Chenggong’s family back in Ningde, Fujian province, has always been
proud of his accomplishments. The 22-year-old graduate of Beijing
University of Civil Engineering and Architecture is the first in his
hometown to enter a college in Beijing.
“I was raised to believe a college degree was a sure route to a
comfortable life. But after months of searching for a job, I only
receive offers with salaries lower than what factory workers earn. It’s
as if I never went to college at all,” he said.
It is a dilemma echoed by other rural and small town students.
Once graduation rolls around, they face more difficulties climbing up
the social ladder than their urban peers.
According to a 2014 report from the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, the unemployment rate among college graduates from urban
families is about 12 percent, while for graduates from rural backgrounds
it’s 30 percent.
A separate 2014 report by the China Youth & Children Research
Center points out a similar gap between small town and urban graduates.
Roadblocks to success
This gap is one of the clearest expressions of the hardening
barriers to social mobility, according to Tian Feng, the report’s lead
researcher. She explains social mobility as a person’s ability to move
from one class to another.
“The current social mobility in China is low. Many urban
graduates, with their well-off parents’ social networking, have a better
chance to secure a decent job. Their family’s already privileged social
status is quickly passed on to the next generation in this form,” she
While this trend could easily be dismissed as only affecting
individuals, it actually has a major impact on social equity on the
macro level, said Liu Jingming, a professor of sociology at Tsinghua
“Low social mobility will ultimately result in class
solidification. When that happens, not only will individuals have little
chance to move up the social pyramid, their offspring will also be less
likely to end up in a different class, enjoying better social resources
and opportunities,” he said.
Though he has met difficulties, Chen doesn’t lose faith in his
future. And he finally gets a job at a Beijing-based architecture design
“Compared to previous generations, I’ve already gotten the chance
to experience the world outside of our village. I got to know all sorts
of information online. And I also made my own connections,” he said.
Li Chunling, a professor of sociology at Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences, encourages all graduates to share that kind of
She attributes the disadvantages of coming out of small towns and
rural areas to the lack of socialization. It can be remedied in college
and later in life, as students broaden their horizons, develop their own
social networks and pick up social skills they once lacked.