China's Millennials Are Risk Takers - and They're Dreaming Big

“Experimenters, moon-shooters and diverse” are the words 17-year-old Shanghai high schooler Owen Xu uses to define his generation.

The senior at the Stanford Online High School in China's financial capital has co-founded a startup focused on treating and reusing wastewater that aims to one day "solve problems affecting billions of people."

Meet China's millennials -- a generation that's more risk-taking and idiosyncratic than its predecessor. And they're dreaming big.

Having grown up in a booming economy that grew nine-fold since the turn of the century, China's 7.5 million school leavers this year are intent on forging paths very different from their parents, who defaulted to the factory floor, construction site or staid state-sector job.

About 48 percent of those born after 1995 don’t want to enter the traditional job market upon graduation, according to recent research by QQ Browser, part of tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., which polled 13,000 college students and mined data from its 84-million daily internet search traffic.

More than 15 percent of respondents said they want to start their own businesses, while 8 percent aspire to take on new professions spawned by rising consumerism and the ever-increasing role the internet is playing in people's lives. The most sought after jobs: online live-streamer or blogger, voice actor, make-up artist and game tester.

"This is a good sign for the economy as it shows that they are finding new growth engines and the economy is getting more market-oriented,” said Iris Pang, senior economist for Greater China at Natixis SA in Hong Kong. “But in the longer term, startup failure rates are very high, and those who take the risk should bear the risk.”

But it's the fear of a dull office job, not failure, that worries high schooler Xu. His idol is Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

The survey also found early 20-somethings in mega cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen are keen to set up internet-related businesses, while those in the heartland and the West have turned their eyes on education and farming for opportunities.

Since graduating from a Beijing vocational college last year, 25-year-old Hua Gengwu has worked at an internet startup, moonlighted on two other projects, and gone on a more than 4,500 kilometer motorcycle expedition from his hometown in central China to the base camp of Mount Everest.

“We want to keep our assorted interests and hobbies, which we can't do in a dull and tedious workplace,” said Hua, who also idolizes Musk. He plans a life of entrepreneurship as a route to financial and personal "freedom."

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— With assistance by Miao Han

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