Editor's note: The following was translated and edited from an article that appeared on NiHaoWang.com, originally from the People's Daily. It concerns a growing source of disappointment for young Chinese returning from abroad: extremely low salaries. Frequently ridiculed by friends or family for failing to live up to the hefty expectations set on them by their expensive Western educations, nonetheless, many young graduates remain optimistic, confident that their investments will pay off in the long-term.

3,000 RMB?! Returning Overseas Chinese Students Come Back to Paltry Salaries
Photo: taopic.com

"Sea turtles"—a pun on the fact that "returning" (归) and "turtle" (龟) are homophonous in Chinese—has long been a playful term for Chinese who return home after seeking their education abroad. But recently, young "sea turtles" are finding themselves slapped with a new nickname—"seaweed"—after an unwelcoming domestic job market leaves them high and dry, with more and more reports citing cases of returning graduates unable to earn more than 3,000 RMB a month with what they thought would give them a surefire competitive edge: an international college degree.

Patience is a virtue

Li Haiyan, who recently received her masters in finance from Australian National University, isn't afraid of the media portents: "I used to worry about the reality of the situation; I've seen the headlines," she says with a smile. "But these are things that everyone has to deal with, not just returning graduates. What's important is to keep a firm grip on reality. For me, studying abroad wasn't just about getting a degree. I broadened my horizons, exercised my international thinking skills, and seriously improved my oral English. Living abroad is a long-term investment. If we just keep calm and concentrate on what's in front of us, that investment is sure to pay off eventually."

Optimism is paramount in today's job market; whereas graduates of another era would return home as objects of admiration, today's "sea turtles" are finding themselves to be objects of ridicule, forced to sell themselves short instead of to the highest bidder.

 "I thought a lot about different motivating factors before deciding to move back home," says Wang Pengzhi, who now works at a financial institution in Beijing after receiving his masters in finance at the University of Edinburgh. "I knew China's economy was still going strong and also has a policy of recruiting educated candidates, plus there was my family to think of, since I'm an only child. I just knew there would be huge advantages for my family and for my professional development if I moved back to China." Asked about his starting salary of 3,000 RMB a month, Wang laughs, "I know some people make 10,000 RMB in their 20's; that's a question of personal ability. If you don't have any experience, you can't offer anything of value to the industry yet, so how do you expect to be paid? If you've really got potential in the industry, what's wrong with 3,000 RMB a month? Just stay calm; like Laozi said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!"

Pressure is a motivator

 "The problem stems from the growing ranks of returning students combined with an increasingly competitive job market," says Zhou Yi, professor of news media at Shandong University. "But 20-somethings are far from hopeless. Truly talented graduates from top universities and those with advanced technical skills will always have an edge; there's no reason to think they are inferior to their predecessors." According to Zhou, "Young returning college graduates have the benefit of an international education, new skills, and a broad base of knowledge. They should look at the pressure behind the problem and they'll find that pressure is the best kind of motivator."

Li Hui, with his masters from the University of Southern California, is another optimist. "We've got all these young college grads coming back to China, so full of energy, and they've got clear ideas about where they stand in the world. In the face of low salaries, a tough job market, and high expectations from employers, they take it all in stride. We have no illusions about the future; we are thinking clearly."

3,000 RMB isn't so bad after all

Jiao Ao, returning from studying abroad in the U.K. after failing the gaokao college entrance exam in China, likes to keep things in perspective. "Actually, for me, 3,000 RMB a month is pretty high. I used to get 1,200 RMB a month as an intern."

"There are three ways to look at this problem," according to Prof. Zhou. "The first is that students who can afford to go abroad after failing the gaokao tend to come from wealthier families. Coming from privileged backgrounds, they tend to have weak foundations, don't study as well as they should, and have trouble with self-discipline. The second is that schools abroad aren't always honest. Many are just taking advantage of a high volume of Chinese study abroad, and as a result you can end up with a degree that you paid for but didn't really earn, so in that case you're going to get low salaries when you return. Finally, a lot of students choose their majors blindly. They don't plan ahead and end up unemployed when they graduate."

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Keywords: returning graduates China low starting salary China Chinese study abroad students Chinese job prospects

20 Comments Add your comment



They do and it's sad. Their best bet is to remain in the West if they can.

Oct 17, 2012 09:03 Report Abuse



It has to do with the degree you graduated with. Even in the most countries in the west, if you were in humanities, busing tables, driving cabs, bike courier or. Long term unemployment are the most likely outcomes.

Oct 18, 2012 03:50 Report Abuse


JAY (Just Another Yangguizi)

In any society that doesn't value education, education is a scam.

This is partly why the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Oct 23, 2012 17:02 Report Abuse



Schools abroad aren't always honest and issue paid for degrees?! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!!

Oct 17, 2012 09:20 Report Abuse



Yeah,. but the quote is really worse than that. It's just a flat out lie. Only 5 Chinese universities have any international competitiveness! The Chinese system is truly black. Talk about propaganda

Oct 17, 2012 20:06 Report Abuse



What are you talking about? The quote in question just says that some foreign universities are not so honest. It doesn't say anything about how competitive Chinese ones are.

So five Chinese univerisities have international competitiveness? That's not bad really, is it?

Oct 18, 2012 18:31 Report Abuse



Yes only 5. Pretty poor considering the population of China.
Plagiarism, cheating, bribery, rote learning, copying, fake degrees and shortage of original thought and creativity; and that's just the professors!
As Lenin said, people vote with their feet and go for a quality education.

