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    In China, Young Graduates Are Selling Their Knowledge on the Streets

    Facing a difficult job market, highly educated Chinese have found a new way to monetize their degrees: “knowledge street vending.”
    Jun 08, 2023#education

    As street vending becomes increasingly popular in China, a somewhat unexpected commodity is being sold on the country’s streets: knowledge.

    In China’s major cities, rather than turn to running simple street food stalls as some young people have done, some university graduates are selling their academic knowledge to passersby in a phenomenon called “knowledge street vending.” 

    On lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, graduates have been sharing their experiences of selling knowledge on the streets, including tarot reading, mental health counseling, and legal advice. 

    The growing trend comes at a time when young Chinese are facing a difficult job market and doubts about the value of a university degree. In recent months, state media have repeatedly called upon young Chinese to be more open-minded to alternative career paths.

    The phenomenon first caught public attention in May, when a political science postgraduate from the London School of Economics shared a photo of himself apparently offering one-on-one “political science consulting services” on the street, with topics including Russia-Ukraine relations, populism, and identity politics. 

    Although it was not clear whether the photo, which had a caption saying “self-deprecating,” was serious or not, it nonetheless sparked discussions on social media about the phenomenon. 

    Qian Jing, a psychology professor at Beijing Normal University, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper that selling knowledge on the street can serve as a meaningful way for detached young people to interact with society and relieve pressure. 

    “It’s a great psychological comfort just to find out that the knowledge you have learned from a certain course can explain real problems to others, and there are people willing to pay to listen to it,” Qian said. The Paper cited examples of philosophy and psychology graduates offering discussions about mental health and existentialism in the southwestern Yunnan province.   

    Street vending has seen a resurgence in China since 2020, particularly among young Chinese seeking ways to relieve stress. In recent months, major cities such as Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou have relaxed restrictions on street vending to boost economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Master’s graduate Li Bingqian, 25, tried out “knowledge street vending” in the southern city of Shenzhen in January, providing custom calligraphy and handwriting services. She told Sixth Tone that she enjoyed the flexibility of the work, and believes it is a good fit for young people seeking greater financial independence through part-time jobs. 

    “It’s the natural result of the increasingly popular street vendor culture (among young people),” she said. 

    Having made a total of 2,400 yuan ($336) in seven days, the video producer plans to do it again next year. She does not feel ashamed about her part-time gig, and her family and friends are also supportive.

    “It’s great to have the opportunity to encounter so many different people and to better understand society,” she said. 

    Editor: Vincent Chow. 

    (Header image: A street stall offering psychological consulting services. From @海狗的心理小铺 on Xiaohongshu)