peking University, who studies the phenomenon. .

Over the past two years, Lian led a team of more than 100 graduates students to follow the groups in university towns like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Xi'an.

In his book "Ant Tribe", published in September 2009, Lian estimates the population of the "ant community" at 1 million across China, with about 100,000 in Beijing alone.

Most of the "ant tribe" are from poor rural families and take temporary and low-paid jobs like insurance agents, electronic products sales representatives and waiters, and some are unemployed or underemployed.

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