The rising unemployment in China has sparked changes in the youth behaviour in the country such as growing inclination toward religion, preferences to staying with parents and indulging in betting and gambling, which do not appear in conformity with the values and ideology of the ruling China Communist Party (CCP).
The Chinese youth has started flocking to temples to pray for luck amidst diminishing employment opportunities in China, which has been stuck by dual problems of sluggish post-Covid-pandemic economic recovery and real estate fuelled slowdown.
According to research conducted by the Chinese travel company Qunar, the visits by young worshippers to Yonghe Temple, which is popular for seeking blessings for career and financial success, have seen a sharp increase. It recorded 530 percent increase in March-April year-on-year.1
Sharon Guan, a 24-year-old from Beijing, visits Yonghe temple to pray for a job. “I don’t believe in God, but the current environment forces me to. I read a lot of people’s posts online saying that after they worshipped at the temple, they not only found a job but a high-paying one,” she said.2
This year about 11.6 million fresh graduates entered the competitive job market where opportunities and job quality are deteriorating. Miriam Wickertsheim, general manager at Shanghai-based recruitment firm Direct HR, said “The situation is quite bad. People are tired and many are trying to opt out. There is a lot of despair.”
Another temple visitor named Chen said “The threshold for employment keeps rising. The pressure is overwhelming.”3 Beijing government stopped publishing official joblessness data after the unemployment rate touched 21.3 percent.4 Anxiety and stress due to poor job prospects and negative outlook for China’s economic development have driven the youth to seek solace in temples.
Lu Zi from eastern China’s Jiaxing city is one of them. “The economic downturn and rising unemployment have caused great anxiety among many people my age. With all the uncertainties, many are choosing to hold onto secure and stable jobs,” she said.5
CCP is officially atheist and discourages Chinese citizens from practising any religion. While some communist officials practice Buddhism and Christianity, they manage to bypass punishments by terming religious engagements as customs.6
The Chinese youth’s direct participation in religious activities has not gone down well with the communist government of China. It issued a statement slamming the youth for visiting the temples rather than “struggling for communism”.7 Chinese President Xi Jinping has already asked the youth to “eat bitterness”—and endure hardships.
CCP-backed The Beijing News criticised the youth for visiting temples saying “some young people have taken the wrong path in handling pressure”.8 Another state-run newspaper Beijing Daily said the anxieties faced by the youth were “understandable” but denounced the temple visits. “Young people who really pin their hopes on the gods and Buddhas when under pressure are also clearly going astray,” it said.9
Now, the Chinese government is asking them to work on farms as they fail to get white-collar jobs.10 However, it is not going to work, said experts. “The high unemployment rate will not encourage young people to work in the countryside … because rural areas do not have the jobs they want to work in,” said Nie Riming, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law.11
The unemployment crisis has forced many Chinese graduates to become ‘full-time children’ as they are paid by their parents to do household work. The full-time children trend coincides with ‘lying flat’, which means taking a break from relentless work or avoiding the rat race.
Marguerite Wang, who worked in a gaming company earlier, said she gets pocket money from her parent for staying with them. “I don’t want to be in the same kind of work situation as before,” she said.12
Also, Chinese people especially unemployed youths are resorting to buying lottery tickets and getting involved in gambling amid a worsening job market and greater economic uncertainty. Dan Wang, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China, said “The job market is partqicularly harsh on low-income groups during economic downturns. Many turn to lotteries as an escape.”13
Notably, gambling is banned in China while the communist government runs two types of lotteries. Transactions in the lottery business have increased in the recent times. Shi Pengfei, a consumer analyst at Beijing- based Spring Capital, said “The surging stocks reflect a major macro- economy change this year – rising youth employment pressure.”14
1 https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/china-economy-rebound-chinese- recovery-growth-unemployment-prayer-buddha-demand-2023- 6#:~:text=Young%20people%20in%20China%20are,at%20a%20record%20high%2020
2 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-in-the-face-of-record-high- unemployment-young-chinese-turn-to-prayer/
3 https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/jobless-young-chinese-seek-solace- temples-tale-failed-scholar-2023-04-27/ 4 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/international-business/article-as-chinas- economy-wobbles-beijing-stops-publishing-data-on-ballooning/
5 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3215548/anxious-and-stressed- about-their-careers-young-chinese-are-flocking-temples
6 https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/09/05/chinese-communist-party- promotes-atheism-but-many-members-still-partake-in-religious-customs/
7 https://colombogazette.com/2023/03/27/young-chinese-embracing-buddha-more- enrage-communist-party/
8 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3215548/anxious-and-stressed- about-their-careers-young-chinese-are-flocking-temples
9 https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/jobless-young-chinese-seek-solace- temples-tale-failed-scholar-2023-04-27/
10 https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3222090/more-chinese- graduates-explore-rural-jobs-comparisons-mao-zedongs-campaign-fail-pass-muster 11 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/29/chinas-graduates-unconvinced-by- calls-to-toil-in-countryside