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A Chinese national programme started five years ago aims to encourage young college graduates and postgraduates to lend their talents to poorer countryside areas according to the Shanghai Daily.
As an incentive, the volunteers are given titles as "village officials." Other sweeteners include government payment of student loans and "bonus points" that count when applying for other public service jobs or returning to do postgraduate study. For out-of-towners, the programme is a leg-up in applying for permanent residency status.
By June 2012, 752 college and university graduates from Shanghai had taken up posts as assistant directors to village committees in nine rural suburbs. About 75% were women, according to the Shanghai Women's Federation.
Yao Jie, 27, is one of them. Born in the rural Shanghai district of Fengxian, she graduated from the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Foreign Language School majored in business English. She worked as associate human resources specialist at state-owned staffing firm, China International Intellectech Corporation (Shanghai).
In December 2007, Yao learned that her home village was recruiting college graduates to serve as local officials. After applying and passing all the tests, she left her downtown apartment and urban lifestyle and returned to Fengxian, where her elderly parents still reside.
Yao, now a committee member of Nanhang Village in Fengxian, was among the first to be accepted into the programme. Last week, she attended the 14th Women's Congress in Shanghai as a representative of the village. "I wanted to take care of my parents and do something for my hometown," Yao said of her decision.
In reality, Fengxian hardly seems a rural place anymore. It is only about two hours by Metro from downtown Shanghai and has a population of just over 1 million. The district is in transition from a primarily rural economy to an industrial base of electronics, furniture-making and auto parts.
Yao earned CNY 2,000 (USD 324) a month as a village official - a salary much lower than her former job in the city and barely above Shanghai's minimum wage.
Yao confessed that returning to her rural roots was tough at first. She missed the downtown buzz and the chance to wear the latest fashions. She now dresses like a village girl to help locals accept her. Once she adjusted to life in the slow lane, she found it suited her.
"I have a stable job near my home," said Yao, who married a Fengxian local. "I have a 3-year-old child. I'm very happy. My city classmates laugh at my clothes whenever we get together. They know hardly anything about village life."
However, not all the graduates who have signed up for the programme see their futures in the countryside. Many use the jobs as springboards to position themselves for higher employment in the civil service.
Among the first group of graduates in the Shanghai programme, 121 of 191 went on to higher-paying public service jobs after completing their three-year contracts. Eight others returned to white-collar jobs, and only 62 stayed in the countryside.