China’s Young People Can’t Find Jobs. Xi Jinping Says to ‘Eat Bitterness.’

“Why would he want young people to give up a peaceful and stable life and instead seek suffering?” Cai Shenkun, an independent political commentator, wrote in a Twitter post, calling Mr. Xi’s proposal “a contemptuous act toward young people.”

“What kind of intention is behind this?” he asked. “Where does he want to lead the Chinese youth?”

A record 11.6 million college graduates are entering the work force this year, and one in five young people is unemployed. China’s leadership is hoping to persuade a generation that grew up amid mostly rising prosperity to accept a different reality.

The youth unemployment rate is a statistic the Chinese Communist Party takes seriously because it believes that idle young people could threaten its rule. Mao Zedong sent more than 16 million urban youths, including Mr. Xi, to toil in the fields of the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. The return of these jobless young people to cities after the Cultural Revolution, in part, forced the party to embrace self-employment, or jobs outside the state planned economy.

Today the party’s propaganda machine is spinning stories about young people making a decent living by delivering meals, recycling garbage, setting up food stalls, and fishing and farming. It’s a form of official gaslighting, trying to deflect accountability from the government for its economy-crushing policies like cracking down on the private sector, imposing unnecessarily harsh Covid restrictions and isolating China’s trading partners.

Many people are struggling emotionally. A young woman in Shanghai named Ms. Zhang, who graduated last year with a master’s degree in city planning, has sent out 130 résumés and secured no job offers and only a handful of interviews. Living in a 100-square-foot bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment, she barely gets by with a monthly income of less than $700 as a part-time tutor.

“At my emotional low point, I wished I were a robot,” she said. “I thought to myself if I didn’t have emotions, I would not feel helpless, powerless and disappointed. I would be able to keep sending out résumés.”

But she realized she shouldn’t be too harsh on herself. The problems are bigger than her. She doesn’t buy into the eating bitterness talk.

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