Oct 21, 2012 03:24 Report Abuse



With the trend of studying abroad is still booming in recent years, the current chanlleges those"Sea Turtles" are facing is expected. I personally thought that they get lower offers because he or she does not meet crporate's needs. If you are good enough getting a reasonable compensation is not that hard.

Oct 17, 2012 18:29 Report Abuse



I think it all depends on the school that they attended. My cousin got his MBA from Booth and came back to work for McKinsey in Shanghai. Makes $160K USD salary. On top of that, he gets a 300 RMB daily stipend for food and last year got a $45K annual bonus. All that is after a year and a half of returning.

Oct 17, 2012 18:50 Report Abuse


Dark Matty


Oct 17, 2012 20:22 Report Abuse



There are a number of issues here.
Firstly, with a lot of sea turtles chasing a small number of high paid jobs, only a few can get. The remainder get the jobs at the lower end of the pay scale.
Secondly, with so many sea turtles who are more competent in the English language, it is harder for local grads to find work. This means you almost need an OS degree just to find employment.
Thirdly, with 50% of all Chinese school leavers going into tertiary education and getting 'degrees', having an OS degree becomes one of the distinguishing factors. The exception being the top 10 Chinese universities.

I have met many grads in China working for F500 companies who are not doing graduate work.

Old Joke.
"What do you say to a graduate with a job?"
"Big Mac and fries, please."

Oct 17, 2012 23:53 Report Abuse



rich kids dont need a degree that makes money, music hisory is fine , get a doctorate in human resources,
poor kids major in something that makes money, engineering ,medicine
have the same problem in the west
my rich chinese wife has a degree in sociology from canada, not worth using the degree to wipe my ass ,
logic and education are oxymorons, reality and the free market always wins

Oct 18, 2012 01:34 Report Abuse



A degree in Human Resources from outside of China is not appreciated in China is not appreciated because the Owners do not understand what the degree is. Trying to make the workplace enjoyable for everyone is not the goal in China where abuse is commonly used to create more production. Managers have no concept of how the worker enjoys his work and good service produces more satisfied customers.
Teaching Graduate Human Resources in a top Chinese university to students that do not participate in class presentations or class competition does not teach what the course is for. Having sixty students staring at one without comprehension was not enjoyable. Trying to grade the papers at the end of the class was almost impossible due to the lack of understanding of the purpose of the class. Too high of grades were given to make the management of the university look good. The next semester class was reduced to teaching English. A major problem is the use of a standard textbook that has too much foreign culture to translate. A Study Guide of the normal textbook would have reduced the material given to basic principles of the book with problems.
Do not be to critical of foreign trained students in any subject, because they have learned material the the Chinese culture does not understand, especially Chinese management.

Oct 25, 2012 16:21 Report Abuse



I think this author made up this shit. One thing I want to make sure! Foreigners should stop spreading their bogus claim the Western education is so much better or being so much more creative. That may be true way back in the day. I hire local people to design and their design is just like anybody else. Even local people themselves believe that myth, that's pretty sad they don't believe in their own people. The only difference is that they do make some typos because English is not their native tongue.

Well, there were times when Chinese companies hired a foreigner for a lot of money as a clown to sit in the office so people think they are a legit int. company. These times are over! I think some Chinese's gotten smarter about it and be more practical about this. Soon or later just being foreign ain't enough!

Oct 18, 2012 02:16 Report Abuse



Do not wanna make u angry, but just as you said " their design is just like anybody else" is the reason, why , for example' the Beijing stadiums for Olympics, was not designed by "anyone else" .

Oct 24, 2012 23:04 Report Abuse



ok why not.give up your western degree and get a chinese.one since you are so confident in the education here...utter bollucks.

Oct 26, 2012 14:43 Report Abuse



I taught MSc students in one of the prestigious western universities years ago. More than 50% of the students in the class are Chinese; and I can assure you that most of them have really bad English. I don't know how they got accepted into the course, or more like how they managed to pass their IELTS/TOEFL tests. Some good friends of mine said most of the Chinese students are really good at memorising they do not necessarily understand the theories. Guess that is why they are mainly good at adapting and copying. Oh yes, and many of the Chinese students are rich- not sure if they are there to study/(fashion) showing off. That is why I do not think returning overseas Chinese students are worth a lot more than locals, at least not all of them!

Oct 19, 2012 04:09 Report Abuse



Doing graduate work at CSU Fresno in accounting with foreign students of the world had very good students and very poor students. Using a textbook Study Guide presented the material in six to eight pages with questions could produce grades above 80, when used properly. If one is good in a particular subject, such as accounting, one should try to find a job in the foreign country in that subject. I recommended going to San Francisco to an accounting firm that had offices in their home country, saying that they want only two years of experience before going home. One female from Indonesia was offered a learning position for a CPA at the walk-in interview. One must be interested in what they want to do in their future.

Oct 25, 2012 16:41 Report Abuse



Zhuangzi said "A Journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step."
Not Confucius....

Oct 19, 2012 05:25 Report Abuse



Something my students are realising.
Unless you have connections a degree is of limited value.

If you have connections the only value of a fancy university is that it gives face.
A degree from the 'pleasesendmoneytograduate dot com' is also viable for CEO positions.

Oct 21, 2012 02:47 Report Abuse