Zhang Xiaoping’s mother dropped out of school after sixth grade. Her father, one of 10 children, never attended.
But Zhang, 20, is part of a new generation of Chinese taking advantage of a national effort to produce college graduates in numbers the world has never seen before.
Her ambition: to work some day for a Chinese automaker and provide the cultural insights and English fluency the company needs to supply the next generation of fuel-efficient taxis that New York City plans to choose in 2021. “It is my dream,” she said.
China has tens of millions of Zhangs — bright young people whose aspirations and sheer numbers could become potent economic competition for the West in decades to come.
China is making a $250 billion-a-year investment in what economists call human capital, educating tens of millions of young people as they move from farms to cities. It wants to move up the development curve by fostering a much more broadly educated public, one that more closely resembles the multifaceted labour forces of the US and Europe.
It is too early to know how well the effort will pay off. But to the extent that China succeeds, it could have profound implications in a globalised economy in which college graduates all over the world compete for similar work. The higher education boom in China puts pressure on job opportunities for college graduates worldwide, especially as global corporations are eager to tap this talent pool.
“If they went to China for brawn, now they are going to China for brains,” said Denis F Simon, one of the best-known management consultants specialising in Chinese business.