The problem was not that young people thought they were too good for that work, but that it did not offer a real chance at a better life, because of lower wages and persistent discrimination, said Nie Riming, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law. Until China offered better-paid blue-collar jobs and accorded them most respect, young people were being pragmatic, not picky.
“If society isn’t diverse, it’s impossible to expect students to make diverse choices,” he said.
Even some of the young Chinese praising their new, less prestigious jobs had not initially planned to take them.
When Yolanda Jiang, 24, resigned last summer from her architectural design job in Shenzhen, after being asked to work 30 days straight, she hoped to find another office job. It was only after three months of unsuccessful searching, her savings dwindling, that she took a job as a security guard in a university residential complex.
At first, she was embarrassed to tell her family or friends, but she grew to appreciate the role. Her 12-hour shifts, though long, were leisurely. She got off work on time. The job came with free dormitory housing. Her salary of about $870 a month was even about 20 percent higher than her take-home pay before — a symptom of how the glut of college graduates has started to flatten wages for that group.
But Ms. Jiang said her ultimate goal is still to return to an office, where she hoped to find more intellectual challenges. She had been taking advantage of the slow pace at her security job to study English, which she hoped would help her land her next role, perhaps at a foreign trade company.
“I’m not actually lying flat,” Ms. Jiang said. “I’m treating this as a time to rest, transition, learn, charge my batteries and think about the direction of my life.”
Joy Dong contributed reporting.