The Unshackling of Education: A Story of Unconventional Success in China

Alex Lew, CFA
3 min readMay 16


I. Introduction

The tale of a Zhengzhou University graduate turning to the scrap trade and achieving financial freedom has sparked a lively debate in China. In an era where a degree from a prestigious university is often seen as a ticket to a high-flying career, this individual’s unconventional path has led many to question the role of education in one’s life and career choices.

The case of this young entrepreneur, who left the monotony of traditional work to embrace a more hands-on occupation, resonates with the recent surge of interest in “Kong Yiji literature”. This literary trend, inspired by a character in a short story by Lu Xun, highlights the plight of intellectuals who struggle to find their place in a rapidly changing society. In this context, “A degree is not only a stepping stone but also an unremovable gown” has garnered considerable empathy among young Chinese people, who increasingly identify with Kong Yiji’s predicament.

II. Questioning the Limitations of Higher Education

This unconventional success story raises the question: does pursuing higher education ultimately limit one’s life and career choices? Can those without a prestigious degree pursue any profession without fear of judgment? While some argue that having highly educated individuals perform menial work is a waste of societal resources and that years of education should not be squandered, others view the graduate’s choice as an opportunity to break free from the traditional shackles of higher education.

III. Disillusionment with the Value of Higher Education

The Chinese job market has long been characterized by fierce competition and an emphasis on academic credentials. Many young people feel compelled to conform to societal expectations and pursue higher education in this environment. However, the recent rise in underemployment and a growing number of university graduates taking on lower-skilled jobs has led to increasing disillusionment with the value of higher education.

Data from 2020 First Half-Year Meituan Delivery Rider Employment Report

IV. Challenging Conventional Beliefs

In light of these trends, more and more young Chinese people are questioning whether a degree should determine their career paths. For instance, some college graduates have opted for careers in housekeeping, food delivery, or street vending. These unconventional choices challenge the long-held belief that a high level of education should automatically lead to a prestigious job.

Pursuing a “low-end” job may be seen as a form of rebellion against the societal norms and expectations associated with higher education. By embracing alternative career paths, these individuals assert their independence and challenge the idea that academic achievements should determine one’s worth.

V. Acknowledging Individual Suitability and Choice

However, it is essential to acknowledge that these alternative career paths are unsuitable for everyone. Some individuals may find fulfilment in traditional, academically oriented careers, while others may thrive in hands-on roles. The key is to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and everyone should be free to pursue the path that best suits their interests and abilities.

VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, the story of the Zhengzhou University graduate who achieved financial freedom through the scrap trade challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding education and career choices in China. By embracing a non-traditional path, this individual has sparked a debate about the role of education in society and encouraged others to consider alternative career options. As China’s job market continues to evolve, it is crucial to recognize the importance of individual choice and the diverse range of opportunities available to young people, regardless of their educational background.


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“大学生送外卖每天60单月薪过万” , Sina, 2 Mar 2023,

“新华视点:500名大学生卖猪肉是喜还是忧”, News Daily, 2 Feb 2013,



Alex Lew, CFA