South China firms pitch clean air in recruitment drive

A pedestrian using a smartphone walks along a pedestrian bridge in Shenzhen, China.
A pedestrian using a smartphone walks along a pedestrian bridge in Shenzhen, China. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Ads trumpet sun-filled, tree-lined cities in bid to lure more applicants from smog-hit Beijing

BEIJING • The online ads sound alluring: Come to the sunny south of China and forget the smog of Beijing, they say. Enjoy the laid-back lifestyle; abandon unhealthy Beijing!

As Beijing residents endured heavy smog on Tuesday, the last day of a four-day red alert for hazardous air pollution, companies in southern China have been advertising the attractions of their sun-filled, tree-lined cities, all in a bid to lure smart, educated and ambitious employees from the north.

Ms Amy Li, a human resource adviser at Umeox, a technology firm in Shenzhen making smartwatches, said the clean air at the technology park where her firm is located was a big bonus in her recruiting drive.


"You will never need to wear a mask here," Ms Li said. "Our company is surrounded by green plants, and everything is clean and neat."

No one is suggesting that the air in Beijing is the catalyst for a major brain drain from capital to southern cities - at least not yet. Nor does there seem to be a migration of older Beijing residents who want to swop the smog for sunshine in the way that US retirees flock to Florida.

But as patience frays over the inconvenience of red alerts, and worries mount over the risks to long-term well-being, leaving can seem like an enticing solution.

On Tuesday afternoon, the air quality index in Beijing was 506, according to the US Embassy, 20 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation. That same day, the restrictive measures of Beijing's second red alert this month were in effect: Schools were closed, and cars were allowed to drive only on alternate days, depending on their licence plate numbers. Hundreds of factories were ordered to suspend production.

A real estate company in Shenzhen, JJS Home, is pitching the clean sea air as a big attraction for prospective employees from the polluted north. "It's obvious that young people pay more attention to their health than their parents' generation," said Mr Chen Jie, a human resource manager at JJS Home.

"It is sunny all the time here in the middle of winter. We wore T-shirts last weekend, while Beijing felt so gloomy."

So far, an online ad on a recruiting website has brought modest results, Mr Chen said. Of the roughly 20 new hires who have joined the company each week over the past few months, only a handful have come from Beijing. Partly, he said, that was because people from nearby provinces could more easily move to Shenzhen.

But ads trumpeting jobs in the sunny south freely tap into feelings of winter blues and claustrophobia in Beijing.

"I feel so depressed when I open the window every day and can't even see the building across the street because of all the smog," said Mr Ya Hanxiang, 24, a magazine editor. "Why do I have to live here? I feel like I'm living in a basement."

Said Mr Liu Hao, 27, a product manager at a small technology firm who left Beijing two years ago: "When I was in Beijing, I was sick for months from bronchitis caused by the bad air.

"Now, someday when I have a kid, I'll be able to take him to the river or woods just a few minutes' drive away."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline 'South China firms pitch clean air in recruitment drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe