Nestled against the breathtaking cliffs of Guizhou province in southwest China, a bamboo shack stands as a testament to the unconventional choices made by 21-year-old “retiree” Liu Youwen. Departing from the bustling city life of Shantou in Guangdong, China’s wealthiest province, Liu’s journey reflects the growing trend of young individuals disenchanted with the pressures of urban living, opting instead for a simpler life amidst the rural landscapes of their homeland.
Liu’s Urban Struggles
Having left his rural hometown three years ago in pursuit of better opportunities, Liu faced the challenges of urban life. Despite being a junior high school dropout, he ventured into various jobs, including car mechanic, construction worker, and clothing factory employee. The grind of city life, marked by long working hours and the constant pressure to succeed, eventually wore him down.
Returning to Simplicity
At the end of 2022, Liu made the audacious decision to abandon the city and return to the tranquility of Guizhou’s rolling hills and rivers. Despite protests from his parents and older brother, Liu sought a life free from the demands of the high-pressure rat race that dominated his urban experience.
“In the factory, I used to work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. plus overtime, my time was not my own,” Liu explained in a recent phone interview with CNN. “Now I get to wake up to the sounds of birds chirping.”
China’s Youth Discontent
Liu’s story reflects a broader trend of discontent among China’s youth, grappling with a challenging job market, burnout from intense academic and work pressures, and the lingering effects of strict pandemic policies. The National Bureau of Statistics reported a record-high youth unemployment rate of 21.3% in June, underscoring the urgent need for addressing the issues faced by the younger generation.
In response to the rising youth unemployment rate, Chinese authorities have encouraged urban youth to explore opportunities in the countryside. A December 2022 call by Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged young people to contribute to the revitalization of the rural economy, drawing parallels to Mao Zedong’s historical campaign that saw urban youths relocated to remote areas.
Life in the Mountains:
Despite the challenges of living in the mountains, including concerns for safety and lack of electricity, Liu has found an alternative path to success. Inspired by Chinese influencers like Li Ziqi and Dianxi Xiaoge, Liu documents his rural life through weekly vlogs on YouTube, showcasing activities such as building pig pens, cultivating vegetables, and interacting with his canine companions, Lucky and Flower.
A Growing Trend
Liu is not alone in his pursuit of a simpler life. Other Gen Z “retirees,” such as Xiao Chun Zi and Xin Xin, share content reminiscent of Liu’s, contributing to a growing online movement that challenges traditional career paths and embraces the beauty of rural living.
Liu Youwen’s decision to leave the city and build a life in the mountains not only reflects personal aspirations for a simpler existence but also mirrors the broader discontent among China’s youth. As young individuals seek alternatives to the pressures of urban life, the government’s call for revitalizing the rural economy takes on new significance, opening avenues for unconventional paths to success and fulfillment.