In the old days university graduates had little choice about their futures and careers; the government decided for them. A decade or so ago having a college degree was a guarantee for a good white college job. That is no longer the case. Currently there are too many college graduates and too few jobs. Even though growth rates are high, the economy can not create good jobs fast enough to meet demand.

As the Chinese economy matures and university degrees a dime a dozen university graduates are having even a harder time. Job openings receive hundreds of applicants, Job fairs are packed with graduates searching for jobs. Often times it only seems that the well-connected get jobs. In 2006, 4.1 million students graduated, an increase of 22 percent from 2005. An estimated 60 percent of them had difficulty finding work.

College graduates are almost willing to do anything and go anywhere for a decent job but are having difficulty finding jobs anywhere or doing anything. Increasingly they are looking to small cities for opportunities as the cost of living in the larger cites is simply too high. But in the second-, third- and forth-tier cities, according to the China Daily, they are finding its hard to get a job without guanxi, which is hard to get if one is an outsider. A government policy in the late 1990s to reduce unemployment by doubling the number of college and university students is partly to blame for the difficulty university graduates are having. The policy created more graduates than the job market can accommodate and reduced the quality of education.

Eric Mu wrote in Danwei.com, “When I was a kid, university graduates were as rare as unicorns, now they are more like popcorn: cheap and plentiful. No big surprise, considering there are millions of fresh ones every year to join a large pool of millions of existing ones. All are desperate for white-collar jobs that are not easy to come by in China’s manufacturing economy. The problem of university graduates finding jobs has been debated in the media for at least a decade as a difficult social issue and it never improves. [Source: Eric Mu, Danwei.com September 2, 2011]

My father is a cleaner at a local paper mill. In his mid-fifties without any professional skills, he works for 50 yuan a day. What can 50 yuan buy? Two cups of coffee at this not-too-fancy coffee shop in Beijing where I am typing these words. But if you are a college graduate and want to find a job in my hometown, you can expect to start with an even lower salary than my father. Earlier this year when I went back to my home village, my parents told me that a girl in the village had gone mad. Why? She went to college, where she studied English for four years, and the best job she could get was to peel shrimps with coworkers, who finished middle school and were at least four years younger than her.

So, a college degree, once a coveted holy grail, a glamorous passport to a fulfilled and secure life, has lost its luster, right? So people are shunning it and pursuing happiness through a different course, right? The fact is that despite the bleak financial prospects and diminishing advantages of being a graduate, the competition to become one has never been any more severe.

The number of Chinese seeking higher degrees increased from 11 million in 2000 to 16 million in 2005. Many do not get jobs and return to their home villages and become peasant farmers. Parents that dished out big money questioned the sacrifices they made.

Difficulty Getting a Job After University in China

About 6.3 million university graduates entered the work force in 2010. They joined some of the 6.1 million graduates from the year before that were unable to find good jobs because of the global economic showdowns. There were also some from previous years. Of 5.59 million college graduates in 2008, an estimated 27 percent were unable to find jobs by the end of the year, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The new graduates also face lower stating wages ($371 a month in 2010 compared to $450 a month in 2007).

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, the Chinese “economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee. “College essentially provided them with nothing,” said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China’s education system. “For many young graduates, it’s all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, December 11, 2010]

“In a kind of cruel reversal, China’s old migrant class — uneducated villagers who flocked to factory towns to make goods for export — are now in high demand, with spot labor shortages and tighter government oversight driving up blue-collar wages. But the supply of those trained in accounting, finance and computer programming now seems limitless, and their value has plunged. Between 2003 and 2009, the average starting salary for migrant laborers grew by nearly 80 percent; during the same period, starting pay for college graduates stayed the same, although their wages actually decreased if inflation is taken into account.”

“In 2010, the number of 20-to-25-year-olds in China reached 123 million, about 17 million more than there were just four years ago. “China has really improved the quality of its work force, but on the other hand competition has never been more serious,” said Peng Xizhe, dean of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University in Shanghai. Given the glut of underemployed graduates, Mr. Peng suggested that young people either shift to more practical vocations like nursing and teaching or recalibrated their expectations. “It’s O.K. if they want to try a few years seeking their fortune, but if they stay too long in places like Beijing or Shanghai, they will find trouble for themselves and trouble for society,” he said.”

From 1982 to 2005, the percent of the population with a higher education rose from 1 percent to 7 percent while the percent of white collar jobs rose from about 7 percent to less than 13 percent. Evidence of the job squeeze appears not only regularly on Chinese television but in the civil service exams where 1 million people recently competed for 15,000 openings.

