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Cover Story
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UPDATED: February 17, 2013 NO. 8 FEBRUARY 21, 2013
Meet Four People Born in the Year of the Snake
Where's the Future Headed?

Ji Li, born 1989

Ji Li's view of the future can be summarized in a word that captures the sentiment felt by many young people of her generation: uncertain.

Ji's life in China's highly competitive job market isn't off to a great start, either. After failing the university entrance exam—a mandatory test required for those who wish to attend university—Ji's hopes of becoming a doctor were dashed.

"After failing the exam, I felt so bad that I cried very often," Ji, 24, recalled.

Ji now works at a pharmaceutical factory in Yiyuan County in Shandong Province. Factory work is a fate young people try to avoid, not wanting to work the long, monotonous hours their parents endured. She works six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. She receives double pay on weekends and triple pay on holidays. She can ask for sick leave, but those days are unpaid—and 15 yuan ($2.41) is deducted from her salary each day. Her monthly salary amounts to a little more than 2,000 yuan ($321) after tax.

During last year's Spring Festival she gave her parents her entire year-end bonus, equivalent to one month's wage. "They have worked hard on the farm all their lives to bring me up. I should be thankful," Ji said.

In China, young people from rural areas who work in cities not only have to support themselves but also their parents and grandparents, who earn a meager income and won't receive a pension until the age of 60.

Given her daily work schedule, leisure is often lacking. "I don't do anything fun. I do the same work every day. I only have fun when I go out to eat and sing karaoke with my colleagues, and that's only once or twice a year."

Ji isn't too hopeful about the future either, and like many young people who lack a university education, her employment choices are limited.

"I don't want to do this mechanical job all my life. I just don't know what I can do to make my life more meaningful. Maybe I'll just wait and see."

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