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中国经济

China’s shrinking cities: ‘Most of my classmates have left’
人口外流下中国东北的“萎缩城市”

困扰东北地区的种种问题,反映了中国在试图从中等收入国家发展为发达国家的过程中,将要面临的更广泛挑战。

As a young woman in one of China’s most economically stagnant cities, Ma Yingge has adopted what she calls a “Buddhist” attitude. The word she uses, foxi, literally means Buddhist, but has recently been embraced by young people to express a “generalised attitude of apathy toward career, society and even themselves”, according to China’s (disapproving) state media.

齐齐哈尔,中国经济最滞后的城市之一,年轻姑娘马莺阁以一种她称为“佛系”的态度在这里生活。她所用的这个词字面意义上指信佛教,但最近被年轻人用来表达一种——按照中国官媒(不满)的说法——“怎么都行、不大走心、看淡一切的活法”。

Ma explains that the expression means “not forcing anything”. “My character is like that,” she says. “I don’t set my goals too high. That would be tiring.”

马莺阁解释说“佛系”意味着“对任何事物都不强求”。她说:“我个性就是这样。我没把目标定得太高,这样太累。”

The attitude is a helpful one in China’s north-east, also known as Manchuria, a region of 100 million people that is squeezed between North Korea, Inner Mongolia, Russia and Japan.

生活在中国东北地区,这样的态度有好处。这个有1亿人口的地区夹在朝鲜、内蒙古、俄罗斯和日本中间。

While China enjoys a reputation for world-beating economic growth, Ma’s home city, Qiqihar, and dozens of others like it in the north-east have seen growth slow to a trickle and in a few cases experienced outright recession.

虽然中国以领先世界的经济增长速度而闻名,但马莺阁的家乡齐齐哈尔以及东北其他几十座类似城市的经济增长已停滞不前,有几座城市甚至出现了衰退。

The downturn is more painful as the north-east was the country’s wealthiest area from the 1950s to the 1970s. China’s then-leader Mao Zedong channelled resources into a programme of rapid industrialisation that built on a legacy of factories left behind by the Japanese empire, which had annexed the region in the 1930s.

经济衰退在东北尤为令人痛苦,因为从20世纪50年代至70年代,这里曾是中国最富裕的地区。中国当时的领导人毛泽东向该地区投入大量资源,计划利用日本人留下的工厂实现快速工业化。日本曾于20世纪30年代吞并东北地区。

From the early 2000s, nationwide infrastructure and property investment allowed heavy industry to expand and produced strong growth, a process intensified by a massive government stimulus following the global financial crisis in 2008.

从2000年代初开始,全中国范围内的基础设施和房地产投资令重工业得到扩张并实现强劲增长。2008年全球金融危机后,在政府大规模刺激下,这一进程得到了进一步加强。

But by 2015 even official statistics — widely thought to exaggerate the country’s performance — showed growth below 5 per cent in the north-east. One of the region’s three provinces experienced a 1 per cent contraction, virtually unheard of in contemporary China.

但到了2015年,连官方统计数据都显示东北地区经济增速不到5%,而外界普遍认为官方数据有所夸大。东三省中一个省份还出现了1%的萎缩,这在当代中国几乎闻所未闻。

The problems afflicting the region — unproductive companies, weakening consumer demand and overinvestment in heavy industry — reflect challenges China will face more broadly as it attempts to make the transition from middle-income to developed-country status.

困扰东北地区的问题包括企业效益低、消费者需求减弱,以及重工业过度投资。这些问题反映了中国在试图从中等收入国家发展为发达国家的过程中,将要面临的更广泛挑战。

Corruption is another issue. The ties between officials and state-run companies which emerged in the planned-economy era mean the north-east enjoys an almost unparalleled reputation for graft, deterring private investment.

腐败也是个问题。计划经济时代形成的官员与国企的关系,意味着东北地区在贪污腐败方面的名声几乎登峰造极,让私人资本不敢来投资。

Qiqihar in turn is a microcosm of the region’s shifting fortunes. It was given its melodious name by one of the nomadic groups that accounted for most of the north-east’s sparse population until the 19th century, when tens of millions migrated from poverty-stricken areas elsewhere in China, attracted by fertile soil and burgeoning industries. Now, though, the direction of travel has reversed.

齐齐哈尔就像是东北地区命运波折的一个缩影。19世纪时,受东北地区肥沃的土壤和新兴产业的吸引,数百万人从中国其他贫困地区迁移至此。在那之前,东北地区人口稀疏,主要人口为各个游牧民族,齐齐哈尔这个动听的名字就是其中一个游牧民族起的。但现在,人口迁徙方向已发生逆转。

The city was hit hard in the regional downturn, its economic growth rate falling to 2 per cent a year from 2013 to 2017, barely above inflation (and compared to a national average of 7 per cent). That has prompted an exodus of young people. Like many north-easterners, they are now found across China working in service jobs such as food delivery. Since 2014, Qiqihar’s population has dropped from 5.5 million to 5.3 million.

随着东北经济衰退,齐齐哈尔市也遭受重创,2013年到2017年该市经济年增速降至2%,仅略高于通胀率,而全国平均经济增速为7%。这促使大批年轻人外流。与许多东北人一样,齐齐哈尔的年轻人如今在全国各地从事送餐等服务工作。自2014年以来,齐齐哈尔的人口从550万减少到530万。

“Most of my classmates have left to look for higher incomes. Many won’t return,” says Ma, who works as a nurse. We are sitting in a Qiqihar restaurant, chatting over a plate of juicy grilled pork — typical warming fare in a place where winter temperatures are often around -20C.

马莺阁是一名护士,她说:“我的同学大多数都去外地找收入更高的工作了。许多人都不会回来了。”我们坐在齐齐哈尔一家餐馆聊天,桌上摆着一盘美味的炖猪肉。这里冬季气温通常在零下20℃左右,这是当地一道典型的热乎菜。

Despite the received wisdom about China’s inexorable urbanisation, the country now has more than 900 cities that are shrinking like Qiqihar, most of them in the north-east.

尽管人们公认中国的城市化势头不可阻挡,但全中国现在有900多个城市跟齐齐哈尔一样在萎缩,这些城市绝大部分都在东北。

The demographic consequences, in the form of an increasingly elderly population, offer another preview of tomorrow’s China. As the birth rate continues to fall — in spite of the abandonment of the “one-child” policy — Beijing predicts that the country’s population will peak by 2030, pushing the proportion of young people into rapid decline.

而另一方面,人口日益老龄化从另一个方面预示了未来中国的面貌。尽管中国取消了“独生子女”政策,但出生率仍持续下降,北京预测中国人口将在2030年见顶,推动年轻人的比例迅速下降。

Such demographic shifts are making themselves felt in the property market, another area where the north-east may hold out a warning for the rest of China.

这种人口结构变化正在房地产市场中体现出来,这是东北地区可能为中国其他地区提供警示作用的另一个地方。

In Qiqihar, investment in property — a pillar of economic activity — began to fall in 2015 as the population diminished and a surplus of houses became apparent. Nationwide, property sales are believed to have reached a historic peak last year. Since investment chases those sales, economists believe housing will dwindle as a source of growth for upstream industries from steel to cement.

在齐齐哈尔,随着人口减少、房屋变得明显过剩,房地产投资——经济活动的支柱——在2015年开始下降。在全中国范围内,房地产销售据信去年已达历史最高点。由于投资追逐房地产销售,经济学家认为住房对钢铁、水泥等上游行业增长的拉动作用将日益缩小。

If a team of economists were tasked with finding an example of the problems afflicting China’s economy, they could not do much better than Qiqihar’s Fularji district. Home to about 300,000 people, in recent decades it has had a near-total dependence on four state-owned companies.

如果一组经济学家被委任寻找一个反映困扰中国经济的种种问题的例子,没有哪儿比齐齐哈尔市富拉尔基区更典型了。该辖区有大约30万人口,几十年来几乎完全依赖四家国有企业。

Chief among them was China First Heavy, a steelmaker and machinery manufacturer founded in 1954 as part of China’s first “five year plan”. A 10m-tall stainless-steel statue of Mao Zedong — the largest statue of him anywhere in China, weighing more than 33 tons — still stands at the entrance to its vast factory.