In 2003, there were two million college graduates, almost double the year before. More than half the graduates at private universities were unable to find jobs. Even graduates at elite universities had hard times finding jobs. Only about 70 percent of graduates from Beijing University and Fudan University were able to find jobs. Students with foreign degrees are also having a hard time. In 2006, 4.1 million students graduated, an increase of 22 percent from 2005. Those that dished out big money question the sacrifices they made.

The pinch started to really kick in 2009 after the global economic crisis. In 2008 students from top universities applying for jobs had gotten two or three offers by the winter, sometimes for a starting salary 20 times the average Chinese annual income. But in 2009, after weeks of looking, even graduates of top business schools with several years of work experience, returned to their hometowns, unable to find work.[Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, January 24, 2009]

Recent college graduates are more likely to unemployed than the average urban workers. By one measure unemployment rate for recent college graduates is around 13 percent. But many believe the true figure is much higher than that. The plight of college graduates is expected to get worse because Chinese universities are increasing their enrollments each year. Furthermore, the ranks of overseas Chinese who are returning to look for work are swelling because of the recession in the United States and Europe.

A participant in an anti-Japanese protest told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Even if students graduated from university, they can’t find a job of they don’t have connections. Children of senior party officials and the rich can get on the elite track even if they’re incompetent. This society is really unfair.”

Underemployment of Chinese University Graduates

Katherine Stapleton, The Conversation: “In 2013, Chinese citizens started blogging about the “hardest job hunting season in history” – and each year it seems to get harder for Chinese graduates. In 2017 there will be 1m more new graduates than there were in 2013. And yet, the graduate unemployment rate has remained relatively stable – according to MyCOS Research Institute, only 8 percent of students who graduated in 2015 were unemployed six months after graduating. [Source: Katherine Stapleton, The Conversation, April 10, 2017]

“But if you delve a little deeper it’s clear that unemployment rates mask the more subtle issue of “underemployment”. While most graduates eventually find work, too many end up in part-time, low-paid jobs. Six months after graduating, one in four Chinese university students have a salary that is below the average salary of a migrant worker, according to MyCOS data. History, law and literature have some of the lowest starting salaries, and also the lowest employment rates.

“And for students who choose arts and humanities subjects in high school, the average starting salary after university is lower than that of their classmates who didn’t go to university, according to survey data. Of the 50 most common graduate occupations, 30 percent are low-skilled and don’t require a degree. For these students, low starting salaries and limited career progression call into question the value of their degree. The high cost of living, particularly in big cities, has also forced millions of graduates into “ant tribes” of urban workers living in squalid conditions – often in basements – working long hours in low-paid jobs.

Chinese University Graduates Have the Wrong Types of Skills

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times: “China’s swift expansion in education over the last decade, including a quadrupling of the number of college graduates each year, has created millions of engineers and scientists. The best can have their pick of jobs at Chinese companies that are aiming to become even more competitive globally. But China is also churning out millions of graduates with few marketable skills, coupled with a conviction that they are entitled to office jobs with respectable salaries. [Source:Keith Bradsher, New York Times, January 24, 2013]

Katherine Stapleton, The Conversation, Engineering, economics and science majors in China all enjoy high starting salaries and the top employment rates. These graduates fill the highest-paid entry positions in the most attractive employment sectors of IT, operations, real estate and finance. Chinese tech graduates do particularly well. In 2015 the top five highest paying graduate jobs were all IT related. [Source: Katherine Stapleton, The Conversation, April 10, 2017]

“The government’s “Made in China 2025” strategy to become a global high-tech leader in industries such as advanced IT and robotics has created plenty of opportunities for graduates in these fields. Not only are the starting salaries high, but long-term earnings follow a starkly different trajectory. Three years after graduating, the top 15 percent of engineering, economics and science graduates earn more than double the median salary for other graduates.

“It seems then that the problem is not the rising number of students attending university, but that there is a mismatch between the skill composition of graduates and the skills employers need. Demand for graduates with technical or quantitative skills has in fact risen faster than supply, resulting in attractive employment opportunities for graduates with these skills. But for the rest, their education leaves them badly prepared for the jobs that are available. Until this changes, the polarisation in the graduate job market is likely to continue.

“Despite the rapid increase in the number of university graduates, Chinese companies complain of not being able to find the high-skilled graduates they need. The main deficit is in so-called “soft skills” such as strong communication, analytical and managerial skills. According to research by McKinsey, there is a short supply of graduates with these assets.

“Chinese universities have a great track record of teaching students “hard skills”, but the test-focused education system has placed little emphasis on the development of anything else. So while graduates from technical or quantitative majors find employment because they have the necessary “hard skills”, graduates from less technical majors are hampered by their lack of both types of skills.

Why Chinese Colleges Churn Out Graduates with Few Marketable Skills

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Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times: “China’s swift expansion in education over the last decade, including a quadrupling of the number of college graduates each year, has created millions of engineers and scientists. The best can have their pick of jobs at Chinese companies that are aiming to become even more competitive globally. But China is also churning out millions of graduates with few marketable skills, coupled with a conviction that they are entitled to office jobs with respectable salaries. [Source:Keith Bradsher, New York Times, January 24, 2013]

“Part of the problem seems to be a proliferation of fairly narrow majors — Mr. Wang has a three-year associate degree in the design of offices and trade show booths. At the same time, business and economics majors are rapidly gaining favor on Chinese campuses at the expense of majors like engineering, contributing to the glut of graduates with little interest in soiling their hands on factory floors. “This also has to do with the banking sector — they offer high-paying jobs, so their parents want their children to go in this direction,” Ms. Ye said.

The Chinese government acknowledged in March 2012 that only 78 percent of the previous year’s college graduates had found jobs. But even that figure may overstate employment for the young and educated. The government includes not just people in long-term jobs but also freelancers, temporary workers, graduate students and people who have signed job contracts but not started work yet, as well as many people in make-work jobs that state-controlled companies across China have been ordered to create for new graduates.

Mary E. Gallagher, the director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan and a specialist in Chinese labor issues, said, “Students themselves have not adjusted to the concept of mass education, so students are accustomed to seeing themselves as becoming part of an elite when they enter college.”

“The glut of college graduates is eroding wages even for those with more marketable majors, like computer science. In 2000, the prevailing wage at top companies for fresh graduates with computer science degrees was about $725 a month in Shenzhen, roughly 10 times the wage then of a blue-collar worker who had not finished high school, said an executive who insisted on anonymity because of controversy in China over wages.

“But today, new computer science graduates are so plentiful that their pay in Shenzhen has fallen to just $550 a month, less than double the wage of a blue-collar worker. And that is without adjusting for inflation over the last decade. Consumer prices have risen 29 percent in Shenzhen, according to official data that many economists say understates the true increase in consumer prices.

Chinese Government Policy To Address Difficulty Getting a Job After University

Wu Zhong wrote in the Asia Times, “Ensuring economic growth and preserving jobs” has become thetop priority of Beijing's agenda this year. And helping university graduates find employment falls under the category “preserving jobs”, for it is no longer an economic issue. For Chinese authorities, this is an issue with serious political and social implications that will impact the country's stability. “In recent years Chinese students have become increasingly indifferent to political issues, caring more about their personal future than the future of the nation. So if the economy is doing well, they might not be so concerned... However...I f a great proportion of graduates can't find jobs, they may become restless and... take collective action, which in turn could spark social unrest. Moreover, those students who are still studying would become restless worrying about their future. This could be another source of potential unrest.” Premier Wen Jiabao, in a visit to a university campus in 2009, personally assured the students: “Please put your minds at ease. The government will do whatever it can to help you find jobs.” [Source: Wu Zhong, Asia Times, March 3, 2009]

“The government is trying to create more civil service posts for fresh graduates... Some regional governments encourage grads to work in villages with a promise that they will be employed by the government two or three years later. In some places, local governments also offer loan guarantees for small- and medium-sized enterprises if they employ university graduates. Chinese authorities are also offering financial subsidies and taxation incentives to encourage graduates to start their own businesses and become self-employed. A few years ago, a Peking University bachelor degree holder opened a butcher shop, after spending some time in vain seeking a job. The headline “Peking University graduate becomes a butcher” shocked the public, with critics saying it was a big waste of education resources and personal talent. Today, however, that shop owner is quite well off, and often cited by city officials as a good example to convince graduates to become self-employed.”

“This is not the first time in recent years that university degree holders have had trouble finding employment. Following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the then Zhu Rongji cabinet launched a series of measures to boost domestic consumption to counter the negative impact of the crisis on economic growth.” Since China began to enforce the “one-child” policy in late 1970s, every year about 15 million babies have been born. That means each year some 15 million youths reach working age. University graduates thus make about half of this army. This is one reason why the Chinese government attaches such great importance to the unemployment problem facing the university graduates.”

“One of the measures involved expanding the enrollment of university students by “commercializing” and “industrializing” tertiary education. Under this policy, the number of university students grew five-fold in a decade, from 1.08 million in 1998 to 5.68 million in 2008. And each year from 2003, fresh university graduates have found it increasingly difficult to find jobs. In the beginning, students from lesser-known schools felt the burn. But lately even degree holders from top schools such as Peking University or Tsing Hua University have been unable to find work.”

Brain Drain and Reverse Brain Drain

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A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Science found that over a million Chinese students went abroad between 1978 and 2006 and around 70 percent of them didn’t come back, many because they found better jobs abroad than they could find back home. Many students who graduate from foreign universities stay abroad after they graduate, creating a brain-drain situation. At one time about 75 percent of the students who studied in the United States stayed there.Students who want to leave the country now have to post a bond of about a $10,000 before they leave, but even so many of them still don't come back.

A study by Fujian's Huaqiao University said that less than a third of Chinese students who've studied abroad since 1978 eventually return to China. From 1978 to 2009, only 497,400 students out of the 1.62 million who've left have made their way back to China. [Source: Shanghaiist August 19, 2011]

These days, some say, the brain drain situation is not serious as it one was. Instead of staying abroad after finishing studies, more Chinese students choose to come back after graduation.The number returning home from foreign universities increases at rate of about 13 percent a year. Students are returning from overseas are starting up all kinds of new businesses. Graduates who formed the bulk of the "reverse brain drain" have sometimes been labeled "sea turtles" for their journeys home. "Reverse brain drain" has increased as the American economy has faltered.

Yu Jiangtao, a businessman who is based in Silicon Valley, believes that these trends are already outdated. "Nowadays, talent flows are far more balanced than before," she notes. "Due to the economic growth, more and more fresh graduates from Tsinghua can find decent jobs in China with better career development opportunities than here in the US." "Now there are 'seagulls'," Yu says, "who fly back and forth between China and the US, leveraging the strength of both sides."

The shortage of high-end professionals is also posing a challenge to local governments, and an increasing number of provinces and cities in China in recent years have been designing local benefit packages to lure overseas talent.

Urban Chinese Students and Graduates Sent to the Countryside

Thousands of Chinese university graduates have been sent to the China's countryside to do Peace Corp style work. The jobs fulfill two important missions: to help villagers and to provide employment for recent university graduates and give them something to do. The Cultural Revolution slogan: “Go to work in the countryside and mountainous areas!” has been resurrected to encourage university graduates to take those jobs and accept positions in rural areas that would have previously been regarded as inferior.

Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, ‘supporters say it will help bridge the soaring gap between village and city, giving privileged youth a taste of how others live. Critics complain it has unpleasant echoes of the cultural revolution. The south-western Chinese metropolis of Chongqing has announced that it will send urban-born students to live and work in the countryside for a month as part of a community service plan. Many have welcomed the initiative, which addresses a generational gulf as well as a geographical one: the sharp increase in living standards has created a youthful urban elite with little conception of their parents' struggles. Tu Jingping, deputy secretary-general of the municipal government, said it would improve students' all-round abilities, give them practical skills and help them better understand society. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, November 12, 2010]

But some dismissed it as a waste of time and others compared it to the 60s, when university entrance exams were suspended and millions of educated youths including many of China's current leaders sent "up to the mountains and down to the villages" for re-education by farmers. "[They said] the youth could learn from the countryside, and become 'both socialist-minded and professionally qualified'. But look how that turned out. It is the same today," wrote Wang Yi, education editor at a publishing firm. Although students should gain broader social experience, "having these detailed requirements — is just another form of restriction on the students' thought, which will in no way help them develop 'all-round talents' or help them when they enter society in the future," he said.

But Professor Zhou Daming, who was sent to labor in the fields at 16, said the new exercise was completely different. "We had barely graduated from high school. We did not even have the most basic knowledge about many things," he said. "They are much older than we were. It is good for them to go and learn about another kind of life." Zhou, now dean of anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University, added: "The experience was good in that it taught me to 'eat bitterness'. Everything that came afterwards did not seem challenging or impossible anymore. I think this experience — especially now that I am doing social study work — broadened my view of society."

Parents hope the new plan could bring similar benefits to children who have led a sheltered life."My daughter spends all her time watching TV, or on the internet at home during holidays. She does not have any social experience," Zhou Yujun told a local newspaper. Wang Hongxia added: "My son has grown up in a relatively wealthy environment — he has spent all his time studying and is weak at doing other things. "Encouraging them to participate in social practice gives them a platform and opportunity to learn from different places and different people."

