Collegiate E-trepreneurs

March 11, 2009

Toward the end of 2008, the Chinese government issued by way of Xinhua, the official state news agency, a directive that college students uneasy about the tight employment market should try starting their own businesses. At the time, urging naive, inexperienced kids to take on massive debt straight out of school when even established enterprises are tanking seemed like the CPC leading lambs to the slaughter to temporarily save its own hide. But a new effort by students in Zhejiang province has since come to light, and seems to hold promise for the scrappiest of the students here.

According to the Beijing Morning Post, nearly 1,800 students at Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College have opened online businesses on Taobao.com, the Chinese answer to Ebay. Some of these e-shops have really taken off, and the most successful student among them, a boy named Yang Fugang, is now bringing in 30,000 to 40,000 yuan a month (roughly 4,500 to 5,800 USD), more than many Chinese make in a year.

Yiwu College has encouraged this entrepreneurial spirit through the establishment of a self-employment school, which only accepts students with monthly profits exceeding 8,000 yuan. Students can earn credits by reaching profit benchmarks instead of taking courses, and with professors’ guidance, share practical knowledge and advice with new retailers. Marketing, pricing, and bargaining with suppliers are common discussion topics. 

Online shops are profiting as cash-strapped consumers turn to the Web in search of better deals. The trade volume from online shopping in China increased by 128.5 percent to 120 billion yuan (17.56 billion USD) in 2008, according to a report released by iResearch and Taobao.

This is promising news for savvy business students, but doesn’t really solve the wider problem of job creation. The unemployment rate here is growing by the day, though it’s almost impossible to measure given the vast number of unregistered migrant workers.

Fresh college graduates are among the groups most affected by the dearth of job opportunities. An estimated six million* new graduates will enter the job market this spring, adding to the 1.2 million leftover from last year who are still unable to find jobs. This can be attributed to a number of factors, but the bottom line is Beijing must find a way to placate the growing number of agitated grads and their parents. The government announced in February that all Beijing students would receive at least one suitable job offer within three months of graduation, though the spokesman declined to specify what constitutes a “suitable” offer. I bet most of them will be related to espionage. 

Only kidding, folks.

The big story around China today – aside from the ongoing milk scandal – is the launch of Shenzhou VII, a space mission aimed at making China the third country in the world to accomplish a space walk. The story has been plastered all over Chinese media for weeks, and made world news today upon its launch.
China’s space program has made rapid gains in the past decade as it scrambles to keep ahead of Japan and India in the second wave of the space race. However, the program wasn’t always up to date on its technology. Sun Jiadong, chief of China’s first moon exploration project in 1970, detailed some of the challenges in the initial stages of development in an unusually forthcoming interview with a source CRI reporters didn’t feel the need to attribute.
“Workers etched Chairman Mao’s image on the surfaces of many components. What’s more, they made the designs as big and elaborate as possible. In that special environment, everyone did that. But in aerospace products it should be strictly forbidden, otherwise it would cause deadly problems due to uneven heating. But it wasn’t easy to say this then.”
Sun steeled his nerves and approached then Premier Zhou Enlai about the problem, thus saving the Dong Fang Hong satellite from bursting into flames from its faulty motherboards. No word on what the Great Helmsman thought about the engineers’ arts and crafts project.

For more on Shenzhou VII, check out this NYT article featuring a scarcely mentioned twist to the narrative.