Ant Tribes

Ant Tribes Residents in Beijing

China is dealing with an increasing number of Ant Tribes -- University graduates who cannot find work. With more than 6 million university graduates annually, can the government provide a solution?

China’s double digit growth rate during the financial crisis has been the envy of the world, yet many Chinese have yet to reap the rewards of the economic boom; Those include the millions of graduates entering the work force each year. These graduates are becoming a part of a phenomenon called “Ant Tribes” -- university and college graduates who cannot find work.

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The “Ant Tribe” problem originates in the fact that nearly 70 percent of high school graduates are expected to enroll in university this year, according to state media, compared with 20 percent in the 1980s. Many of the graduates are very hopeful when they leave their village, yet they end up being disappointed when they discover that the big, booming cities about which they have heard so much have no employment to offer them. The reason is that the competition for jobs is simply too fierce: In 1998, when the government began to seriously look at expanding higher education, Chinese universities were producing 830,000 graduates a year. At 2010, that number was 6,000,000, and it is still growing.

Can Ant Tribes Find Jobs in China?

The term “Ant Tribe” was coined by Lian Si, a professor who wrote a book with that title about the post-1980 generation. ”Unlike slums in South America or
Southeast Asia, these villages are populated with educated young people as opposed to laborers or street peddlers,” says Lian, who teaches at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. The villages to which mr. Si is referring are over-crowded by young graduates who are either looking for work or have settled for jobs that pay them very little.

The “Ant Tribes” are not the only ones who suffer from this situation. Parents dedicate their lives to provide education for their children. They work extremely hard to make sure that they can receive the best education available. Chinese people believe, much thanks to Confucian tradition, that education is the key to success and prosperity, and thus many parents are willing to greatly invest time and money so that their child can receive the best education opportunities.

The government, it seems, does not know how to cope with this growing problem. It is estimated that in Beijing alone there are more than 100,000 “Ant Tribes”. With reports of rioting taking place in some “Ant Tribe” areas, the government is now looking to take action. Measures being discussed include limiting resident permits to skilled professionals and introducing electronic ID cards for outsiders without a stable job. However, with the number of graduates entering the workforce set to continue rising, there seems little hope that these measures would mitigate the problem of China’s “Ant Tribes”.

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About the Author

Lior Paritzky is the Editor in Chief and Manager of Laowaiblog, an internet platform that provides opinion and views about social phenomena in modern China. Look for Lior on Twitter: Liorpari