Chongqing's 750,000 students will also have to plant 100 trees each, spend a month in military training, work in factories and complete a month's internship at a business or government body. A press officer for the city's education committee said the activities were voluntary and would not affect grades or graduation, although some Chinese media have said all students are expected to take part. The plan is the latest attention-grabbing initiative from Chongqing's ambitious party boss, Bo Xilai, who unlike most Chinese leaders has courted publicity rather than avoiding it. Previous campaigns include a high-profile crackdown on organized crime and a "red culture" drive involving mass singalongs of revolutionary songs and text messaging residents with quotations from Mao Zedong.

Working in the Countryside to Become Civil Servants in China

In Xianying, a small village of around 8,000 inhabitants located in Beijing Municipality, Beijing university graduates have accepted offers to work as counselors in village administrations - jobs that are part of a nationwide plan conceived by the central government to modernize public services in rural areas of the country. [Source: Cristian Segura, Asia Times, September 10, 2009, Cristian Segura is Beijing correspondent of the Spanish daily newspaper AVUI]

About 10 percent of the 2,000 university graduates serving as counselors in the surroundings counties of Beijing work in the town of Yanqing, as part of the cun guan project, which began in 1996.” Cristian Segura wrote in the Asia Times. “Cun guan (village official) is the description in Mandarin for their task as local assistants. There will be 100,000 cun guan job offers available until 2010, according to the central government. Beijing expects to increase the number of cun guan vacancies in the poor regions of Western China and offer them to recent graduates who can't find an employment as a consequence of the global crisis.”

“The 45 cun guan based in Xianying represent almost the half of the total staff working under the local administration. They say that their daily duties are exhausting. They are divided in teams of two. In their assigned district they are responsible to answer any doubts the farmers may have, to assist the municipal arbitration office and to collect relevant statistics that can be useful to analyze the economical and social development of the area. They are usually responsible to teach the villagers how to use computers or to help them filling out official forms. Depending on their academic background they will assume specific missions.”

“Jia...is an expert on disease prevention and often inspects outpatient departments, checks the distribution of vaccines or teaches first-aid procedures to nurses. Zhang is 25-years old and has a graduate degree in economics. He focuses his skills on showing the farmers the best way to maximize their benefits, “I remind them that they will earn more money if they grow a certain kind of fruits depending on the situation of prices in the market. I tell them that they will be more successful if they joint their plantations or that there is the possibility to rent part of their lands if they don't use them.”

Benefits of Working in the Countryside in China

The monthly salary of a Beijing cun guan ranges from 2,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan (US$293-$440) per month. After a three-year service period, cun guan are rewarded with a permanent civil service job. This privilege is the main reason that many graduates apply for a the post - most of the students working as rural counselors couldn't obtain the marks required to immediately get a public servant post. [Source: Cristian Segura, Asia Times, September 10, 2009]

Another great incentive for graduates, particularly those from peasant families, is that they are granted hukou or a permanent residence permit for the city where they have studied — Cristian Segura wrote in the Asia Times. “This means they can go back to work there after serving the three years in the countryside. In the past, a person could live and work only in the place assigned by his residence permit. Today, people can live and work in a city without hukou (such as rural migrant workers), however they have no access to the benefits enjoyed by hukou holders such as government subsidies on housing, medical care and education for their children.”

And of course there is also altruism. One participant told the Asian Times he became a cun guan because they follow the Communist Party teaching “of being the first to volunteer for the people.” He said, “Mao Zedong said that there are many things to do in the rural areas. This is still true nowadays.” Segura wrote, “The rural experience could help this younger generation, who may become the next leaders of China, understand concerns in the most populated regions of the country. It is also an opportunity for them to have first-hand experience of the freest elections in China: the elections of village councils and commissions.”

Sea Turtles and Seaweed

Returnees from studying abroad are known as ‘sea turtles,” ‘sea turtles” swim home after going away. Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai and Sun Yatsen all studied or were radicalized abroad. Between 1978 and 2009, 1.62 million Chinese went abroad for graduate studies. Only 460,000 returned. In 2009, 229,000 left, up 27.5 percent from 2008, but returnees leapt to 108,000. More than 1 million Chinese have studied in the United States, with only about a quarter of them returning home. About 42,000 students returned to China from the United States in 2006, up 21 percent from the previous year.

