Project 211

School of life

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2003, 12:00am

Lu Buxuan, a bespectacled meat vendor, is almost a caricature of the unlucky scholar falling on hard times. The bookish middle-aged man ekes out a living tending a meat stall in a grimy alley in Xian. His customers say that he always seems a bit distracted.

Mr Lu holds a bachelor's degree in Chinese literature from the elite Peking University. His misfortune began when his first employer, a company that made parts for diesel engines, folded. Since then, he has had many menial jobs before opening his stall three years ago.

His story, reported in a Xian newspaper, has stirred a national debate on whether a college graduate is entitled to a better life. Many readers said Mr Lu's talents are being wasted, and that the system has failed him. But others said that tending a meat stall was an honest way to make a living and there was no reason to say he is a victim.

Mr Lu's plight would not have been unusual during the Cultural Revolution, when intellectuals were sent to do menial jobs. But economic reform has discredited the notion that toiling with the masses could teach those living in ivory towers something about real life. The educated class now demands to receive privileges.

But freedom of choice goes both ways - Mr Lu has been rejected for many jobs, which means his marketability is in question, despite his shining credentials. It was a rude awakening that the market economy does not always reward the educated.

Since Mr Lu became an overnight celebrity, Peking University alumni have rallied to help him find another job and he has received 20 offers.

Mr Lu and the pampered graduates of elite Chinese schools are probably unaware that many US taxi drivers have post-graduate degrees. More shocks will be in store for them as a record number of graduates - due to the explosive expansion of college enrolment four years ago - compete for a limited number of jobs. This year, half of all graduates will not find a job. The sense of entitlement does not prepare them to face this harsh reality.