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College Graduates Help Boost Village Economy

As one of the first college graduates to voluntarily work in the countryside, Jia Hui found not only himself was in the spotlight, but also his girlfriend, his favorite food and even the color of his bedsheet.

When Jia graduated from Beijing Forestry University and became an assistant village official in Beizhai village of Beijing's outlying Pinggu district last year, he was a timid young man of few words but high aims.

A year into his job, Jia talks eloquently and knows clearly ambition alone does not solve all the complicated rural issues that need innovation, prudence and above all, money.

"When I first came here, I thought I'd be on good terms with the villagers and then use my imagination and wisdom to improve their lives," he said. "I was too naive. It never occurred to me where the money should come from."

A hundred kilometers from the city center, Beizhai village is vastly different from the Beijing he knew. Its high and continuous mountains are spectacular to Jia, whose hometown is on Inner Mongolia's plains.

But Beizhai is not altogether a poor village. Its 1,500-hectare orchard produces apricots that are sold for high prices downtown and bring the villagers a steady income.

Yet Jia believed things could still be better.

He proposed building new highways into the mountains to make the village a tourist destination. When he found a cavern in a mountain, he was certain it was connected with Beijing's most renowned karst cavern in the neighboring county. "But the village did not have the money for excavation and promotion. So I had to give up the idea."

A year into his job, Jia admits he's too young and inexperienced to be a decision-maker in village affairs.

"I no longer dream to be somebody. Now I understand it is my specialty in forestry administration that actually serves the villagers," he said. "But I still like to give constructive suggestion."

He's also learned to write down his constructive suggestion in a more tactful way for the village officials to read in private, instead of embarrassing them on public occasions.

The grateful village officials have, in return, helped establish Jia's prestige in front of the villagers. Liu Yong, the village head, would insist Jia make a report on his behalf at every villagers' assembly.

"He's very efficient and is an expert on fruits planting," said Liu, who hopes Jia will stay and become a policymaker soon.

College graduates, with their book knowledge and enthusiasm, will inject a new vitality in China's building of new socialist countryside, said Qin Gang, an official with Pinggu District government.

This year, Beijing's eight other outlying districts and counties followed Pinggu's suit to recruit college graduates to fill up grassroots jobs.

Facing a slim job market, 11,354 students from Beijing-based universities applied for the 2,000 openings, which means one out of every 17 senior students in the national capital applied, and one out of six applicants stood out.

The successful candidates will start working in July as village heads or assistant secretaries of village committees of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing's outlying villages.

According to the municipal personnel bureau, 3,000 college graduates will take up grassroots jobs in each of the coming two years to work as officials in 3,978 villages on the outskirts of Beijing.

Henan, China's largest agricultural province, is also encouraging college graduates to take grassroots jobs. In three to five years, each village in the central province will have at least one college graduate.

"This is a new outlet for the growing number of first-time job seekers, too," said Li Xiangfang, an official in the city of Hebi, where peasant farmers make up more than 70 percent of the population.

The city has at least 3,000 college graduates hunting for jobs, while more than half of the village officials only finished junior high school, said Li.

"This year, we'll recruit 100 graduates to fill up village jobs, and 560 applied," she said.

Though some doubt how long these young people will actually stay at their grassroots jobs and even question the ultimate intention behind their choices, many believe the move is worth trying at least.

"It makes a difference even if they stay for just two or three years. Their knowledge and fervor boost village economy and the grassroots jobs boost their own career development," said Li.

(Xinhua News Agency June 30, 2006)

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