Wage decline in China short-term phenomenon; employment market to maintain stability in 2024: experts

Chinese experts said on Friday that a decline in wages offered to Chinese workers in the fourth quarter of 2023 is a short-term phenomenon amid enterprises recovering profits, and expressed optimism over stable employment and residential incomes in 2024, in response to some Western media reports that said wages offered to Chinese workers in major cities saw the largest decline on record last quarter.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that average salaries offered by companies to new hires in 38 key Chinese cities stood at 10,420 yuan ($1,458) in the fourth quarter of 2023, down 1.3 percent year-on-year, the worst drop since at least 2016, citing data from Chinese job-hunting platform Zhili-an Zhaopin.

“Wage decline in some industries is a short-term phenomenon as companies’ profits are recovering. However, we should note that some industries representing the country’s new productive forces have shown continuous salary increases,” Cong Yi, a professor at the Tianjin School of Administration, told the Global Times on Friday.

According to a report Zhilian Zhaopin sent to the Global Times on Friday, wages in the country’s new energy and electricity industries reached 11,840 yuan in the fourth quarter, up 3.3 percent year-on-year over the period, as enterprises accelerate talent hiring for expansion.

Along with continuous services and consumption recovery, wages offered to new hiring in the hospitality and catering industry rose by 2.4 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter, while the transport industry reported 1.5 percent growth, showed the report.

The statistics illustrate that although the country’s employment pressure persists, some structural changes have emerged, with new economy, new energy and advanced manufacturing industries reporting increases in both wages and hiring scale, Li Chang’an, a professor at the Academy of China Open Economy Studies of the University of International Business and Economics, told Global Times on Friday.

Cong expressed optimism for a stable employment market and income growth in the country in 2024, given the sound performance of the country’s private economy and a flurry of targeted policies rolled out to bolster the economy.

China’s private Caixin Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) set a new high in four months to 50.8 in December 2023, indicating a sustained recovery in the nation’s medium- and small-sized manufacturers.

As the nine tasks proposed during the Central Economic Work Conference held in December are being earnestly carried out, the country’s upward economic growth trend will be sustained, Cong said.

In order to stabilize the job market, Li underlined the importance of strengthening vocational training, optimizing recruitment services, and taking steps to ensure the stable employment of key groups.

China’s employment situation has registered a stable performance while consistently seeing improvement in 2023. In the first 11 months, the average surveyed urban unemployment rate came in at 5.2 percent, 0.4 percentage points lower year-on-year, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security recently issued a circular, pledging efforts to implement the strategy on developing a quality workforce and prioritizing employment, and providing large-scale skill training to migrant workers to increase their abilities for employment and entrepreneurship, domestic media outlet Thepaper.cn reported on Friday.

China’s reality show sparks cultural exchange enthusiasm with Saudi Arabia

In recent days, the youth-oriented travel reality show Divas Hit the Road Season V has been captivating audiences on Hunan TV and its online video platform Mango TV, igniting cultural enthusiasm for China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

This year marks the 10th anniversary of China’s proposed BRI. State-owned Hunan TV, the provincial satellite TV station of Central China’s Hunan Province, launched this program. Seven Chinese artists, including Qin Hailu, Qin Lan, Xin Zhilei, Dilraba Dilmurat, Zhao Zhaoyi, Wang Anyu, and Hu Xianxu, embark on a journey including Saudi Arabia, Croatia, and Iceland.

The show follows a “study-travel” format, offering a unique opportunity to share the stories of people along the Silk Road and strengthen cultural connections in a down-to-earth manner. Before the program’s premiere, multiple national tourism boards from Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Iceland, Britain, Australia, South Africa, and Spain posted hashtags related to the program to invite people to share their travel experiences and leave their marks as they journeyed along the way.

Meanwhile, the participating Chinese companies involved in Belt and Road cooperation projects, such as China Railway Construction and China Railway 18th Bureau Group, also joined hands with online users to collectively share the “China stories” along the Silk Road.

Starting from the Cultural Office of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Beijing, the program takes the “study-travel” approach. On one hand, it delves into essential sites along the Belt and Road, such as the China-built Peljesac bridge in Croatia, highlighting key projects and contributions made by Chinese companies. On the other hand, it offers a deep dive into local customs and traditions, fostering international friendships and making new acquaintances.

Since its debut on October 25, the show has encouraged viewers to learn Arabic, with many online users expressing their eagerness to experience Saudi Arabian cuisine and its stunning landscapes. Domestic travel platforms have witnessed a surge of 772% in searches related to “Saudi Arabia.”

Through the show’s engaging travel explorations, domestic audiences are taken into the lives of real families living along the Belt and Road, feeling the tangible improvements brought about by Chinese wisdom and contributions. Meeting international friends who love Chinese products, speak Chinese, and have a fondness for China in a foreign land has left the show’s participants touched and proud.

China’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chen Weiqing, posted a bilingual promotion of the show to global audiences, stating, China’s most popular variety show, Divas Hit the Road, has completed its filming in Saudi Arabia. Chinese artists have introduced the changes and developments in Saudi Arabia to the Chinese people.

The popularity of the show has not only captivated Chinese audiences but has also led to a surge in interest in the Silk Road and its cultures. Following the program’s broadcast, the search volume for terms like “Saudi” and “Saudi Arabia” on domestic travel platforms experienced a remarkable 772% increase.

