VOLUME 28 NO. 10 | FEBRUARY 28 - MARCH 6, 2009


Professional Chinese women work as nannies, maids

Last updated 2-26-09 at 4:00 p.m.
Xiong Xuhua is taught by her teacher how to clean a room at a school for domestic workers in Guangzhou, a city in southern China, on Wednesday, Feb. 18. She majored in English and loved her job as an office worker in China's once-booming export industry, but now Xiong Xuhua is jobless and is training to be a housekeeper — a fate she is too embarrassed to even tell her husband. Photo by Vincent Yu, provided by The Associated Press.

By William Foreman and Bonnie Cao
The Associated Press

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) — She majored in English and loved her job as an office worker in China's once-booming export industry. But now, Xiong Xuhua is jobless and in training to be a housekeeper, a fate she is too embarrassed to even tell her husband.

Wearing a blue apron with a white Hawaiian floral print, Xiong spent a recent day at a school for domestic workers practicing how to use a squeegee to clean a window without leaving streaks across the glass.

“I haven’t told anyone in my family, not even my husband, that I’m going to do this kind of work,” the petite 24-year-old woman said in a hushed voice as she looked down at the ground with a blank face.

China’s economic slump has sidetracked the careers of thousands of university graduates who studied computers, management, and other fields. Now, many professional women are scrambling for jobs as nannies and housekeepers — work they never would have considered before.

It’s a jarring change for an educated elite in a society where university students are called “Proud Children of Heaven.” Parents warn kids they will wind up as nannies or cleaners if they fail to study. Many are getting their first taste of domestic work after spending their childhoods being pampered by their own nannies.

The job search will only get tougher this year when 6.1 million college graduates enter the market. They will compete with 1.8 million graduates who finished school last year but have yet to find work. More than 23,000 graduates flooded into Beijing’s first job fair after the Lunar New Year holiday earlier this month to apply for only 4,000 positions.

China has no statistics of how many female professionals are now working as domestic help, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the numbers are growing.

Cong Shan, the general manager of Guangzhou Home EZ Services in Guangzhou, China’s southern business center, said that until last year, she had never had a university graduate apply to her company, which trains and places domestic workers. But since August, 90 percent of the 500 to 600 women who have applied have higher-education degrees.

The popular job-search Web site 51job.com is seeing more university graduates and white-collar workers looking for lower-status jobs, said Feng Lijuan, the company’s chief career adviser.

“The decline of new jobs is an undisputable fact. Many multinationals stopped their campus recruiting last October,” she said.

While female professionals are turning to domestic work, China’s legions of unemployed male graduates don’t have that option and either remain out of work or settle for other less-desirable jobs, such as restaurant or retail work. Cong said her agency has yet to receive an application from a man.

Xiong was trying to stay upbeat while she trained at Cong’s agency, where maids practiced their skills in a large kitchen and a model luxury apartment with a bedroom and bathroom. Xiong tried to clean the window with the squeegee three times with little success.

“I told a former classmate what I’m doing, and she said I shouldn’t look at it as housekeeping. She said what I'm really doing is managing a household and educating children,” said Xiong, who graduated from Central South University of Technology in the southern city of Changsha.

Xiong’s face lit up when she talked about her previous job at a company that made metal parts for machinery, which she said paid 3,000 yuan ($440) a month, including housing and food. She said she corresponded with customers all over the world with instant messages and e-mails written in English.

But then the company got slammed by the global crisis, and she was laid off in January, just a few weeks after her wedding. Unable to find another office job, she replied to an Internet ad for nannies.

“I still like office work. It’s all I ever wanted to do,” she said. (end)

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