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Chinese Youth Returning to Home Village in a New Wave

As some Westerners quit during the Great Resignation, some Chinese young people are leaving their urban jobs to move back to the countryside. Why did they leave? What is their life like now? Do they regret their decision?

BEIJING, November 29 (TMTPOST) -- A girl, nicknamed Nuan Xiaorou, was beaten up by his father again after imploring money to buy textbooks. Nuan was in grade 6 in a village in northwestern China’s Gansu province. She dropped out of the primary school and jumped on a train bound for Beijing. She worked in the capital of China as a babysitter, waitress, cashier, secretary and accountant in the following 16 years. Her monthly salary climbed gradually from 300 yuan at the beginning to 20,000 yuan right before her departure from the metropolis.   

She met her future husband Xiaopan in Beijing. He also came from the countryside. He was the youngest of the six siblings. When he was in high school, his parents were already in their late 50s. His sisters supported him financially through his university years. He became an engineer after his graduation. 

Nuan wanted to open a family hotel. In 2020, they left Beijing with their savings of 400,000 yuan. They bought an inexpensive car and visited many cities in China. Afterwards, they settled in Xiaopan’s home village, about half an hour drive from the downtown of Zhoukou, a city in central China’s Henan province. They renovated the house of Xiaopan’s parents, turning a shabby hut into a sun-filled white-and-grey brick house, with a garden full of greens and flowers.  

They posted videos of their renovation on social media, attracting many fans. They have 256,000 followers on Douyin and 86,000 followers on Xiaohongshu. The series of videos showing their renovation has played for over 70 million times. 

Nuan and Xiaopeng are not alone in their return from the hustle-bustle to the rural life. Many young people are doing the same.

They threw away keyboards and walked into orchids and corn fields. They sell farm produce through livestreaming. Their life expenses were slashed drastically while they regained a slow pace of life. 

Insomnia, hair loss,rhinitis and other city diseases are gone. Some choose to stay, some prefer to be a “migrant bird” while others remain undecided.  

Rural Life is Equally Great

Daxi joined an educational company in 2017 in Shanghai after completing a Master’s program. He was promoted to the position of the content director after five years. He felt he reached the top of the career ladder. The sense of achievement was sinking. He worked at home for two months when Shanghai was under lockdown in April and May. During her lockdown, she had more time to think about the meaning of life. 

Her grandma passed away, which made her realize the importance of spending time with family. She made up her mind to quit and go back to her home village. 

During the first two years in Shanghai, she worked hard and played hard. As work occupied 80% of her time, she spent weekends in shopping malls, exhibitions, and nightclubs. Sometimes She drank and danced until the dawn. Dancing was her way of exercise.

During the lockdown, she was confined to the rented room. She realized that she could live well without going outside. Then why not going to a village instead?

In May, she quit. She had about 200,000 yuan, which was enough for one year of being jobless.  She spent about 6,000 yuan in Shanghai but less than 1,000 yuan in her home village. Her plan was to have one gap year to think about her future.

She has lived in the village for a few months by now. In retrospect, her life was quite different from that in Shanghai but her spiritual life was about the same.  

Actually she had more time to read books or watch movies. The only deviation from her plan was about a library. She had hoped to build a small library for village kids. But her plan did not follow through because the kids are more interested in short videos and cellphone games.  

“When I was a kid, I was determined to leave the village to see the world. And that was what I did in the past five years. Right now, I am preparing for studying overseas but I will come back to my home village again,” she said.

Big Budget or Small Budget? 

After Qianqian graduated from university in 2013, she worked in Beijing for two years.  In 2016, she and her husband moved to Chengdu, a city in southwestern China, known for its slow pace of life.

“When I was in Beijing, I was so stressed out that I was once bald,” said Qianqian, who is 32 years now. “After giving birth to my son, I worked in a media organization. Heavy work pressure triggered hair loss again.”

She quit and opened a flower store near my apartment. In 2019, she and her friends opened a Western food restaurant. The chef hoped to have fresh ingredients and thus she signed a lease contract with a farm.  After the restaurant went out of business, the farm remained. She rented a house near the farm and moved to the countryside with her family and parents-in-law.

“My husband is a programmer. While he drives to Chengdu on a daily basis, my parents-in-law and I tend to the farm. One thing led to another and I live in a village now,” she recalled.

She grew up in a village before going to university. She worked on the field with her grandpa. She felt that she returned to what she had originally belonged to.

The only person who felt the change was her son. He was born in the city and was in an international kindergarten for two years.  In order to help him transition smoothly, she and her husband took him to the library and museums in Chengdu.  The kindergarten in the rural area is much better than she expected. “His school bus is exactly the same as those in the city,” she said.

Now he is a primary school student. After school, he plants trees and flowers. He has also joined us in renovating his bedroom.

They invested about 580,000 yuan in the farm. They spent about 20,000 yuan in renovating the house, including windows and doors. Farm produce is enough for her family and they have ten types of fruits.
Vegetables grown by the family.

Vegetables grown by the family

“How much money is needed to start a life in a village?” she is often asked by her ex-coworkers. She thinks it can be much or little. If a person wants to make money in a village, the village life can be as stressful as urban existence. But she just wanted an easy and simple life and she made it.

Village Life Can be Idyllic and Hard 

In June, Zhang Ping returned to his home village after 6 years in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. He started to work for two years in Huawei after graduating from a prestigious university in 2016. Later, he worked in finance for three years.  Last year, Zhang started his own company. Things looked good.

However, air quality, traffic congestions and crazy struggles for fame and wealth made him anxious.  He had rhinitis, which affected his normal life significantly.  

His hometown is in Chun’an, Zhejiang province, known as “a lake of a thousand islets.” The air is much fresher. He recovered gradually from rhinitis.

Before high school, he lived in the countryside. “I was so used to a life of rising with the sunrise and resting with the sunset,”he said. Now he has two to three hours for planting flowers and farm plants, two to three hours for cooking and four hours for reading books every day.  He has finished reading 10 books.  His monthly spending in Hangzhou, which was 10,000 yuan, is enough for one year of expenditure in a village.  “I grow my own vegetables and buy some meat. Other than that, I have no consumption, “ he said

However, after the 30-year-old university-educated guy came back to his home village, her parents felt disgraced. He frankly told his parents how stiff the competition in a city was.     

He had though short videos brought noises to cities but to his surprise, they were almost the primary source of entertainment for villagers.  

Many short videos idealized the rural life. In the past summer, the rice field became dry due to the draught. The harvest would not look good.

“I think of returning to a city, but not a big city. I may go to a city in Yunnan or Guizhou or live in the suburb of Hangzhou. I want to get close to the field and stay away from the downtown,”he said.

Selling Tea Leaves From Home Village

Chunsheng’s first job was a writer in an advertising company in Guangzhou after graduating from university. Her first job required much overtime and he started to feel ill after half a year. She had gastritis.  Her best-paid job was 9,000 yuan a month after tax but he could save only 2,000 yuan a month.

“My hometown is known for its white teas. In 2020, I started to sell tea leaves online through livestreaming. My side business started to take off,” he said.  His earnings from selling tea were about 10,000 yuan per month, surpassing his salary. The idea of returning to her home village occurred to her.

“If I livestream in my home village, it would attract more followers,” she wondered.  Long hours of commuting, low salary and little savings prompted her to return to her roots.

Now she made 20,000 to 30,000 yuan per month from livestreaming. “I was not used to livestreaming at the beginning. I would turn off the livestreaming once my friend shows up. Now I am used to it,” she said.

Financial pressure was lessened. “I spend a maximum of 1,000 yuan per month. If I buy something online, it would be 2,000 to 3,000 yuan a month,” she said.  

“I sleep very well now. I don’t feel a burden on my shoulders. When I was in the city, I felt sleep-deprived even if I napped after lunch sometimes,” she said.

But she had to ensure loneliness. In the village, there was no person on a road after 8 p.m. All her childhood friends are living in the seat of the county. “All I see are my dad, my mom and the delivery man. My parents urged me to get married. We often quarreled over this,” she said.

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