A new term was coined last year to describe the lives of a new generation of college graduates who have journeyed to Beijing in search of opportunities.
"Ant Tribe", or yi zu, refers to this group and their difficult lives, facing unstable or low-paying employment.
I wanted to learn more about what motivates them, so for the latest episode of my program, Her Village, we looked at the lives of four recent graduates from Lanzhou University. They came to the capital from as far away as Hainan in search of a career and a better life. They share a 10-sq-m apartment in Tang Jialing, a settlement of low-rent villages outside the North Fifth Ring Road.
The landlord provides just three single beds pushed together to form a kind of tong pu (a type of bed used in China that can be shared by several people). They bought an automatic rice cooker and a jar of spicy sauce. They survive on steamed buns and noodles. They told me that on their first night they had to huddle together under one quilt.
The girls leave their apartment just before dawn and head downtown to places like Zhongguancun, looking for jobs at IT companies. Usually, they return empty-handed and worn out.
Even so, they did their best to show a positive and happy face for the show. But when I asked them about their families, they were unable to contain their tears. One girl said her father had passed away and her mother was suffering from severe arthritis. Her mom used some homeopathic remedy to alleviate her pain, because regular medical treatments were too costly.
The other girls said their parents worked part-time jobs in order to support them and their education. I was touched when they told me they sometimes secretly wished they could have been born as boys, so they would be better able to take care of their families.
There are thousands of Ant Tribe members like the girls I interviewed in communities like Tang Jialing. They discover that it is not so easy to follow their dreams in this unfamiliar and fiercely competitive environment.
I thought it was great when one of the girls told the story about how, when she was finally able to get an interview, she decided to take the other three with her. She said no matter which of them was able to get the job in the end, it would be a success for them all.
This act of friendship moved me deeply, and I really hope they find some opportunity in the near future.
The girls that appeared on my show decided not to return to their hometowns for the Spring Festival, so they could conserve the little money they had, in the hope that the new year will be more rewarding and they will make their families proud.
When I asked them if they ever felt jealous of the kids that grow up here, in the big city, they replied, "No, never."
They said life poses challenges no matter where you are from and they accept their situation. I asked them if they had ever considered taking the easy way out, by getting married. All four quickly shook their heads in disagreement.
They remain confident about their futures and believe they will find suitable jobs and make it in life.
Thousands of graduates converge on Beijing every year, believing this is the only place to realize their goals. Fortunately, in recent years, as China's economy has improved, many second and third tier cities have developed and offer rich opportunities for these ants.
There is an old adage that sometimes it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big one.
If these smaller cities find a way to create incentives for these young educated professionals by offering them opportunities, it will benefit everyone.
I know how hard these students have worked to make their way in life, and I sincerely hope future Ant Tribes members will have it easier.
(Her Village is shown on Hunan TV, Sun, 00:05am)