March 13, 2010

5 College Students Beat Out 395 Others to Become Feces Diggers

The question now becomes: is the job worth it?

Translation: Netease 大学生当掏粪工 值不值, pictures from Sohu

College student Zhao Ting (张婷) meticulously performs her job

Meng Jia (孟佳) learns the job requirements from her mentor

5 young college graduates in Jinan, Shandong officially kicked off their career as feces diggers after they were matched up with mentors. Last October, this group of graduates passed a series of examination to become the only 5 out of 400 applicants to get the jobs. Once they were selected, the five had to complete 6 months of training. Two of the new feces diggers are CCP members, and the youngest is only 23. Their undergraduate majors ranged from computer science to law.

Many people were shocked by the discovery that to become feces diggers, college graduates must beat out numerous competitors, pass strict assessments, and undergo half year of probationary period. One Netizen sighed: "When we were young, our parents used to scare us with 'if you do not study, then you will dig feces for a living.' Sadly, now that I have finally graduated from university, I am no longer even qualified to dig feces."

Too many candidates and too few opportunities leave people with few choices, but we still must pose the question: Is it worth it for college graduates to dig feces? Is this elevated thinking or another compromise?

Those In Favor

Better than the "boomerang children"

There is nothing shameful about college graduates becoming feces diggers. As an old Chinese adage tells us, "There are 360 trades, and every trade has its master." Digging feces is more than a trade. It is also a career and a profession. No job is superior to another, and we should stop thinking that feces diggers belong to lower caste, education is useless, or that the work is undignified. We should applaud these young people for voluntarily taking up the profession. We need to respect their choices and be touched by their spirit.

Digging poop with one's own hand is merely another form of legitimate labor. While it might be ordinary and even humble, these young people were able to adjust their attitude, lower their expectations, and conquer worldly prejudices. Because they at least earn a living legally with their own labor, the five are much better than the "boomerang kids," who would rather live off parental support. These students have also demonstrated maturity and a willingness to face reality head-on. They correctly understood the division of labor in the society.

The writer believes that only people like them qualify as college graduates. Only they are the "God's favored ones." (by Liu Hong, 刘洪)

Why not feces digging since they are not competitive enough?

Becoming manure diggers is of course a personal choice, but the news still drew strange looks to the applicants. College graduates want decent jobs, and given any other choice, the five probably would not taken up the manure buckets. The fact that they ultimately made the said choice reflect only their sadness. The society has nothing to do with it.

Regardless of how little known or popular a field of study is, opportunities always abound, because the society has needs, although fierce competition is causing workplaces to impose ever higher standards on employees. If these five were experts in their fields, then manure digging would not be a typical choice for them. They dig manure because the unqualified individuals faced an impasse: they neither wanted to seek higher education, nor did they currently possess enough knowledge to qualify for a better position.

After universities increased enrollment in 1999, the number of incoming freshmen drastically increased. In addition, numerous community colleges and private colleges opened for operation (Note: In China, private institutions rank much lower than public universities). The numbers as well as the categories of students multiplied. In good or even famous universities, many graduate every year though they are far from meeting the requirements. Such students essentially wasted away undergraduate years, acquiring no technical skills or knowledge. Their worth is the same as that of high school students. The only difference lies in the four more years they threw away. (by Xiong Weiqiang, 熊伟强)

A Breakthrough in the employment deadlock

College students becoming feces diggers is a breakthrough in the employment problem. On one hand we see a dearth of manual labor; on the other hand, there are many jobless college graduates. If the young people possessed willingness to start from the bottom, a grass-root awareness, and a desire to accumulate experience first, they too can become useful. Forced to choose between face and survival, or between unemployment and room for growth, they will see that the latter is more important. Look at those gloriously successful elites, how many of them did not start from society's bottom? It is laudable that the young Shandong students climbed out of the bandwagon psychology. Their courage to become feces diggers, whether for future development or to resolve a employment problem, is a win-win choice. They are our "employment role models."

