Across China: China's "iron rice bowl" seekers turn into business trailblazers

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-20 16:11:44|Editor: Liangyu
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WUHAN, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) -- Cai Xiaodong, founder and CEO of a rising drone company based in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, said all his entrepreneurial ambitions started with a bold decision to drop the "iron rice bowl."

Despite a sweeping trend of abandoning secure government jobs, known as "iron rice bowls," in favor of doing business in the 1990s, Cai's decision in 1999 to leave the government payroll in search for his real vocation was one mire of doubt.

"My family were against it, as they believed big state firms meant stable incomes, and leaving such jobs for a world of uncertainty was not a wise choice," Cai recalled.

Liang Hexi, a doctoral student in Wuhan University, faced a similar choice last year, whether to stay in a university lab job, but his decision to co-found a tech company on laser communication faced more favorable winds.

"The notion of starting a business is now accepted by many Chinese, and my families were also very supportive of my choice," said Liang, who set up the company together with his doctoral advisor and classmates. "In our university, there are a few teams of professors and their students who started businesses like us ... For us, contributing to the country via papers are not enough."

Liang's case is not rare as China pushes for mass entrepreneurship and innovation, which, like the business boom in the 1990s, is sending a new legion of high-caliber youth into the world of entrepreneurship.

According to a recent survey, the proportion of Chinese college graduates who started their own business saw a steady upward trend between 2001 and 2015, and even with an economic slowdown, the figures have remained largely unchanged in the past three years.

Propping up the latest entrepreneurial enthusiasm heavily focused on new technologies are a slew of supportive policies by the government, which is eager to build entrepreneurship into a new economic engine.

Hailing from a lab providing technological support for military firms, Liang also attributed the initial success of setting up their own company to China's pro-innovation policies and the strategy of integrating military and civilian development.

His company got a 2-million-yuan (about 288,000 U.S. dollars) initial investment from a government-backed incubator, which also provided guidance on new company management. The local government also exempted land fees of up to 200,000 yuan for the tech start-up.

Qi Yong, CEO of the Wuhan-based incubator, attested to the surging interest in entrepreneurship, saying his incubator has helped more than 40 start-ups established by college graduates since its opening in June last year.

"Enthusiasm is very important in starting a business, but what is more important is the mobilization of different resources. We're here to help these new start-ups become viable," Qi said.


On the personal level, China's opening up and subsequent waves of entrepreneurship brought Chinese graduates new freedoms unimagined for older generations who mainly got their jobs through government assignment.

"I considered myself as being very lucky when compared with the generation of my parents, as I got to choose a career of my liking, as well as where and how I work," Cai said.

On the flip side of the coin, the unprecedented free flow of personnel also means more job hoppers, posing a challenge for companies like Cai's in retaining competent personnel.

"Pre-graduation job fairs at colleges have become a thing of the past. Recruitment via the internet is something we do all year round," he said.