其中最主要的是中国一重(China First Heavy Industries),这是一家钢铁和机械制造厂,成立于1954年,属于中国第一个“五年计划”。工厂占地广阔,厂门口依然矗立着一座10米高的不锈钢毛泽东塑像,这是全中国最大的毛泽东塑像,重逾33吨 。

In the early 2000s, the company’s ambitious chairman encouraged a massive debt-funded expansion of production. As demand for its products surged, wages soared, tripling to Rmb6,000 (£688) a month — above the national average — in the decade to 2012, say staff.

2000年代初,中国一重的董事长满怀雄心地鼓励大规模举债以扩大生产。据工人表示,随着对该厂产品的需求激增,在截至2012年的十年间,工人的工资涨了两倍,至每月6000元人民币,高于全国平均水平。

The district’s other large enterprises — a steel plant, a chemical factory and a coal-fired power station — also flourished. Car ownership, once a rarity, became commonplace. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened an outlet in 2008.

该地区的其他几家大型企业——一家钢铁厂、一家化工厂和一家火电厂——当时也蓬勃发展。原本是稀罕物的小汽车当时变得司空见惯了。2008年,肯德基(KFC)在这里开了一家分店。

Then in 2014, the recession arrived. A nationwide glut of steel production, which had more than trebled in a decade, and a cyclical downturn in the property market tipped steel prices so low that some varieties became as cheap as cabbage.

然后在2014年,经济衰退来了。全中国的钢铁产量十年内增长超过两倍,供应远远超过了需求,而房地产市场出现的周期性下滑使得钢材价格大幅下跌,以至于一些品种变得和白菜一样便宜。

China First Heavy’s chairman, Wu Fusheng, was forced to cut wages and began the difficult task of laying off management.

中国一重董事长吴生富被迫降薪,开始了裁减管理层的艰巨任务。

According to Stefan Schwaab, a German who Wu hired to be the company’s first foreign board member, the company cut wages for nearly all staff by 30 to 40 per cent from 2014 levels. “They started with top management. Later on they expanded it to the workers,” he says. “Many had no choice than finding another job to survive.”

斯特凡•施瓦布(Stefan Schwaab)是被吴生富聘请的第一位外国董事,据他说,当时该公司几乎所有员工的工资跟2014年的水平相比都降低了30%至40%。他表示,“降薪从最高层管理人员开始。后来扩展到工人。许多人别无选择,只能找另一份工作来维持生活。”

Soon after, two of the other four pillars of industry in Qiqihar collapsed.

不久之后,齐齐哈尔其他4个工业支柱中的两个倒塌了。

Beiman, the steel plant, defaulted on a series of bonds and was declared bankrupt by a local court, with Rmb7.3bn in liabilities. The chemical plant also went under — the site is now overgrown with weeds — while the electricity plant laid off hundreds of staff.

齐齐哈尔的钢铁厂北满(Beiman)发行的一系列债券出现违约,并被当地法院宣告破产,还欠下了73亿元人民币负债。该市的化工厂也破产了——如今厂内现场杂草丛生——而电厂解雇了数百名员工。

Those years saw unrest throughout the north-east. In the city of Shuangyashan, almost entirely dependent on a single coal mine, thousands of locals filled the streets for days in 2016, demanding unpaid wages.

这些年来整个东北都动荡不安。2016年,在经济几乎完全依赖一个煤矿的双鸭山市,数千名当地人连续几天走上街头抗议,要求支付欠发的工资。

The previous year in Qiqihar, according to several of the participants, workers gathered outside the gates of China First Heavy to demand assurances that they would receive their pensions. As officials sought to allay their fears, police detained dozens of workers before the protests ended, say locals. Later that year Wu took his own life.

根据一些参与者的说法,前一年在齐齐哈尔,工人聚集在中国一重门外,要求获得他们会领取到养老金的保证。当地人说,在官员试图消除他们的担忧之际,警察在抗议活动结束前拘留了数十名工人。当年晚些时候,吴生富自杀了。

More than three years on, Fularji’s streets are filled with empty shops and offices. Apartment blocks are mainly old and visibly crumbling. The only businesses displaying recruitment signs are those that cater to the elderly, selling wheelchairs and hearing aids.