College students have continuously redefined the concept of employment, by taking jobs as blue-collared workers, janitors, and today's feces diggers. They are increasingly pragmatic and willing to settle for humble work. By actively developing themselves, they raised "step-by-step improvement" to the next level. This is praiseworthy. Unfortunately, some are still cannot make such a choice. Whenever the topic of manure digging comes up, fear of embarrassment trumps all other thoughts, so they would rather stay as boomerang kids. This type of thinking is "social infantilism." Of course, the author is not advocating that all college students dig manure, but viewing these jobs as a starting point and a kind of life experience does offer some positive value. (by Lei Hongpei 雷泓霈)

Those Against

College students losing social status

After countless discussions about whether graduates should prostitute themselves, work as babysitters, or dig feces, the once much esteemed title "college students," a term that carried many dreams and expectations, lost most of its former shine. College students as a group is fast sinking. More and more cannot contribute to their fields of study, taking up instead jobs that require little expertise or skills. Not only is this a waste of talents, it also negatively impacts self-perception, making college graduates feel "marginalized." The change that these young people went through from "pillars of the nation" to a much lower status is at once tragic and frightening. It exposes the inadequacies of higher education and an industrial structure that is not quite rational.

The "employment problem" is the focus of every NPC and CPPCC annual meeting. Two factors have made digging feces attractive: the scarcity of opportunities, and the feces digging as a very stable, good benefits paying job under government contract. 630 million more students will graduate this year, but the job market remains pessimistic. Hopefully both problems will be get the attention of people's representatives and that "protecting the career dignity of college graduates" be put on their meeting agenda as soon as possible. (by Wang Yanchun, 王艳春)

Reality and Compromise

We know labor is glorious. We know no job is superior to another. Since the only thing to differentiate you and me is the division of labor, jobs of ordinary people are fair game for college students too. It is unreasonable and an over-generalization to cry "waste of talent" based on only the starting point and the level of employment. As long as these incidents are few, we should not lightly call them a "waste."

However, when hundreds fight to become feces diggers, we need to reflect more deeply. Such a phenomenon not only implies helplessness against a tough job market but also is a soundless protest against the long-standing problems of higher education.

College students becoming feces diggers to a certain extent indicate a changing attitude, but for the most part, it is also a compromise that reveals the inadequacy of education. The teachings do not match the market's needs and in some cases are completely out of touch. Students find themselves in low-level jobs that require nothing of what they learnt in school. From this perspective, college students themselves are not the only reason in the "feces digging" phenomenon.

Massive Waste of Human Resources

We should not encourage college students to dig manure, polish shoes, or peddle on the street. That is not to say these jobs are inferior. In actuality all jobs are equal. It is not to say these positions pay less or add less value either. Some pay quite well and provide services indispensable to the society. However, it is not appropriate for college students to do these jobs, because the required skills do not match college training. The consequence of graduates doing what they have not been trained to do is grave. At the very least it is squandering away the learnings. At worst, the mentality of "education is useless" will once again gain traction.

If one must praise these college students, it is only to approve their courage. The spirit is praiseworthy but not the behavior. The phenomenon essentially results from a bad employment situation, and the students are making a suboptimal career choice. If the majority of students that the nation paid a high price to train became feces diggers and shoe polishers, then China's higher education has failed. China has failed. (by He Yong, 何勇)

We should look at "college students digging feces" with good nature

First, today's college students aren't "God's favored sons" anymore. Now possessing a bachelor degree is common phenomenon. Second, we have to rectify an old way of thinking. There is nothing wrong with college students starting out with an ordinary job. We need to abandon our colored glasses and accept it with a tolerant attitude. Take "feces diggers" for example. With the introduction of machinery, the job will not be as dirty, smelly, and labor intensive as people imagine. Much of the human work becomes supervisory in nature. There are no lowly jobs, only lowly discrimination. It is another life's challenge for college students to establish a correct concept of career. (by employee Peng Aizhen, 彭爱珍)

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