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Xi’s Great Leap Backward


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Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Beijing is running out of recipes for its looming jobs crisis—and reviving Mao-era policies.

Craig Singleton

Aug. 4 2022

China, often dubbed “the world’s factory,” accounts for around 30 percent of global manufacturing output. However, there is one commodity China cannot produce fast enough: jobs for its millions of newly minted college graduates.

Amid China’s worsening economic crisis, nearly one-fifth of those between the ages of 16 and 24 are now unemployed, with millions more underemployed. One survey found that of the 11 million Chinese students who graduated from college this summer, fewer than 15 percent had secured job offers by mid-April. Even as many U.S. and European workers are seeing their salaries surge, this year’s Chinese graduates can expect to earn 12 percent less than the class of 2021. Many will make less than truck drivers—if they are lucky enough to find a job at all.


Already, there are growing indications that China’s population is reaching its breaking point. This July, violent protests were reported outside multiple Chinese banks after accounts were frozen without explanation. That same month, families in 24 of China’s 31 provinces were boycotting mortgage payments for unfinished apartment projects. Surveys show that some 10,000 wealthy Chinese, worth an estimated $48 billion, are looking to abandon China. The CCP has half-heartedly responded to these competing crises, instituting some incremental reforms. But make no mistake: More unrest is coming, and the tenuous trust that once existed between the CCP and the Chinese people will continue to fray.


In the meantime, Xi may soon confront the practical limits of his attempts to glorify Mao’s legacy. While the official CCP narrative credits Xi’s hsia-fang experience with sharpening his eye for the concerns of ordinary people and helping his generation form the backbone of the “New China,” that is unlikely to mollify today’s youth as they confront their own impending great leap backward.


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