三年多来,富拉尔基的街道上到处都是空荡荡的商店和办公室。公寓楼大多是旧的,而且明显破败不堪。唯一挂出招聘牌子的企业是那些迎合老年人、销售轮椅和助听器的企业。

Perhaps it’s not surprising that financiers in Beijing and Shanghai joke that “investment does not go north of the Shanhai Pass” — the final outpost of the Great Wall that once separated Chinese civilisation from the barbarian hordes of the north-east.

北京和上海的金融家们开玩笑地说“投资不过山海关”,这也许并不令人意外——山海关是长城的最后一个前哨,长城曾经将中华文明与东北部蛮族的世界隔开。

Qiqihar is a long way north of that cut-off point. Yet, while its economic woes offer a worrying portent for China’s leaders, there are signs of hope as well. Ma may not have the aspirations that her factory-worker parents once had, but she is not alone among her peers in seeing her future here rather than elsewhere in the country.

齐齐哈尔位于山海关以北很远的地方。然而,尽管其经济困境对中国领导人来说是一个令人担忧的预兆,但也有希望的迹象。马莺阁可能没有她在工厂当工人的父母曾经拥有的那种远大志向,但她在同龄人当中并不孤单——很多人都认为未来在这里而不是在中国其他地方。

Across the district, posters outlined in pink stand out. “Wives, mothers, artists, your opportunity is here,” they read, promising monthly incomes above Rmb10,000 for “live streamers”.

在杭州打工的齐齐哈尔人坐火车返回老家过春节

The company behind them is called MV Media, whose founder, 29-year-old Liu Junzhe, has sunk Rmb300,000 into the business of training locals how to do live streaming, in return for a cut of their earnings.

随处可见的粉红色海报引人注目。上面写着,“妻子、母亲、艺术家,你的机会在这里”,并承诺“直播”工作可以获得每月超过1万元的收入。

About a billion gigabytes of data were transmitted through China’s mobile-phone networks in 2013. By last year, that figure had risen by a factor of more than 25.

海报背后的公司是润禾文化传媒(MV Media),其创始人是29岁的刘俊哲,他拿出30万元人民币来培训当地人如何做直播,回报是从他们的直播收入中分成。

A considerable chunk of that data is used to stream videos. Platforms where hosts — mainly young women — sit in front of webcams, singing and chatting with fans, have more than 400 million users, creating an industry worth billions of dollars.

2013年,中国的移动电话网络传输了大约10亿千兆字节(GB)的数据。到去年,这一数字增至原先的25倍以上。

China’s north-east has found an unlikely comparative advantage in live streaming. For years, its state-owned enterprises sponsored performing arts troupes; the brand of working-class humour, direct and sometimes crude, that flourished within them has found nationwide appeal. The region’s Mandarin dialect is also intelligible across the country, yet distinctive enough to be found amusing.

其中相当大一部分数据用于视频流传输。平台主播(主要是年轻女性)坐在网络摄像头前,与粉丝们一起唱歌和聊天,这些平台拥有超过4亿用户,创造了一个价值数十亿美元的行业。

“The economic conditions here are not good, other industries are struggling,” Liu says. “But we are doing well. This is something north-easterners are good at. Live streaming can help solve some of our economic problems.”

中国东北地区在直播中找到了一个令人意想不到的比较优势。多年来,该地区的国有企业为表演艺术团提供赞助;在他们内部蓬勃发展的那种直率、有时粗俗的工人阶级幽默在全中国都很受欢迎。东北普通话也能让中国各地的人们听得懂,同时它的特有腔调又让人觉得有趣。

MV’s office corridors lead to small booths Liu has installed for his 30 recruits. All are equipped with computers, webcams and a device that can produce sound effects such as applause on demand.

困扰东北地区的问题包括企业效益低、消费者需求减弱,以及重工业过度投资。

The sound of singing wafts softly out of the booths. China’s “Buddhist” youth are a perfect audience, he says. “Nowadays young people pursue fleeting happiness. We are happy for a moment and then it’s gone,” he adds.

