Chinese university graduates are struggling to find work in the country’s worst labour market in years — unless they have degrees in Marxism.
Despite being China’s ruling ideology, Marxism has for decades been an obscure major for students. But it is enjoying a revival under President Xi Jinping, who has urged Chinese Communist party cadres to “remember the original mission” as he prepares to begin an unprecedented third term in power this year.
According to Yingjiesheng, a leading job search website for university graduates, there has been a 20 per cent increase in openings that require a Marxism degree in the second quarter — the peak hiring season — compared with the same period last year. Marxism experts are being sought by employers ranging from government departments to private conglomerates.
Analysts said the popularity of Marxism graduates underscored Xi’s efforts to strengthen ideological education as China’s rivalry with the US intensified, with the powers taking radically different approaches to everything from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to coronavirus pandemic management.
“The purpose of the major is to train thought police to brainwash the entire population,” said Ming Xia, a political-science professor at the City University of New York.
Chinese universities offering Marxism degrees inculcate students in the philosophy developed by Karl Marx as interpreted by Xi and his revolutionary idol, Mao Zedong.
A curriculum for a three-year masters program in Marxism at a university in central Henan province includes a module on the “principle and methods of thought education” and 18 hours of study of Xi’s speeches on education.
Prior to Xi’s rise to power in late 2012, Marxism courses struggled to gain traction in a country that emphasised economic prosperity over ideological correctness during the three-decade reform era launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978.
Under Deng, the party popularised catchphrases such as “it is glorious to get rich” and assured entrepreneurs that it was acceptable for “some people to get rich first”. Deng’s successor as leader, Jiang Zemin, formally invited private sector businessmen and women to join the party.
Xi, however, has made it clear that he intends to preside over an ideologically stricter “new era” that will prioritise “common prosperity”, tighter regulation of private sector conglomerates and a less stark rich-poor divide in what is one of the world’s most unequal societies.
Xi’s government has cracked down on young people who apply Marxist analysis too critically to abuses of labour allowed under China’s system of state capitalism. But it has boosted demand for Marxism teachers, who now play a critical role in educating the public about why China’s communist regime is superior to the west.
In a circular issued in 2018, the same year the party eliminated the previous two-term limit on the presidency, the education ministry told universities they should hire at least one Marxism instructor for every 350 students.
A talent acquisition boom quickly followed, with the number of university “ideology and politics” teachers increasing by two-thirds over the next four years.
The degree appears recession-proof. Youth unemployment is at a historic high of 18.4 per cent, limiting the number of opportunities available for other majors. But Yingjiesheng records show that Marxism teachers’ salaries and benefits are catching up with those on offer to jobseekers with previously more popular majors such as business administration.
In northern Shaanxi province, where urban workers make an average of Rmb52,000 ($7,760) per year, Xi’an University of Science and Technology is offering Marxism PhDs an annual base salary of Rmb200,000, a Rmb20,000 signing bonus and free housing.
“This is the golden time for Marxism majors,” said an official at the university, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak with foreign media.
Other education institutions, ranging from kindergartens to high schools, are also actively hiring Marxism graduates in accordance with directives requiring students as young as 10 to study “Xi Jinping thought”.
On southern Hainan island, one elite high school is offering Marxism teachers annual salaries of Rmb150,000, high by local standards.
“The study of Marxism and Xi Jinping thought must begin from an early age,” said an official at PKU Haikou High School, which is affiliated with Peking University in Beijing. “That creates ample demand for tutors.”
Private sector companies are also hiring Marxism majors in an effort to showcase their allegiance to the party in the wake of crackdowns on technology and property entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and Ant, and China Evergrande chair Hui Ka Yan.
“It helps to have someone who speaks the party’s language work for us,” said David Tong, who owns a machine tool factory in the eastern city of Ningbo, near Shanghai. “The government will trust us more.”
Tong recently hired a Marxism expert to help his firm improve communication with local authorities. The hire had an immediate impact.
Shortly after starting, the in-house Marxist showed Tong an “inappropriate” article in his company’s internal magazine that had criticised China’s draconian film censorship regime.
Tong showed the Financial Times a message from the hire that said: “It is OK for someone to have his or her own opinion about how the government controls the media, but the publication of such views in our company magazine will lead to misunderstanding that we support ideas against the official line.”
Tong said he appreciated the advice and promptly removed the article.
Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore