Northeast China ‘Forerunner’ in China’s Development

Northeast China, historically known as Manchuria which consists of the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, always seems to be a bellwether for developments in the country, especially in terms of economic, demographic, and social trends. Many things done by Northeasterners that were ridiculed early on have since become common phenomena throughout the rest of China. And today’s Northeast, some say, can be considered a microcosm of China’s future. In February, an article was published on the Chinese web portal NetEase, called, “Northeast China is a leading indicator for development.” The article said that years ago, people laughed at the low fertility rate in Northeast China but now the whole country has a low fertility rate; people mocked Northeasterners for their obsession with public institution jobs, which the rest of the country has now followed; and they later mocked the Northeasterners for earning a living doing live streaming and barbecuing—now, live streamers and barbecue stalls are all over the country. First to Suffer Low Fertility Rate A woman is carrying a baby in Yanji, Jilin Province, China on June 24, 2015. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images) According to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics on Jan. 17, the two-child and three-child policies across China have failed to reverse the declining trend of births, with the total fertility rate in 2022 standing at less than 1.1—lower than Japan’s 1.27. The number of births in 2022 hit a record low, with the total population falling for the first time in 60 years. The total fertility rate refers to the average number of children born by women in a country or region during their childbearing years. A normal generational replacement level requires a total fertility rate of at least 2.1, with 1.5 considered the warning line. As early as 2010, data from China’s sixth census showed that the fertility rates of the three Northeastern provinces were only 0.75, 0.76, and 0.74, respectively. Due to the ultra-low fertility rate and serious aging of population, the aging of Northeast China is about 12 years ahead of the country as a whole. A view of the state-owned Sujiawan colliery in Fuxin city, northeast China’s Liaoning Province on Feb. 16, 2005. (China Photos/Getty Images) The data also show that China is aging at an unprecedented speed and scale. In 2021, China’s population aged 65 or above accounted for 14.2 percent, marking the entry of a deeply aging society. The proportion rose to 14.9 percent in 2022 and is expected to exceed 20 percent in 2030, marking a super aging society. InquilineX, a well-known financial blogger in Shanghai, said in a Twitter-like Weibo post that the demographic change in Northeast China is about 10 years ahead of the country. According to official figures, the population of the three Northeastern provinces peaked in 2010 and has been falling ever since. The blogger noted that the national population had now peaked in 2021 and fell for the first time in 2022. Demographic structure is a very critical variable, InquilineX wrote, and many of the changes that Northeast China has experienced will slowly take place across the country. The post has since been banned. First to Pursue Public Institution Jobs China’s youth unemployment rate continues to rise, Fu Linghui, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, admitted at a press conference on April 18. Fu said the unemployment rate for young people aged 16-24 in March was 19.6 percent, up 1.5 percent from the previous month, indicating a prominent structural problem in employment. Statistics show that 4.57 million Chinese applied for master’s degrees in 2022—an increase of 800,000, or 21 percent, over 2021. In addition to the postgraduate entrance examination, in 2022, 2.5 million Chinese applied to attend the national civil service examination, and 11.41 million registered for the teacher preparation examination, recording the largest number of applicants for these two examinations in history. The Shandong civil service examination website showed that as early as 2011, more than 60 percent of people from Northeast China were interested in becoming civil servants. In 2017, Hong Kong-based state-owned magazine Phoenix Weekly reported that in Northeast China, the grandest life plan for college students after graduation is to “have public meals.” Some people took taken the civil servant exam nine times; some spent a lot of money for connections; some gave up the high salaries in private enterprises, and a long list of candidates would compete for a public institution’s job of street sweeping. Young adults look at postings at a job fair at Shenyang Aerospace University in Shenyang, China’s northeast Liaoning Province, on May 13, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) On March 23, Chinese entrepreneur Cao Dewang lamented on Ifeng.com that Chinese young people today aspire to take the civil service exam, triggering a heated debate on Chinese Internet.

Northeast China ‘Forerunner’ in China’s Development

Northeast China, historically known as Manchuria which consists of the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, always seems to be a bellwether for developments in the country, especially in terms of economic, demographic, and social trends.

Many things done by Northeasterners that were ridiculed early on have since become common phenomena throughout the rest of China. And today’s Northeast, some say, can be considered a microcosm of China’s future.

In February, an article was published on the Chinese web portal NetEase, called, “Northeast China is a leading indicator for development.” The article said that years ago, people laughed at the low fertility rate in Northeast China but now the whole country has a low fertility rate; people mocked Northeasterners for their obsession with public institution jobs, which the rest of the country has now followed; and they later mocked the Northeasterners for earning a living doing live streaming and barbecuing—now, live streamers and barbecue stalls are all over the country.

First to Suffer Low Fertility Rate

Epoch Times Photo
A woman is carrying a baby in Yanji, Jilin Province, China on June 24, 2015. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

According to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics on Jan. 17, the two-child and three-child policies across China have failed to reverse the declining trend of births, with the total fertility rate in 2022 standing at less than 1.1—lower than Japan’s 1.27. The number of births in 2022 hit a record low, with the total population falling for the first time in 60 years.

The total fertility rate refers to the average number of children born by women in a country or region during their childbearing years. A normal generational replacement level requires a total fertility rate of at least 2.1, with 1.5 considered the warning line.