刘俊哲表示:“这里的经济状况并不好,其他行业经营困难。但我们做得很好。这是东北人擅长做的事情。直播可以帮助解决我们的一些经济问题。”

Newly created jobs in the service industry point to one reason unrest has been limited in Fularji. “There are plenty of retail opportunities,” says Wu Yue, 25, a woman who uses video apps to promote her clothing shop.

润禾传媒的办公室走廊通向刘俊哲为新招募的30名主播设置的一个个小隔间。所有隔间都配有电脑、网络摄像头以及一款可根据需要发出鼓掌声等音效的设备。

A form of urbanisation is still happening here: as the more educated young people move elsewhere, many people from the district’s rural fringe, raised by farming parents, are now entering the city, often with high-school or college educations.

悠扬的歌声从隔间里飘出来。他说,中国的“佛系”青年是最理想的观众群体。他补充道:“如今,年轻人追求的是转瞬即逝的幸福感。我们这一刻开心就够了,管它以后怎么样。”

“People’s consciousness is changing,” says Wu, who made this journey herself. “Before, rural families wouldn’t encourage their children to study beyond the basics.”

富拉尔基的动荡没有扩大的一个原因,就在于服务业创造了新的就业机会。“这里干零售有很多机会”,25岁的吴月说,她利用多款视频app为自己的服装店做宣传。

It is not only attitudes to education that are shifting. Young people want work that expresses their values and interests: they are reluctant to work in the industries their parents relied on. “My parents just wanted to work in the factory and that was it. That was the style of thought in Mao’s era,” says a local called Qiu Zhe. “Young people’s values are different.”

这里仍在进行着某种形式的城市化:随着越来越多受过良好教育(通常为高中或大学教育)的年轻人迁至别处,许多来自本区外围的农村地区、由务农的父母抚养长大的年轻人如今正在涌入城市。

In a recently opened café where a miniature Mao statue is displayed as just another curiosity in a cabinet of kitsch antiques, Qiu explains he has one foot in the old and new economies.

“人们的意识正在发生变化,”独自出来闯荡的吴月说,“以前,农村家庭不会鼓励子女在完成基础学业后继续上学。”

By night, he works shifts at First Heavy. By day, he is one half of the district’s first drone photography team, having taught himself how to fly a drone using online videos. He takes out his smartphone and shows videos of weddings and local sports events he has been hired to film at weekends.

发生变化的不仅仅是对于教育的态度。年轻人希望从事一份能表达自己的价值观和兴趣的工作:他们不愿意到父母曾经赖以为生的行业工作。“我爸妈只想到工厂干活。那是毛泽东时代的思维方式,”本地人哲丠(音译)说,“年轻人的价值观不一样了。”

The business is “ahead of its time”, he says, and has yet to generate enough to support him. But it is sufficiently promising to keep him in the city: “If I didn’t have good projects, then I would leave too.”

在一家新近开业的咖啡馆——店里摆满俗气古玩的柜子里摆放着一尊微型毛泽东塑像,仿佛它跟其他摆件没什么不同——哲丠解释说,他一只脚留在旧经济里,一只脚已经踩上新经济。

Last autumn, neon signs reading “New Era”, a slogan of China’s President Xi Jinping, began to appear on the road to Fularji from Qiqihar. One morning in September, businesses in the town centre were ordered to close. Residents could be certain that Xi had visited only later that evening, when he appeared on state television’s flagship news programme touring China First Heavy.

晚上,他在中国一重上夜班。白天,他是本区首个无人机摄影团队的一员,利用在线视频自学了如何操控无人机。他掏出智能手机,展示了婚礼和本地体育赛事的视频,这些视频是他在周末受雇拍摄的。

It was the first time a Communist party general secretary — the heir of Mao — had visited in a generation.

他表示,这项业务“超前于时代”,赚到的钱还不足以维生。但它提供的前景足以让他留在这座城市:“如果我没有好的项目,那我也会离开。”

Clad in a black windbreaker, Xi was shown preaching to factory employees about the role of domestic industry in “self-reliance”. Visits by top Chinese leaders are mainly read for their symbolism, and the message was clear: state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were still at the centre of the government’s economic strategy as it faced a trade war with the US.

