Twenty-six-year-old Li Chengqiang wants to be a writer.
The thin and friendly young man graduated from university this July. Instead of finding a job in the city, he headed for the hills. He went to the mountainous Huangtuwa Village in Changping District, a suburb of Beijing for three years as a "test field" to fulfill his dream as a writer.
Li graduated with a Master's degree in modern Chinese literature from Beijing Language and Culture University. He is among the 3,000 fresh graduates sent to villages around Beijing, nicknamed "college student village officials".
He signed a three-year contract with the local town-level government, and "village officials" like Li will be looked on more favorably when they pass the national civil servant recruitment examination and the national graduate school entrance exams after finishing their service from the countryside.
This year, China has about 4.95 million fresh graduates, an increase of 820,000 from 2006. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, about 1.44 million are still unemployed this September, with the employment rate of fresh graduates reaching 70.9 percent.
"Over 580,000 go to government institutions below the county level this year, accounting for about 16.6 percent of the total," a spokesman from the Ministry of Education said late last month.
In a bid to alleviate the difficulty fresh graduates have in finding jobs, and help develop rural economy, several provinces have launched similar programs of sending university graduates to local governments below county level.
Li has lived in Huangtuwa Village for about four months now.
"Though I was not born in the city, I feel this is a place to make me more determined to prepare well for my future career," Li said with confidence. But he is also unsure about whether he could contribute to the village's businesses.
A Runner on the Road and the Scenery on the Way
In his student days, Li was a "college life" writer, fictionalizing the lives of the post-1980s generation. One of his professors encouraged Li to go to the countryside to experience real life.
"A man needs to have the life before he writes about it," he said. In his blog, he calls himself "a runner on the road". He explained that way he could see and experience a lot, as well as push himself to accomplish goals.
From the nearest town, it takes 40 minutes by car to get to the rugged road around the mountains to the village Li works and lives. The coldness in the mountainous area sometimes wakes him up in the night.
He says what he does at work is trivial, but require patience and an honest attitude. He assists the committee head with drafting reports and objectives for the village, and acts as a liaison between the villagers and the village chief. The 200 or so residents there are mostly elderly people, while the young leave the village to study or work in the towns or cities.
Besides doing paperwork for the villagers' committee, Li also organizes activities for the villagers like basketball games. “My job helps me to know more about the village and the people living here,” he said.
Unlike Li, another "village official", Wang Kai, is busy in Beixiaoying, suburban Beijing's Shunyi District.
Beixiaoying Town is the venue for next year's Olympic rowing and canoeing events in Beijing. Wang's village is also preparing for the Games and he has helped organize sporting activities for the residents there.
"I work as a librarian for the village library, collecting farming information. I also manage the local administration archives in the villagers' committee. Whatever I can do in the committee I will help them," Wang said. "It's well-developed here and I cannot find many differences compared with the city."
The 22-year-old majored in international politics and economy is determined to become a civil servant. He is very interested in politics and history, and if he was a civil servant, it would make him feel proud. Wang understands the responsibilities of doing public service and so he prefers jobs related to public affairs and administration.
But he failed the civil service exam this year and wasn't able to find a job that he was interested in. That's when Wang realized that practical experience and improving his communication skills might be the blanks he needs to fill in order to realize his career plan.
"Right now, this is a beautiful scenic spot on the road in my life," he said. "And the time here will be a valuable opportunity for me to toughen my spirit and courage."
"I feel all young people should go to the countryside to experience it themselves," Wang continues. "It will help them prepare for their career. They need to learn more about real life. I didn't expect to go to the countryside at first, but I found it easy to adapt to life here."
Choices in the tough job market
Since 2005, the government has sent about 20,000 new graduates to rural areas every year to develop rural education, medicine and agriculture.
This year, there were 550,000 more graduates sent to the western regions compared to the previous year. And a nationwide "west service plan" asking graduates to voluntarily work in the western and central regions has been going on for five years, with over 7,000 new volunteers serving villages this year.
Zhu Can is one of those "west service plan" volunteers. He graduated last year and volunteered in a development finance service program co-sponsored by China Development Bank and the Central Youth League. He returned to his hometown this August because the plan was only for one year.
Zhu graduated from Suzhou University in East China's Jiangsu Province, majoring in human resources administration. He was sent to the county level of the Development and Reform Commission in Langao County, in the Southwest China's Shaanxi Province. He worked as a volunteer to help facilitate communication between China Development Bank and the local government.
The bespectacled Zhu who was the leader of the volunteer team in Langao is satisfied with his one-year term of service in the mountainous area. Born in a well-off family, he wasn't in a rush like others to find a job after graduation.
"I just wanted to know first-hand life in the true west and make me more brave so that I can contribute to society."
At first, Zhu was frustrated with the living conditions, as the electricity was always cut off and the infrastructure wasn't well built. But as time went on and his dedication of helping a local middle school successfully apply for a loan and oversee its relocation and reconstruction. He was so pleased by the end result that he was motivated to stay longer.
He also gave free lessons to students at a local primary school with other team members in their spare time, just the same as he did when he was in college.
"What I did in the west really changed my life. It helped me realize my dreams of learning more about the people there. I admire those who stay behind in the west and devote themselves to making a difference without any recognition," he said.
Zhu now works in a private company in his hometown Nantong, Jiangsu Province, in charge of administration. He said he is going to quit his job soon and take the graduate school entrance exam with hopes of becoming a teacher in the future.
"To feel needed makes me feel the happiest," he said with a smile.
(China Daily November 12, 2007)