Bin WU

College graduates employed by rural villages have been named cunguan, for the Chinese words meaning “village” and “manager.” The program is designed to alleviate high unemployment of urban college graduates and to aid in rural development and sustainability. The cunguan program has some features in common with the relocation of urban youth to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

Cunguan is a new term that describes college graduates who are employed by the Chinese government to help organize villages and provide various services and support to village members. College graduates and the Chinese government have a common interest in the cunguan post: the former needs it to secure employment while the latter hope it will enhance rural community organizations.

Creation of Cunguan Program

The cunguan program in rural China is designed to meet two needs in Chinese society. First, tens of thousands of recent Chinese college graduates have failed to find a suitable job in urban China. This is a result of the expansion of China’s higher education sector since 1999, creating more graduates, and China’s economic downturn that began in 2008, creating fewer jobs. This job scarcity affects not just the college graduates, but their parents as well. Parents have invested in their children’s education; with no social security as a safety net, they depend on their children to support them in their old age. Many college graduates have to take low-paying or unskilled work to avoid unemployment. A three-year contract as a cunguan can be an attractive alternative: it can provide the post holder with a reasonable salary in a government job, recognized work experience, and potentially a leg up for future civil service work.

Second, there is a need for new knowledge, skills, and leadership in rural communities to cope with the stagnation and decline of rural economic and social development. As village leaders in China are getting older (most are now over fifty years old), the Chinese government hopes that cunguan will bring new momentum and innovative ideas into rural societies. Chinese officials say that having well-educated graduates work at village-level government positions is a Communist Party strategy to implement the “scientific outlook” on development and accelerate the creation of a new socialist countryside.

Jiangsu Province hired the first cunguan in 1995. Since then, more and more local authorities have become interested in the program; by 2005, seventeen provincial governments had put it into practice. In 2008, the central government made a decision to recruit over 100,000 cunguan nationwide. If the program grows as planned, there could be 600,000 new jobs, one cunguan per village, by 2018. Chinese vice president Xi Jinping has said the country urgently needs more grassroots officials who can lead farmers to get rich and make the countryside more stable.

Cunguan and Zhiqing

As a national strategy for the career development of young people, the cunguan phenomenon resembles the policy of zhiqing (“reeducated youth”) during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when millions of urban graduates from high or middle schools were sent to the countryside to work and live with rural residents. Both cunguan and zhiqing provided relief from urban unemployment, and both resulted in migration from urban to rural areas, giving the urban youth knowledge and experience of rural life.

Although both programs were described as ways to “drive socialism,” there are many differences between the two programs. Cunguan are expected to help with rural development: Their knowledge and education should benefit rural communities through regulation and policy dissemination, project planning, community information, agricultural extension, or public relations, for example. The cunguan program is voluntary and often highly competitive; it is an alternative to unemployment or poor-paying, menial urban jobs. Cunguan are rewarded: They are paid a salary; other expected benefits may be the chance to be recruited or promoted as civil servants later or a residence permit for an urban area. In any case, they may make the choice to leave the countryside after their contract ends. Zhiqing, on the other hand, were expected to learn from the rural populace by doing rural work; their formal education was a detriment, not a plus. Zhiqing were often forced to relocate; neither they nor their parents had a choice. They were certainly not paid by the government, but were expected to earn a basic living working beside village natives. Zhiqing had little chance of promotion or leaving the countryside.


Opinions differ as to the lasting value of the cunguan program. Supporters of the government policy say it provides a unique opportunity for college graduates to gain life experience and learn about the complexity of the rural reality. Those in favor also believe graduates with cunguan experience will have greater chances for career development than those without it. Villages, especially poorer ones, are optimistic that the cunguans will help them. For example, Internet-savvy grads can help promote village products to online customers. Others, however, have doubts about the effectiveness of the program. It is very difficult for cunguan to gain the trust of rural residents unless they can prove their commitment to village members. Some village leaders, proud of their village and their work, believe the village needs no further improvement.

It is too early to predict the long term impact of the cunguan program. Cunguan are expected to mediate between local government and village members in order to deliver governmental services. This dual nature of the cunguan post will make it difficult for them to balance the different roles of villager and officer, and different interests and needs of farmers and governments.

Further Reading

Bin Wu. (2008). Cunguan: A national strategy to promote university graduates working in the countryside. University of Nottingham China Policy Blog. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

Cunguan Forum For University Students. (2001–2008). Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

Cunguan Network of University Students. (2009). Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

University Cunguan Net. (2007). Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

Fan, M. (2009, January 30). China’s Solution for unemployed college grads: State jobs in the boonies. The Washington Post, p. A8.

Source: Wu, Bin. (2009). Cunguan. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 545–546. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Cunguan (C?n gu?n ??)|C?n gu?n ?? (Cunguan)

Download the PDF of this article