Many are lured back with lucrative enticements and growing research funding. One program offers them a basic $150,000 payment plus additional money from their employers. They are also given hard-to-get residency permits (hukuo), preferential employment access and privileged university admission for their children.

Many ordinary Chinese resent the perks given to sea turtles and regard them as overpaid interlopers. Those studying and working abroad are often discouraged from coming back by the heavy-handed government oversight common in Chinese universities and research centers and rampant plagiarism and fabrication in Chinese academia.

Molecular biologist Shi Yigong, a prize-winning professor at Princeton with more than $2 million in funding, left all that behind, to return to China to head the life science department at Tsinghua University in Beijing. On why he came back he told AFP, “China has contributed disproportionally to the advancement of science and technology in the United States...Behind China’s shiny glass skyscrapers, it has an extreme shortage of top talents and that is really regrettable...For talented people to apply their talents, the sky is the limit now in China in terms of innovation.”

Sometimes sea turtles have a hard lading a good job or getting ahead when they return to China because they are perceived as being out of touch with what’s going on in China. Those that do get jobs often find the have to work long hours for little pay. "Sea turtle" plays on a homophobic Chinese term that also means "returnees from overseas".The Mandarin word for “overseas returnee” sounds like the mandarin word for ‘sea turtle.”

Some middle class Chinese who lived in the United States returned to China because they found life in the United States boring and predictable. Some ea turtles that have been away for some time find the China they have returned too to be almost unrecognizable from the China they left. One told the Washington Post, “People think in a more complicated way. I’m more straightforward now, but they’re all zigzagging.”

In a typical case a Chinese who returned to China after four years with an MBA from a good American university and fluency in English hopes to land a $40,000 information technology position but can only secure an $16,000 a year entry-level job with an insurance company. Chinese-Americans or Chinese who have had success in the United States have similar problems. Even those with million-dollar support and sophisticated technology and management have problems and often have to turn to relatives to help them navigate through red tape and figure out who to bribe.

Seaweed refers to U.S.-educated Chinese students who can’t get a Job in China Mei Fong, Los Angeles Times, “Thanks to a vast expansion of the higher education system, China is awash in domestically educated college graduates. And increasingly, employers in China see graduates returning from the United States as problematic hires with unrealistic salary expectations. They don't even come back with the same kind of English skills they used to because there are now so many Chinese students on U.S. campuses that they can socialize almost exclusively among themselves. The result has been a new term to describe returning students who can't find work — hai dai, or "seaweed." [Source: Mei Fong, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2012]

“Most Chinese students I've worked with as a lecturer in USC's Annenberg School or interviewed as a reporter have hoped to work in the United States for a few years after graduation. Many no longer succeed in that goal. The U.S. job market is brutal, and attitudes and stereotyping compound the problem. “And what are seaweeds studying in U.S. universities. “Unlike the earlier generations of China scholars, they are not just majoring in the hard sciences. They are in creative writing programs, in art schools, even in journalism, despite media restrictions back home.”

Tsinghua Graduates Take Over Silicon Valley

In April 2011, Kelly Chung Dawson wrote in the China Daily, “As Beijing Tsinghua University celebrates its 100th anniversary, the university estimates that approximately 20,000 graduates are overseas, with the majority in North America and about 10,000 in California's Silicon Valley, says alumni organizer Yu Jiangtao, in an interview with China Daily. [Source: Kelly Chung Dawson, China Daily, April 24, 2011]

"Silicon Valley is probably the world's central hub for hi-tech, biotech and clean-tech companies," she says. "Many Tsinghua graduates go abroad for higher education and quite a good percentage of them go on to find jobs in the Silicon Valley area."

Tsinghua is considered to be the most prestigious university in China, counting numerous top-level government officials among its alumni. Notable Tsinghua scions who have achieved great success in Silicon Valley include Feng Deng, the founding managing director of Northern Light Investment, Xie Qing, a co-founder of Netscreen and founder of Fortinet, which went public in 2009, and Wu Ping, who upon returning to China established Spreadtrum, a Nasdaq-listed company.

There is no other area in the U.S. with such a high concentration of Tsinghua graduates, Yu says. There are Tsinghua alumni organizations in other parts of the country, but the numbers are so high in Silicon Valley that two such organizations serve the area. They are the Silicon Valley Tsinghua Network (SVTN) with over 3,500 members, and the Tsinghua Alumni Association of Northern California (THAA-NC), with almost 2,000 members.

Image Sources: Wikipedia

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2022

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