Why Chinese youth are “lying flat” instead of accepting stress
China’s leader Xi Jinping’s antipathy to after-school tutoring was telegraphed. In March, he criticized a “mess” in the sector and called it “a chronic disease that is very difficult to cure”. But the fact that Beijing has been willing to administer what could be a fatal blow to an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people reveals how seriously it takes the problem.
For tens of millions of middle-class people in major Chinese cities, life has become a hamster wheel of increasing efforts and decreasing rewards. A multitude of costs for housing, education, health care and other expenses are rising faster than average wages, making many people feel like they are running to stand still.
“The latest measures to bring down tutoring companies after classes are in line with the shift in focus towards the quality of life of the Chinese people,” said Yu Jie, senior researcher at Chatham House, a think tank based in London.
According to figures from the Chinese Education Society, the average annual cost of private tutoring for a student is over 12,000 yuan ($ 2,524), more than the average monthly salary in a country with a gross domestic product per year. living in 2019 from US $ 10, 216. Some families, however, spend up to 300,000 yuan per year for private lessons from famous teachers at famous schools.
Such a burden is often exacerbated by the need to pay for childminders as both parents work long hours in office jobs and face rush hour traffic. Parents who choose to live in the catchment area of sought-after schools in cities like Shanghai pay exorbitant amounts for this privilege.
“We paid over three million renminbi [yuan] for our place, ”says Yang Liu, a mother from Shanghai who leaves home to work at 6.30am and only returns shortly before her six-year-old daughter goes to bed at 9pm.
Although kindergartens are officially discouraged from setting up after-school work, her daughter has homework for every day of the week. She has to learn Chinese characters, English words, memorize poems, practice reading and play the violin.
The stress that such lifestyles place on young single people has an impact beyond causing some of them to “lay flat”. Statistics show that couples marry later and the birth rate is falling rapidly. In 2020, only 12 million babies were born, up from 14.65 million a year earlier.
While the number of women of childbearing age (22-35) is expected to drop by more than 30% over the next decade, some experts predict that the number of babies born could fall below 10 million per year and the rate China’s fertility rate could become the world’s lowest.
The realities of daily life for the Chinese middle class present a different picture than that offered by the inexorable rise in global GDP figures. The cost of living in big cities has risen sharply, reducing people’s disposable income.
Alicia García Herrero, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at Natixis, an investment bank, puts it succinctly: “Most of the Chinese population is doing less well in net terms as housing affordability continues to decline. deteriorate and that access to education and health is becoming more and more expensive. “