Big city lights lose appeal as hectic lifestyle takes its toll

08:24, February 01, 2011      

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Cheng Ding has decided to leave Beijing after seven years to sample a different way of life in his hometowm. Liu Ke/for China Daily

Educated workers from rural areas increasingly opting for less stressful existence, reports Yi Ling from China Features

Cheng Ding is keen to end his "seven-year itch" in Beijing once and for all - by retreating home to Sichuan province.

A failed investment led to the closure of his company in Zhongguancun, China's "Silicon Valley", and the 32-year-old producer of mobile phone games had to let go of his dream of building a game empire based in the capital.

For Cheng, the incentive to return home, nearly 2,000 km southwest of Beijing, is more than financial. "Career setbacks are one thing. More importantly, I'm longing for another kind of life - one with no rush, no rent, no pressure," he said.

"Beijing is no longer the home of my dreams."

Millions of people from rural areas continue to flood into the booming cities seeking better education, jobs and lives. But a rising group of burned-out white-collar workers are retreating to smaller cities in search of a more relaxed lifestyle. Mostly, they are out-of-town degree-holders around 30, with a year's working experience in big cities such as Beijing.

Cheng's feelings are pervasive among his peers. A survey by online job-search website Zhaopin.com in April 2010 showed more than 80 percent of 7,000 white-collar workers in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou said "yes" when asked: "Would you like to work in a second- or third-tier city if given an offer there?" The rising cost of living was a major factor along with work pressure, pollution and crowded public transport.

"Now, we believe some of those who said 'yes' are taking action," said Hao Jian, senior human resource consultant at zhaopin.com. Online job applications are declining in Beijing and Shanghai, but they're increasing in second-tier cities such as Chengdu, Wuhan, Chongqing and Nanjing, according to a survey the website released in December.

For example, from October 2009 to October 2010, applications in Beijing dropped from 13.72 percent to 12.19 percent. Those in Chengdu rose from 3.19 percent to 3.40 percent. Meanwhile, the website's daily average of job offers increased by 97 percent to 55,284 in Chengdu from January to October 2010, but by only 32 percent in Beijing.

Zhang Zhanxin, who studies labor force mobility for the Institute of Population and Labor Economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, thinks the figures indicate talent is being redistributed among top-tier and second-tier cities, especially the provincial capitals.

It's too early to declare a trend, he said, but "it's obvious that ... second-tier cities are becoming increasingly attractive" to talented applicants.

Zhang said the move's impact on big cities is limited, because "human resources go where capital goes. For cities like Beijing, their traditional advantages in education and industries such as high-technology, information and finance will ensure they remain magnets for investments in the coming five to 10 years."

Economic giants Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, he said, have been the favored destinations for degree-holders seeking to start white-collar careers since 1994, when the government completed a reform of the state-controlled job assignment system. Since then, all graduates have to seek employment on their own.
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