As early as 2010, data from China’s sixth census showed that the fertility rates of the three Northeastern provinces were only 0.75, 0.76, and 0.74, respectively. Due to the ultra-low fertility rate and serious aging of population, the aging of Northeast China is about 12 years ahead of the country as a whole.

Epoch Times Photo
A view of the state-owned Sujiawan colliery in Fuxin city, northeast China’s Liaoning Province on Feb. 16, 2005. (China Photos/Getty Images)

The data also show that China is aging at an unprecedented speed and scale. In 2021, China’s population aged 65 or above accounted for 14.2 percent, marking the entry of a deeply aging society. The proportion rose to 14.9 percent in 2022 and is expected to exceed 20 percent in 2030, marking a super aging society.

InquilineX, a well-known financial blogger in Shanghai, said in a Twitter-like Weibo post that the demographic change in Northeast China is about 10 years ahead of the country. According to official figures, the population of the three Northeastern provinces peaked in 2010 and has been falling ever since. The blogger noted that the national population had now peaked in 2021 and fell for the first time in 2022.

Demographic structure is a very critical variable, InquilineX wrote, and many of the changes that Northeast China has experienced will slowly take place across the country. The post has since been banned.

First to Pursue Public Institution Jobs

China’s youth unemployment rate continues to rise, Fu Linghui, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, admitted at a press conference on April 18. Fu said the unemployment rate for young people aged 16-24 in March was 19.6 percent, up 1.5 percent from the previous month, indicating a prominent structural problem in employment.

Statistics show that 4.57 million Chinese applied for master’s degrees in 2022—an increase of 800,000, or 21 percent, over 2021. In addition to the postgraduate entrance examination, in 2022, 2.5 million Chinese applied to attend the national civil service examination, and 11.41 million registered for the teacher preparation examination, recording the largest number of applicants for these two examinations in history.

The Shandong civil service examination website showed that as early as 2011, more than 60 percent of people from Northeast China were interested in becoming civil servants. In 2017, Hong Kong-based state-owned magazine Phoenix Weekly reported that in Northeast China, the grandest life plan for college students after graduation is to “have public meals.” Some people took taken the civil servant exam nine times; some spent a lot of money for connections; some gave up the high salaries in private enterprises, and a long list of candidates would compete for a public institution’s job of street sweeping.

Epoch Times Photo
Young adults look at postings at a job fair at Shenyang Aerospace University in Shenyang, China’s northeast Liaoning Province, on May 13, 2017. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

On March 23, Chinese entrepreneur Cao Dewang lamented on Ifeng.com that Chinese young people today aspire to take the civil service exam, triggering a heated debate on Chinese Internet. The article was viewed over 100 million times on Weibo.

According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Education, the number of college graduates is expected to reach 11.58 million in 2023—an increase of 820,000 year on year. The record of “most difficult employment season” is constantly being updated. With more and more graduates facing the dilemma of unemployment upon graduation, pursuing a public institution job has become a national trend.

First to Hype Up Live Streaming Industry

In recent years, China’s short video industry has risen up and become popular. With internet celebrity becoming a new career choice, more and more young people have joined the trend and started earning income through live streaming and short videos.

According to a research report released by Renmin University of China on promoting employment and creating social value through short video platforms, the short video platform Kuaishou created about 20 million job opportunities for self-entrepreneurs and live streamers by the end of 2022.

Short video platforms have played an important role in easing economic pressure and stabilizing employment since the real economy suffered a shock in 2020, the report said.

This has been evident for a number of years in Northeast China’s Internet celebrity economy. Since 2014, the economy in Northeast China has been in a downward spiral. Employment in the region’s industrial enterprises decreased and jobs in the tertiary industry also decreased accordingly.

In 2015, state-owned enterprises in Northeast China accounted for 50 percent of the economy—higher than the national average at the time of 30 percent. The economic structure in Northeast China was also more dependent on government investment, leading to a higher average unemployment rate.

Epoch Times Photo
The logo of the application TikTok on Dec. 14, 2018. (JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent years, “live streaming” has become one of the few “low-threshold, high-paying” jobs available to young people in Northeast China, where the unemployment rate continues to rise year by year. With traffic dividends from the platform, live streamers in China can earn tens of thousands of yuan a month. The average monthly income in China’s small cities is 3,000 to 5,000 thousand yuan.

Among the top 10 live streamers in 2016 voted for by Weibo’s “Super Celebrities Day,” six were from Northeast China. According to the 2017 Anchor Career Report released by Momo, a mobile social networking platform, 63.3 percent of male live streamers in China come from Northeast China, with an average daily live broadcasting time of more than eight hours.

“In the past, during the Deng Xiaoping era, Guangdong was the leader of China’s reform and opening up. The economic and social development progressed by leaps and bounds,” Shi Shan, a senior current affairs expert, told The Epoch Times on May 11.

“When China’s economy is developing rapidly, many problems and contradictions are covered up. Once China goes into recession, problems that were previously covered up come to the fore, as is the case in the Northeast.”

“Now, the Chinese Communist Party is pushing forward with the policy, ‘state enterprises advance, private sector retreats,’ turning back the wheel of history and returning to the ‘planned economy,’ which is further accelerating the process of Northeastenization across the country,” he said.

“Today’s Northeast is a microcosm of the future China.”