In China the prevailing cultural value is stability, and this extends to employment and work. Chinese people value the idea of a long-term career and staying in one place. Being grounded. I think this is a yearning for the permanence of life in a rice-growing village, and the sense of belonging that included.
This means that in their last year of undergraduate or graduate work, the aim is to secure long-term employment, and by “long-term” I mean “life long” in many cases.
Virtually all teaching jobs are public sector and hence imply a career stretching decades until retirement. The salary is not high but there are more benefits than most Americans might imagine, including different debit cards for various things.
What I find a little odd, but ultimately understandable, is that for many Chinese people this employment decision is ideally simultaneous with (give or take a year or two) getting married. So by the time people are in their late 20s their entire future life course is, or should be, pre-ordained.
If by chance a woman reaches age 30 and has not married this is considered a major setback, and the local term for those women here is “leftover women.”
At least, that is how Old China is colliding with New China. New China is a bit more open, flexible and tolerant of alternate life decisions. But there is still a lot of Old China in New China, if you get my drift.
My Chinese friends are surprised that for me China is the 11th or 12th country I’ve lived in long term, that I’ve made so many jumps from thing to thing – and that, as a man of my age, I don’t live with a regular family in a regular house – with a “beautiful wife, in a beautiful house,” as the song goes by the Talking Heads.
My Chinese friends have used the term “wild man,” as if I were some roaming, barbarian Neanderthal who somehow breached the perimeter of the Middle Kingdom, now tolerated as an object of curiosity.
Urbanization has severed some of the continuity between generations, as people in their 20s, 30s and 40s have moved to large cities, often leaving their children behind in villages with their grandparents. And more Chinese students are attending universities farther away from their home provinces, often settling into those places instead of returning home.
It remains to be seen how much this geographic mobility will impact Chinese culture and values. Probably a lot, but in Chinese and not western ways.
Who knows. The more I stay here, the less I understand.