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Disillusioned with big city life, recent college graduates in China take up farming

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Liang Yu shows off the fruits of her labor. She and her boyfriend sell some of their produce to local cafeterias. (Courtesy of Liang Yu)

In 2022, a quarter of new college graduates found work in small cities, towns and villages — up from a fifth in 2018, according to the Chinese higher education consultancy MyCos.

By Stephanie Yang and Xin-yun Wu
TAIPEI, Taiwan
LA Times
June 27, 2024


Growing up in one of China’s biggest cities, it never occurred to Liang Yu that she might one day toil in the fields.

In college, she majored in broadcast television, planning a career in film or advertising.

She began to reconsider after she tried growing tomatoes with other students and found they were sweeter than anything available in stores.

“The first time I ate something that I planted myself, I was amazed,” said the 24-year-old from Guangzhou, a city of nearly 19 million.

After graduating, she and her boyfriend rented two acres an hour outside Shanghai, put up a greenhouse and started experimenting with different kinds of seeds.

They became — in the lingo of their generation — “new farmers.”

For decades, urbanization was a defining feature of the Chinese economic miracle, as people left the countryside for the cities and young people came to view office jobs as a ticket to success.

Now a small but growing number of people are moving in the opposite direction, spurred by declining job prospects in the cities, government efforts to lift up rural areas and a sense that a slower pace of life has its advantages.

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