The other day I had lunch with a young colleague Xiao Zhu in her mid-20s with a masters degree.
She had just finished watching woju, the Snail House drama that she found very interesting to watch.
In it, two sisters try to scrape together money to buy an apartment in a fictional Chinese city, supposedly Shanghai. The older one manages to buy a place, but it is far out in the suburbs, so far it is practically in the next province.
Meanwhile the younger pretty sister flirts with an official in the hopes of getting money from him, and they end up having an affair. His wife knows about it, and he reasons that he is not cheating on her because she knows about it.
The ending is tragic. The wife finds out where the mistress lives and discovers she lives in a luxury apartment complete with all the furniture the wife had been hoping to buy, but considered too expensive. She and the pregnant mistress fight, causing the latter to have a miscarriage.
And when the official hears this news on the phone in the car, he has a car accident and dies.
He had fallen in love with his mistress and promised to look after her and her baby by arranging for them to go to the United States complete with a place to live in. However, only one person gets to make a new life, not three.
The true-to-life drama made Xiao Zhu very depressed.
"It's not the farmers who have a hard life now," she said. "It's people like me."
She went on to explain that children born in the post-80s had unrealistic burdens placed on them.
Even though many of them are university educated, they cannot get good-paying jobs. They prefer to be in the city, but renting an apartment can be expensive, leaving them little savings.
While her mother is still working and has a good danwei, or work unit benefits left over from the previous generation, Xiao Zhu is concerned she will have to financially support her father as her parents divorced when she was young.
The odd thing is that her older sister has married well, doing lots of travel; I asked her if she could stay with her older sister to save on rent, but she declined, only saying it was not convenient.
Meanwhile she will have barely enough to support herself. So how can she even afford to buy an apartment? Even if she and her boyfriend get married, they still can't afford a place with their own money.
"Having a home is such an important cultural aspect of a Chinese family," Xiao Zhu said. "If you don't have a home, you don't have a place to live. When you rent, you are constantly moving. This is not a place you call your own home."
This is the dilemma of all young people in China today.
While they are considered the hope of the future, the next generation have too much pressure hoisted on them.
Their salaries are artificially depressed by the government to keep exports low, making it very difficult for them to earn better wages to save enough money for a down payment.
While I tried to encourage Xiao Zhu to focus on her career and that the money would come later, she could only think about never being able to afford an apartment, followed by having to financially look after her aging parents...
Hope isn't enough to lift their spirits from their predicament -- money can solve most of their problems, which is a frustrating message to send to young people who have no hope of earning more in the near future.