去年秋天,印着中国国家主席习近平“新时代”口号的霓虹标语,开始出现在从齐齐哈尔到富拉尔基的公路上。九月的一个上午,市中心的商户被勒令暂停营业。直到当天晚上习近平视察中国一重的画面出现在央视《新闻联播》上,当地居民才确定习近平来过了。

“For the first time the leaders sided with the local leaders who are less willing to promote the selling off of SOEs that don’t work,” says Nathan Attrill, a researcher at the Australian National University who studies the north-east. “Xi is less concerned about some privatisation or attracting foreign investment.”

这是一代人时间以来中共中央总书记首次视察这里。

Large-scale privatisations of state-owned companies in the north-east led to millions of lay-offs in the 1990s, but helped lay the foundation for the decade of growth that followed.

新闻画面中,习近平身穿黑色夹克,向中国一重的员工强调国内制造业对于实现“自力更生”的重要性。对中国高层领导人视察活动的解读主要考虑其象征意义,传递出的信息很明确:面对与美国的贸易战,国有企业仍处于政府经济战略的核心。

Even so, the Communist party is unlikely to repeat the policy, particularly after a 2009 incident in Tonghua, when thousands rioted and the head of a state-owned steel plant who had proposed selling the company to private investors was beaten to death.

澳大利亚国立大学(Australian National University)研究中国东北地区的研究员周雷森(Nathan Attrill)表示:“中国领导人第一次站在了地方领导一边,这些地方领导不愿推动出售撑不下去的国有企业。习近平不那么关心私有化或吸引外国投资。”

Some observers believe that the reluctance to make far-reaching reforms will doom the north-east to stagnation. But, often piecemeal and quietly, difficult choices have been made by state-owned companies. The cuts made at First Heavy helped stabilise the company, and wages have risen again in recent years, according to Qiu.

上世纪90年代,东北地区国有企业的大规模私有化曾导致数百万工人下岗,但为随后10年的增长奠定了基础。

Beijing has pushed hard to close excess capacity in coal and steel, depriving more than a million people of jobs, while boosting profits for the companies that remain. There has even been some privatisation — as part of its debt restructuring, Fularji’s steel plant was acquired by a private company from eastern China.

即便如此,中共也不太可能重推这一政策,尤其是2009年吉林省通化市爆发“通钢事件”之后。当时,数千名工人包围了国企通化钢铁集团,之前曾提议将通钢出售给私人投资者的通钢负责人被群殴致死。

Last year, recruitment notices began to appear online: the plant was hiring again with monthly salaries for technical staff of Rmb12,000 — more than twice the national average.

一些观察家认为,拒绝进行深入改革将让东北地区陷入停滞状态。但各国企还是做出了一些艰难的选择,通常是零敲碎打地、静悄悄地。据哲丠介绍,中国一重当年的降薪帮助稳定了企业,近年来工资又涨上来了。

Similar stories are found across the region, and official figures show growth beginning to converge with coastal China. How sustainable this is remains debatable — the district received a tailwind from another round of stimulus introduced in 2015 — but, for many young people in the region, life is looking more positive than it did a few years ago.

中国政府一直在努力推动削减煤炭和钢铁的过剩产能,导致逾一百万人失业,同时提高了行业中剩余企业的利润。在债务重组的过程中,甚至还有一些企业被私有化了,富拉尔基区那家钢铁厂就被一家民营企业收购了。

What is certain is that their ability to forge a better future is a litmus test for the country as it seeks to develop in decades to come.

去年,网上出现了这家工厂的招聘启事:该厂又在招聘技工了,月薪1.2万元人民币,是全国平均水平的两倍以上。

In a village an hour’s drive from Fularji, Zhang Long, surrounded by cornfields, is carrying out repairs on his Lamborghini — or what there is of it.

这样的事在整个东北地区都能看见,官方数据也显示经济增速开始与中国沿海地区趋同。虽然这能持续多久仍然没有定论——2015年推出的又一轮刺激计划给东北地区带来一股顺风——但对东北许多年轻人来说,生活比几年前看起来更有希望了。

The 30-year-old is building the car, an imitation of the Italian original, entirely on his own and has so far finished only the chassis. He estimates it will cost Rmb100,000 to complete — a process he is sharing with 570,000 fans on Kuaishou, a streaming platform.

