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China's youths brand themselves 'dirt-poor and ugly' as competition for good jobs soars

It's a less-than-flattering way to describe yourself: dirt-poor and ugly. But young people in China have taken up the term "qiou" with gusto.

Newly invented by an unknown member of China's endlessly creative social media generation, the self-deprecating word has been dubbed the "unofficial word of the year" online.

State-run newspaper Global Times reported that the portmanteau of "qiong" (poor) and "chou" (ugly) began trending earlier this month.

It also incorporates the character "tu", or dirt.

Chinese social platform Weibo user Zhang Huyue, the newspaper said, defined qiou as "being so poor that you must eat dirt".

Shenshen Cai, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at Swinburne University of Technology, told the ABC the word's popularity could be seen as an extension of "sang" culture — which is associated with the word "funeral" and has come to describe the sense of hopelessness many young people feel.

But it is also a kind of "ironic defeatism", Dr Cai said, with young people lashing out against the weight of expectations placed upon them by their parents, the Government and society at large.

"Once qiou, always qiou," quipped H_Hide.

Some, such as Xingliang Liu, took a more pragmatic approach: "Although poor and ugly, I still decided to live a strong life."

Ironically, the middle-class generation that grew up under China's one-child policy, which was scrapped in late 2013, has enjoyed levels of wealth previously unheard of to their parents and grandparents.

But despite the opportunities, some have found success is unattainable.

"The coining of the new character qiou reveals that the Chinese young people have realised that sometimes material accomplishments and social success don't line up with personal hard work," Dr Cai said.

While China's official unemployment rate reached 3.95 per cent in September — the lowest point in years — the market for good jobs is highly competitive and many young people struggle with unaffordable housing and spiralling living costs, particularly in major cities.

Dr Cai said some people were now pushing back against the norms of adulthood — marriage, children, and home ownership — as they were unable to secure well-paid work.

An annual poll is run in late November and December for Chinese social media users to vote for popular or new words that sum up the past year in China.

But while social media users took a bleak view of the previous 12 months by widely backing qiou, the Government's pick, fen, seems a direct rebuke to that sentiment: the official word of the year translates to hard work — just the thing many young people say is not getting them anywhere.

Eight million new university graduates enter China's job market each year, according to official numbers.


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