Scared of going home.

Around New Year’s time, long queues to buy tickets and overcrowded trains are common happenings in China.  Millions travel by car or by bus. For many, this is the only chance in twelve months to reunite with their families: work doesn’t allow stops. Every year,  200 million people travel across the country. This time,  they might even be over 210. A whole nation is struggling to reach its own native place, to see family and friends, left at home to seek fortune in the rich coastal cities. Or maybe not.

They are called the konggui zu (恐归族) , those who are scared of going home.  They moved to the coastal cities looking for good jobs, but they only found low salaries. Their number has been growing more and more during the past years. They don’t want to go home because they simply can’t afford it.A few days ago, a post published on Tianya, a famous chinese website, quickly became popular:

“Father, yesterday you asked me how much money I saved, and I said I had 8000 kuai. You weren’t happy, you said that having worked for half a year, earning 3200 kuai a month, i should have saved 15000 kuai. I didn’t dare tell you that i don’t even have 500 kuai in my card, and in three days I’ll have to pay 300 kuai for the rent. Father, i know i shouldn’t lie to you, last time mother asked me how much money I earn, and i said 3200 kuai. She said you thought it wasn’t enough. But I actually only earn 1000 kuai. And I don’t work in a law firm, i do odd jobs. You asked me if I was going to come back home to spend New Year’s together, and I  said that I didn’t know, that maybe I was going to work more because of the holidays. Father, I am not going to work more. I Just don’t dare come back home”.

It was written by a yi zu (蚁族), an ant, as those who were born in the 80’s and couldn’t find a good job after their graduation are called, fundamental core of the konggui zu, who are, in fact, their natural evolution. According to a survey conducted by CCTV, the causes of this fear are many: 28% are afraid to go home without money, 16% feel they haven’t succeeded anything. The high prices of the transports are a persuasive argument for 13% of the interviewed, while 10% are afraid that the yasuiqian (压岁钱), the traditional little red begs full of money, given as a present to children, have become too expensive.  8% are scared that they might be forced into marriage: old habits die hard.

Lian Rong, professor of psychology of Fujian Normal University, gives an explanation:

the fear of going home involves a issue  characteristic of the culture of eastern Asia. Traditionally,  stress is put on the results, ignoring the process. People’s judgements are crucial, and many are afraid that others could find out, or just suspect, their failure. Therefore, going back home would lead to losing  face.

Gan Mantang, director of the faculty of sociology of Fuzhou University, adds:

The decision of not going home is not merely due to a lack of money , what really matters is the possibility of losing  face. There is a traditional saying in China: yijin huanxiang (衣锦还乡, litterally, to go back home in silk clothes, a made-in-China American dream) . Therefore, many young people think that without money, or without a good job, going home inevitably leads to losing face.

Good reasons, surely. But are you sure that’s all? Perhaps, they are scared just because they have  seen these pictures. I would be.