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Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of — The Economy and Job Market of Shanghai

When I first heard of this topic, it was difficult for me to come up with a draft for an article. Since China has the largest population, second largest economy and third largest landscape, it has great diversity between regions and to conclude that in one single article was extremely hard for me. So I decided that I would write only about Shanghai instead, a city I love and hate at the same time.
Shanghai is the Chinese version of New York; a demonstration of China’s fast economic growth in a nutshell. Known for its reputation as the Paris of the east, Shanghai is an international metropolitan area with the largest population in the world reaching more than 24 million. It serves as a center of finance, trade, commerce, and transportation for mainland China. Shanghai is one of the most capitalistic cities in China, with a business-friendly multi-cultural background. With a GDP of 1.92 trillion yuan (about $297 billion) and per capita of 82,560 yuan (about $12,784), Shanghai is the richest city in Mainland China, and has the potential of exceeding Hong Kong to become the richest city in the Far East. After the major conferences that have taken place within the Communist Party, the government has begun making moves to encourage Shanghai to take the place of Hong Kong in finance and commerce (this is a long story that I will not discuss in this article).

(1) The Job Market of Shanghai
The job market in Shanghai is among one of the most active in the world. As a third year student and an economics major, I have participated in internships and am familiar with the job-market through personal experience.
The requirement for skilled labor is high in Shanghai and anyone with adequate skills and diligence will be promised a bright future. This is one of the things I love about Shanghai. Shanghai is a place where your skills and talents will be recognized without bias over your personal background. As long as you haven’t committed a felony, been socially disgraced, and you’re willing to work, you’ll always find a job suitable for your skill. I’ve created a personal account on a few job-seeking websites and I have received positive feedback everyday. There are hundreds of companies hiring and searching for internships every day. I receive one or two internship invitations on average a day, which is pretty good compared to some of the friends I have met here whose countries are still under the shadow of economic recession. You are especially competitive when you have skills in the fields of technology, engineering, medical, finances, and business. Combining your professional skills with the ability to speak English ensures a high income in international corporations.

You get paid usually around $2 to $2.5 per hour in your internship, but many companies offers employee dorm for accommodation and some big names even cover food and transportation fees. I worked in a Japanese IT consulting company which offered me free accommodation and free taxi services when I stayed in the workplace after 9 pm. In general, the internship market in Shanghai is active. I would be surprised if anyone with a college education failed to find an internship in Shanghai.

Another thing I love about Shanghai is that it has less bureaucracy compared to other parts of the country. In my opinion, in Asian cultures under the influence of Confucianism, like China, personal contacts and relationships matter a lot in the workplace. Many major industries are under the monopoly of bureaucracy and only students of good family backgrounds can access some well-paid jobs such as government officials and tax departments. However, this is less likely in Shanghai; even though many students with better family backgrounds still get better chances in the workplace compared to students with no background. But there are always many posts open to people who have the true ability to get work done. Even an employee with a connected family background risks getting fired if they’re simply wasting the company’s money.

(2) The Social Economy of Shanghai
Even though Shanghai’s economy is developing quickly, it still bothers me how our economy relies on the lower labor prices. We’re being paid almost twice as little as our counterparts in developed countries. Many of the technology industries in Shanghai are simply outsourcings of existing productions. In the IT consulting company I worked for, the software was designed by Japanese engineers and provided for Japanese clients. All of the Chinese programmers’ profit came from the labor price difference. We have far less innovative technologies compared to other countries at similar GDP levels.

Another thing that concerns me is how the rapid development is taking its toll by destroying the ecosystem. In Shanghai, you can barely see any blue sky and stars at night. The sky is usually gray, making everything look depressed. I was surprised at how blue the sky was when I first came to Willamette. I never knew you could see so many stars in the evening sky. The air was so fresh that I got something similar to allergies because I was so used to air with high levels of PM2.5. When the haze was at its worst in winter, my lungs hurt and I got breathing problems if I didn’t use 3M masks every day. I would suffer heavily if I did extreme physical exercise in the high levels of PM2.5. Even though Shanghai is still a lot better than Beijing, the environment has become such a big problem that I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in my lung, which was unusual for a young adult of my age. Many of my fellow students suffer similar problems.

The lack of ethical and spiritual civilization is another thing Shanghai faces. Due to the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to 1976, the Communist Party of China intentionally wiped out most of the religion and traditional culture of China. Despite the fact that the Chinese government claims to ensure the freedom of belief, 90% of Shanghai citizens are atheist. In my opinion, this has resulted in the lack of morality in the chase of fame and fortune. I would not be surprised if you would find Shanghainese cold and selfish. Shanghainese mother-in-laws are especially notorious throughout the country for their high economic demand upon their future sons-in-law and for sometimes marrying off their daughters to rich men as if they were selling goods.

In all, Shanghai is an active market full of opportunity and energy. It might have a darker side of materialism and a lack of morality, but since it has only been 36 years since China opened its gates to the world, it could eventually catch up and form a stable society similar to that of London and New York.
If you’re ever interested in China, come and teach foreign language in Shanghai!

By Ning

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