In China, Sarcastic Graduation Photos Reveal Gen-Z’s True Feelings

Forget flowers and hat throwing, this year’s graduation shoots are characterized by pessimism, sarcasm, and a bleak outlook on the job market

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Beatrice Tamagno Headshot
4:38 AM HKT, Tue June 20, 2023 1 mins read

In a new trend, graduation photoshoots in China have taken a wildly creative approach, leaning towards surreal and sarcastic shots with a heavy dose of reality.

Over the past few weeks, China’s Instagram-like social media platform Xiaohongshu has been inundated with graduation posts. The hashtag has racked up 1.3 billion views, with thousands of users sharing photos of their much-anticipated graduation days.

Images via @总选第一布丁狗 and @小马莉莉子 on Xiahongshu.

Images via @总选第一布丁狗 and @小马莉莉子 on Xiaohongshu.

This year though, instead of the classic hat-throwing, flower-holding, and joyful smiles, students are opting for defeated poses, apocalyptic backgrounds, or purely sarcastic shots. They may be captured throwing their graduation theses into the trashcan, or passing out on the ground in front of their college buildings.

The steep departure from a ‘picture-perfect’ graduation narrative hints at a rising skepticism toward education as a pathway to success, and perhaps a more relaxed attitude toward academia overall.

china graduation shoots

Images via @陆蒜苗儿 and @总选第一布丁狗 on Xiaohongshu.

Higher education in China has long been considered an enabler when it comes to social mobility, with the infamous gaokao college entrance exam playing a central role in determining one’s future.

While the gaokao remains incredibly competitive, higher education in China has expanded immensely in recent years, with 10 million students graduating in 2022, and an increasing number of fresh grads opting for advanced degrees.

china graduation shooting

Image via @只想搞钱的椰子很想踢足球 on Xiaohongshu.

But the tidal wave of sarcastic graduation photos is just the latest chapter in a book of recession-fueled viral trends.

Youth unemployment in China hit a record 20.8% in May 2023, a further increase from April 2023 (20.4%), worrying experts, policymakers and fresh grads alike.

To face an unstable job market, younger generations in China are increasingly opting for jobs that were once considered unappealing, such as security guard and civil servant positions.

civil servant chic

Images via Xiaohongshu.

Public sector jobs are increasingly being seen as more stable, compared to the uncertainty of the convoluted private job market. This shift in mentality resulted in the bizarre rise of ‘civil servant chic’ in 2022, an understated aesthetic inspired by the uniforms of state-owned enterprises and administration sector employees.

Another instance of public debate around the issue took place last March, when the story of a fresh graduate turned trash collector went viral, leaving many asking if college students should stop considering themselves “too good for manual labor.”

Cover image via Xiaohongshu.

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