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Shozaburo Sakai

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The Ant Tribe and NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) Tribe
A Cross Section of the Career Paths and Employment Prospects of Chinese College Students

Shozaburo Sakai
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Chinese business theory, comparative studies of the transitional economies of China and Russia

The light and shadows in China

In the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which sent shockwaves throughout the world, China has continued to enjoy a nearly double-digit annual growth rate, and last year in 2010, China surpassed Japan to become the second largest economic power in the world. The situation in China today is not, however, only the rosy picture of a prosperous economy. There is a striking disparity between the metropolises in the coastal areas and the agricultural communities stretching across the inland areas. This gap steadily continues to widen in terms of professions/job types and in the social hierarchy as well. According to World Bank data for last year, the Gini coefficient indicated that the degree of income inequality was 0.47 for China, approaching 0.5, which is regarded as the danger zone for multiple social uprisings.

Here we will focus on the career paths and employment prospects for college students under these circumstances in China.

The Ant Tribe

These students are known as the Ant Tribe-after reportage under the same name became a best seller, the appellation stuck. A translation was released and published in the newspaper, even in Japan. (*Note) Apparently they are compared with ants because they are well-educated working poor who live in groups, are highly intelligent, and are gregarious, just as ants are.

* Note: The Ant Tribe -a Herd of Well-Educated Working Poor, edited by Lian Si; translated by Ken Sekine; published by Bensei Publishing Inc., 2010.

Riding on measures to expand universities, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of universities in China since the turn of the century. With an education continuance rate upwards of 25%, compared with the mere 1 and 2 percent rates of the Cultural Revolution of the 70s and the onset of the Opening Up and Reform of the 80s, the difference is akin to the difference between heaven and earth. The number of college graduates has increased through the popularization of these universities, reaching more than 6.3 million last year. It is difficult to ensure a suitable workplace with such a prodigious number of college graduates, however remarkable China's growth may be. Naturally, the number of jobless college graduates who graduated from college but. don't have jobs has increased, and although it is an unofficial figure, they say that the number of people in this predicament was over two million last year. In fact, one in three college graduates are unable to find the job that they would like to do.

Most of those in the Ant Tribe come from rural areas, and the majority of them are the only-children. They ardently shoulder the expectations of their parents, who lived in an age where there was no hope of things like attending college. Returning to one's hometown for lack of finding a job simply won't do.

This summer, I visited one of the gregarious areas of the Ant Tribe called Xiaoyuehe, in the Haidian district of Beijing. This is a block near the northwest district of the city where the leading universities in the country are concentrated, including Beijing University, Tsinghua University, and other such famous schools, and to the other side of the Jingzang Expressway stretches out the vast Olympic Park. The banks of the Xiaoyuehe River-which is also a place name-are lined with numerous blocks of apartments with what appears at a distance to be long fabric flapping in the breeze hanging from under their eaves. This sight of what turns out to be vast amounts of laundry hung out to dry creates a complex contrast against the backdrop of the surrounding high-rise buildings.

The NEET Tribe

Changing locations, let us consider Shanghai. In visiting Shanghai also this summer, I was taken aback even further at what I heard from a former student who had completed graduate studies at our university and returned to her hometown of Shanghai, where she was running an intermediate wholesale building materials company. In Shanghai they are one step further developed, and the NEET Tribe is regarded as an issue that is a current social phenomenon. This is said to describe the young people who opt to depend on their parents rather than take jobs that don't appeal to them.

We certainly do have the expressions Parasite Tribe and Parasite Single in Japan as well. The product of the Chinese national policy, however, appears to be a point of divergence from the situation in Japan. Known as the Post-80s and Post-90s generations, these people were born after the period of Opening Up and Reform, and yet as mentioned above they are all only children. Surrounded from birth by six adults (two parents and four grandparents), they were therefore spoiled-called little emperors if they were boys, and little imperial princesses if they were girls-brought up with six sources of money. As such, parents decide that they do not want to have their children struggle, to the point that, even if there were good employment opportunities, they would rather have them nearby and provide for them than be far apart from them.

Chinese society in flux?

Whether it be the Ant Tribe or the NEET Tribe, in terms of using human resources in China today, both represent a loss to society. On the other hand, with their relentless struggle to make their way of their own means, the Ant Tribe can be regarded as the hope for the near future of China. Conversely, while the NEET Tribe is regarded as the epitome of a generation with a weak sense of responsibility and lack of social nature, they are the new Chinese who are well educated and comfortable using information tools. It may just be that someone among these ranks will emerge to be the bearer of an entirely new culture involved with production and consumption, and who will move Chinese society going forward. This would be much the same as the young people known as new breed of humans and the otaku (nerds), who created the Japanese values that are embodied in and that continue to be transmitted to the world through Anime Culture.

Shozaburo Sakai
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Chinese business theory, comparative studies of the transitional economies of China and Russia
Born in Miyagi Prefecture in 1950. Graduated in 1973 with a degree from the Department of Marketing and Trade, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University. Left the doctoral program in 1981 after completing the required courses in the Graduate School of Commerce, Chuo University. Took up the current position in 1992 after serving as an assistant, full-time lecturer, and assistant professor at Chuo University. Senior visiting researcher: 1992-1994 at the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies at University of Birmingham, England. Visiting researcher in 2010 at the Overseas Theory and Information Research Center, Central Compilation & Translation Bureau, China. Visiting researcher in 2011 at the Institute of Contemporary China of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Visiting professor: since September 2011 at the Institute of Asian Economic Community, University of International Business and Economics (Beijing). Primary works: Organizational Transformation and Business/Management [Taisei Henkan to Kigyo Keiei], (Co-Edited) Minerva Shobo, 2001; Business Management in Market Economies in Transition [Shijo Keizai Iko Shokoku no Kigyo Keiei], (Co-Translated), Showado, 2007; "CSR in China" [Chugoku ni Okeru CSR], Comparative Management Research [Hikaku Keiei Kenkyu], Bunrikaku, 2009; "Corporate Social Responsibility in China" [Chugoku ni Okeru Kigyo no Shakaiteki Sekinin], Commercial Science Compilation [Shogaku Ronsan], Vol. 51, Issue 5.6, 2010; "Structural Transformation of the Economic Growth Model in China" [Chugoku ni Okeru Keizai Seicho Moderu no Kozo Tenkan], China Quarterly [Kikan Chugoku], No. 107, 2011.