可以肯定的是,他们能否建立更美好的未来,在中国试图在未来几十年实现发展之际对其是一块试金石。

“I was inspired by the Fast and Furious movies. I’ve seen all of them,” he explains. In Qiqihar, about a third of the population — some 1.5 million people — use the platform every month, but Zhang claims to have fans as far afield as South Korea and the US.

在距离富拉尔基区一小时车程的一座村庄的玉米地中央,张龙正在维修他的“兰博基尼”(Lamborghini)——姑且这么叫吧。

After leaving school at 15, Zhang moved to Beijing and trained as a mechanic, eventually setting up a vehicle repair shop with some friends. Moving back to his home village to look after his father, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, he now plans to stay — moving to its urban centre to open another repair shop, bringing skills learnt in the capital back to the provinces.

30岁的张龙正在依照意大利兰博基尼的式样,完全凭自己手工打造这辆车,目前只完成了底盘部分。他估计全部成本将为10万元人民币。他在流媒体平台快手(Kuaishou)上与57万粉丝分享整个制造过程。

His family’s patch of land will be rented out to a large-scale agribusiness, he says. “Farming is boring. Young people want to see the world and don’t want to do that kind of physical labour.”

他说:“《速度与激情》(Fast and Furious)启发了我。这系列电影我每部都看过。”在齐齐哈尔,大约有三分之一的人(约150万人)每月都会使用快手,但张龙说远至韩国和美国都有他的粉丝。

Ma, too, is attracting attention online. She began performing short comic skits, uploading the videos to Kuaishou. “My fans tell me I have a heavy north-east accent. People are interested in that,” she says.

张龙15岁离开学校,随后到北京学习做机械师,最终跟几个朋友开了一家汽车维修店。2016年他的父亲被诊断出癌症,他回到老家村里照顾父亲,现在他打算留在齐齐哈尔,在市中心再开一家维修店,把他在首都学到的技能带回东北。

The additional income has allowed Ma to remain in Qiqihar, close to her parents, who at first found her side career barely intelligible.

他说会把家里的土地租给大型农业企业。“种地很无聊。年轻人想要看世界,不想干这种体力活。”

The videos, featuring the tomboyish Ma making jokes (sample: “The first time I went to the cinema I bought four tickets because the attendant kept ripping them up”), have amassed nearly two million fans. Gifts she receives through the platform can earn her the equivalent of her Rmb4,000 salary each month, which she spends on trips to local ski resorts and hot springs.

马莺阁也在网上引起了关注。她开始表演喜剧小品,将视频上传到快手。她说:“我粉丝告诉我,我说话有很浓的东北味儿。大家喜欢听这个。”

Friends and family have encouraged her to seek a career outside Qiqihar, but she is set on remaining. “Leaving also carries risk. Everyone wants to be successful, but you could fail,” she says as we finish our meal. “So I stay.”

这笔外快让马莺阁能继续留在齐齐哈尔,待在父母身边。一开始她父母几乎无法理解她的这一副业。

“As an only child I think it’s better to be beside my parents,” she adds, before setting off in her Toyota SUV — also a live-streaming-funded purchase. “There is less pressure here than in big cities. I feel good.”

在这些视频里,马莺阁主要以女汉子的形象在讲笑话,比如:“我第一次去电影院买了四张票,因为验票员每次总是把我的票撕了。”她已经积累了近200万粉丝。她在快手上通过收礼物赚的钱相当于月薪4000元人民币,她把这笔钱用来去当地滑雪场和温泉旅游。

Tom Hancock is the FT’s China consumer and leisure correspondent

朋友和家人一直鼓励她去外地找工作,但她决心留下来。“离开也有风险。人人都想成功,但你可能会失败。”我们吃完饭时她说,“所以我选择留下来。”

马莺阁说:“作为一名独生子女,我觉得最好跟父母待在一起。”说完她启动了她的丰田(Toyota) SUV,这辆车也是用做直播赚的钱买的。“这儿的压力比大城市小。我觉得很好。”

译者/何黎

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