From where I sit - Bye Beijing, see you, Shanghai

October 7, 2010

I was a little surprised to learn that Qi Yu, who graduated in June from Fudan University's School of Journalism, had chosen to work for a Hangzhou-based newspaper, The Youth Times.

This talented woman was once my class representative and had told me that her ambition was to work for a Shanghai- or Beijing-based media company. If that did not work out, her second choice was to return to her hometown, Yunnan.

As I received the final data on the graduate destinations of Ms Qi and the rest of her classmates, I felt relieved for her, but still had many reasons to be fearful.

The statistics show that of the 24 undergraduate students majoring in print journalism at Fudan, only five of them have secured first jobs in the media. Eleven have opted for further study, two have entered public relations, two have become public servants and four have postponed their graduations for various reasons.

This is the challenge that must be confronted at Fudan's School of Journalism, a school widely recognised as the pre-eminent nursery for Chinese journalists.

When I spoke to Ms Qi, she told me that she had completed internships with two newspapers in Shanghai and Beijing respectively. Post-graduation, she had applied to almost every major Shanghai-based newspaper, but without luck.

Her situation may be typical for all journalism majors: in 2007, Shanghai-based universities already had 13 programmes in journalism/communication, accommodating 4,500 undergraduates, and there are even more today. Although Shanghai is one of China's most media-saturated cities, the number of journalism graduates far exceeds the needs of the industry.

"It is true that most of my fellows from Yunnan who studied in Shanghai- or Beijing-based universities, whatever the subject, have chosen to go home or try their luck in the second-tier cities," Ms Qi told me.

According to a survey by, there has been a significant shift this year among undergraduates in terms of where they seek their first jobs. Only 29 per cent pick first-tier cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen as their first choice, and 61 per cent tend to favour second-tier ones, a sharp contrast with previous years.

Rising living costs and cut-throat competition for work are two decisive factors in this exodus from China's biggest cities. Average property prices in Shanghai are about 21,000 yuan (£1,987) per sq m: although the city offers graduates the highest starting salaries in the country (2,979 yuan a month on average, according to labour-consultancy firm MyCOS), that is still far beyond the reach of most of them.

This tallies with another hot topic in the national press this year: the "Escape from Peking, Shanghai and Guangzhou". This has become a catchphrase among white-collar workers reluctantly commuting to the first-tier cities. Guangzhou-based publication New Weekly has even listed 10 reasons to abandon them and live elsewhere.

"Among my new colleagues, there are undergraduates and graduates from Tsinghua University and Xiamen University," Ms Qi said. "Although there is no place for me in Shanghai, it might be too early to quit my dream of being a journalist."

I wish her and her peers good luck - it looks like they will need it.

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