TWO years ago, Wang Baoqiang was a nobody. He would stand in front of the Beijing Film Studio everyday, waiting for a chance to play a tiny part in any film. Now, the 23-year-old is a household name. His character Xu Sanduo in Soldier Sortie has catapulted him to stardom.
Wang, the youngest of a poor farming family, left his home in Hebei Province at 8 to study kungfu at the Shaolin Temple. At 15, he went to Beijing to pursue a future that seemed impossible from the window of his village. After much hard work, he won a role in Blind Shaft, a job his childhood pals would never have imagined possible.
Success like Wang's is the dream of many young Chinese. They have left their mundane lives, chasing a better future than the one their parents' generation lived. Like Wang, some made it and now have a fatter wallet and higher social status.
In other words, they are the beneficiaries of social mobility. According to social scientists, social mobility is an individual's or a group's movement through the socio-economic structure of a society over time.
It is measured by comparing the social class origin of an individual (usually determined by their parents' social class) against their social class classification as an adult.
Fu Yong, a professor at the China Center for Economic Studies at Fudan University, believes social mobility helps keep society stable. "It provides opportunities for people at the grassroots level to climb the social ladder. If the disadvantaged see no hope for the future, they will rebel," said Fu.
China's fast development offers paths for the young to rise, said Sun Liping, a professor of sociology at Tsinghua University. "Traditionally, education and marriage help people change their economic status," said Sun. "Starting their own business is another choice."
Education the key
Sun believes education is the main way for young people to move upward in society. In 2006, 22 percent of Chinese young people of college age were studying at university, according to a Ministry of Education report. By 2010, the figure will be 25 percent.
Education is directly related to economic status. The 2005 Report on the Development of Chinese Society by Renmin University suggests that those whose salary is above 15,000 yuan a year are mainly higher education graduates. People with a yearly salary of less than 6,500 yuan tend to be those who left school at junior high level.
"Higher education makes a major difference in young people's development. Students go away with improved skills," said Tian Qiuhua, deputy dean of the education department of Guangzhou University. "It is a vital aid for eventual entry into a higher social class."
However, the cooling of the job market in recent years has weakened education's role in lifting a person's economic and social status. College graduates are finding it's becoming more difficult to find a job with a decent salary.
ChinaHR.com, a leading recruitment website, says salaries of graduates in 2007 have dropped 7.1 percent compared with 2006. "As competition gets harsher in cities, it is no longer easy for young entrants into the labor market to land jobs that pay high wages," said Fu Yong at Fudan University.
But many young people still has faith in mobility. "There were always opportunities," said Xu Konglong, a student majoring in civil engineering in Shantou University. "Society permits its rare talents to flourish regardless of their situation."
Soldier Sortie 士兵突击