As of now, the program has garnered over 2800+ trending mentions on domestic social media platforms, sparking widespread conversations.

Coconut crabs are a bird’s worst nightmare

Imagine you’re a red-footed booby napping on a not-quite-high-enough branch of a tree. It’s nighttime on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and you can’t see much of what’s around you. Then, out of the darkness comes a monster. Its claw grabs you, breaking bones and dragging you to the ground. You don’t realize it yet, but you’re doomed. The creature breaks more of your bones. You struggle, but it’s a fruitless effort. Soon the other monsters smell your blood and converge on your body, ripping it apart over the next few hours.

The monster in this horror-film scenario is a coconut crab, the world’s largest terrestrial invertebrate, which has a leg span wider than a meter and can weigh more than four kilograms.

But this is no page from a screenplay. Biologist Mark Laidre of Dartmouth University actually witnessed this scene in March 2016, during a two-month field expedition to study the crabs in the Chagos Archipelago.

Laidre, an expert on hermit crabs, had been “dying to study” their humongous cousins. Little is known about the crabs, he notes. A study earlier this year looked at the force a coconut crab’s claw can exert in the lab. But, he says, “there’s still not a single paper on how they open a coconut.”
He trekked to the remote spot in the Indian Ocean because he wanted to study the crabs in a place where few people would interfere with their natural behaviors. Laidre had heard stories that coconut crabs killed rats, and he later witnessed them munching on the rodents on the islands. “Clearly it’s in their repertoire to eat something big,” he says. And when he took inventory of the crabs’ burrows, he found the carcass of an almost full-grown red-footed booby in one. “At the time, I had assumed it was something that had died … and the crab had dragged in there,” he recalls.

But then, in the middle of the night, he saw a crab attack a bird sleeping in a tree, and he managed to catch part of the event on film. “I didn’t have the heart to videotape five coconut crabs tearing apart the bird later,” he says. “It was a little bit overwhelming. I had trouble sleeping that night.”
After the event, Laidre heard a story from a local plantation worker who had witnessed something similar a couple of years earlier. “He was sitting and eating a sandwich, and this coconut crab came right out its burrow in the middle of the daytime when … a red-footed booby… landed outside of its burrow,” Laidre says. The crab grabbed the bird’s leg and pulled it into the burrow. “The bird never emerged.”

It’s difficult to tell how often attacks like this happen, whether they’re rare or common. “Predation itself is something you don’t often witness,” Laidre says. He’d like to someday install camera traps on the islands to get a better sense of the crabs’ behavior.

But while he was in the Chagos, he did find himself in a sort of natural experiment that gave him some insight into the effect of the crabs on local bird populations. Coconut crabs live on only some of the islands. Birds can live on any of them, but their populations vary from island to island. So Laidre surveyed the islands, walking transects and counting crabs and bird nests.
“The pattern I found across the island was pronounced,” Laidre writes November 1 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. On Diego Garcia, for example, a 15-kilometer transect revealed 1,000 crabs and no nesting birds. Crab-free West Island, in contrast, had an abundance of ground nests of nesting noddies.

Laidre suspects that the coconut crabs act as a “ruler of the atoll,” keeping ground-nesting bird species from finding homes on crab-filled islands. On other islands with large populations of birds, those birds might help to keep their islands crab-free by eating juvenile coconut crabs, preventing them from colonizing there.

“It’s easy to sympathize with the prey,” Laidre says, “but at the same time, there’s a lot of ecological roles that that sort of action has.”

These disease-fighting bacteria produce echoes detectable by ultrasound

Ultrasound can now track bacteria in the body like sonar detects submarines.

For the first time, researchers have genetically modified microbes to form gas-filled pouches that scatter sound waves to produce ultrasound signals. When these bacteria are placed inside an animal, an ultrasound detector can pick up those signals and reveal the microbes’ location, much like sonar waves bouncing off ships at sea, explains study coauthor Mikhail Shapiro, a chemical engineer at Caltech.

This technique, described in the Jan. 4 Nature, could help researchers more closely monitor microbes used to seek and destroy tumors or treat gut diseases (SN: 11/1/14, p. 18).
Repurposing ultrasound, a common tissue-imaging method, to map microbes creates “a tool that nobody thought was even conceivable,” says Olivier Couture, a medical biophysicist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, who wasn’t involved in the work.

Until now, researchers have tracked disease-fighting bacteria in the body by genetically engineering them to glow green in ultraviolet images. But that light provides only blurry views of microbes in deeper tissue — if it can be seen at all. With ultrasound, “we can go centimeters deep and still see things with a spatial precision on the order of a hundred micrometers,” Shapiro says.

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Shapiro and his colleagues engineered a strain of E. coli used to treat gut infection to form gas compartments, and injected these bacteria into mice’s bellies. Unlike glowing bacteria — which could only be pinpointed to somewhere in a mouse’s abdomen — ultrasound images located the gas-filled microbes in the colon. The researchers also used their ultrasound technique in mice to image Salmonella bacteria, which could be used to deliver cancer-killing drugs to tumor cells.

Bacteria that produce ultrasound signals can also be designed to help diagnose illnesses, Shapiro says. For instance, a patient could swallow bacteria engineered to create gas pockets wherever the microbes sense inflammation. A doctor could then use ultrasound to search for inflamed tissue, rather than performing a more invasive procedure like a colonoscopy.