Chinese millennial freelancers in Shanghai share their stories

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/30 18:08:40

Young and free

Photo: VCG

There is a popular saying among young Chinese that within a month there are only 30 days when we don't want to work. Traditional 9-5 jobs, which require having to get up early, arrive to work on time, commute twice a day and work with some probably annoying colleagues, are being left behind by an increasing number of Chinese millennials. Instead, many are trying their young hands at freelancing, which is generally considered far more flexible and independent and offers, most importantly, freedom.

Eight millennial freelancers in Shanghai recently shared the ups and downs of their jobs with the Global Times. Five are currently doing freelance work, while three gave it a try but have returned to traditional office jobs for various reasons.

Ma Tingting (alias), 28

Years freelancing: 2017 -

Previous office job: video producer

Freelance job: video producer

After graduation, I worked for leading domestic short-video platform Ergeng for a few years, shooting and making short videos (3-5 minutes) for companies. There, I had opportunities to meet future potential clients; many of them would privately contact me later, like, "Hey Ma, can you personally make videos for us?"

At Ergeng, I only had to produce 2-3 videos per month, which was too slack for me. And the pay there was not satisfying. So I quit my job in 2017 and became a freelance video producer. My income tripled and even quadrupled. Nonetheless, it became unstable as well. I enjoyed lots of clients, and during the busiest season I made 40 videos within two months, enabling me to earn a very decent income.

But this year, perhaps because of the sluggish economy, my clients sharply decreased, especially after June. Though my current earnings are still higher than my previous job, I have to take insurance, housing and paid leave into consideration - these are basic employee benefits that I am unable to enjoy as a freelancer.

Zhu Ling, 30

Years freelancing: 2015 -

Previous office job: translator

Freelance job: translator

I became a freelance translator in 2015, after two years of translation work as an employed staffer at a local translation company.

During those two years at a full-time job, I spent two hours commuting between home and office, which I thought was a waste of my life. After becoming a freelancer, however, that problem doesn't exist anymore.

I joined the Shanghai Freelance Translators Team along with two peers. We sometimes do translations together to make ourselves less lonely, but most of the time we just work separately at home.

Enjoying the freedom to arrange my time and schedule, I once believed that doing freelance work would make me lazy. But the fact is that, apart from doing similar translations, I have to also deal with many other issues, such as drafting and signing contracts. Without marketing colleagues, I must put myself in front of clients.

My income is more or less the same as an employed full-time translator. But by working at home, I have more time to spend with my two-year-old baby. It's a good way to balance my work and family.

Qing Ling (alias), 33

Years freelancing: 2009 -

Previous office job: none

Freelance job: piano teacher and audiobook narrator

I'm not a sociable person. I dislike working in a team, unless all the team members are likable and admirable. Therefore, after graduating from Nanjing University of the Arts in 2009, I chose to became a part-time piano teacher. In 2013, I started doing audiobook narrating work at online radio platform Himalaya FM.

My daily schedule is chaotic compared with most office workers. I wake up at 1 pm, give piano lessons for preschool kids from 4 pm to 5 pm, narrate audiobooks for one or two hours between 7 pm and midnight, and then begin editing my recordings until 3 am.

Doing audio editing alone at midnight is not easy, especially when my editing software occasionally breaks down. At times, I fall asleep during editing. Narrating a set of books, which contain 200 chapters in total, usually takes me five months. Each time after finishing a set, I give myself a two-week vacation for a good rest.

The domestic audiobook market is growing, and the payment is better than previous years - I can earn over 10,000 yuan ($1,463) every month. And giving piano lessons brings me another several thousand yuan per month.

The disadvantage of being a freelancer is that, due to my schedule, I'm physically weak and likely to get sick. Nonetheless, as an introverted person, I have decided to continue working this way.

Anna Cui, 30-something

Years freelancing: 2017 - June 2018

Previous office job: marketing and PR

Freelance job: scriptwriter

Current office job: scriptwriter

My dream career is scriptwriting, so in 2015 I started thinking more about switching to the scriptwriting industry. After resigning at the end of 2017, I adapted my own novel into a film script along with a senior scriptwriter. Apart from that, I also wrote scripts for other film and television companies.

Without regular clients, however, my income became quite unstable. Sometimes I could barely afford three meals a day and had to live on my previous savings. Other times I earned tens of thousands of yuan within just two weeks!

I tried my best to sell more scripts. I contacted film and television companies, only to find that many of them were swindlers who disappeared after obtaining my writing samples. Being cheated several times, I no longer trusted any companies who asked for writing samples over 5,000 words.

Two months ago, I ended my freelance life and applied for a full-time scriptwriting job at a Shanghai-based company. Planning to buy a house in a few years, a stable income is a must for me now. I won't go back to freelancing.

Yuan Weiyang, 30

Years freelancing: May 2016 - December 2017

Previous office job: China Mobile staffer

Freelance job: writer and self-made jewelry online shop owner

Current office job: e-book company staffer

Working for China Mobile as a front-desk staffer, every day I had to deal with various clients, which made me feel tired and bored. During those two years I learned little, nor did I have any self-improvement.

Writing and making jewelry are my two biggest hobbies. Unfortunately, neither are profitable. I hesitated for a long time before eventually making the decision to quit China Mobile.

As a freelancer, every day I spent 4-5 hours writing and 6-7 hours making jewelry. I wrote 100,000 words every month, which earned me only 1,000 yuan. Selling my jewelry only earned me another 300 yuan to 600 yuan. I also gave handicraft lessons to teenagers once a week, earning 200 yuan per hour.

My income decreased by 40 percent compared with the previous full-time job. I loved being a freelancer, but it could hardly cover my daily cost of living here. So I left Shanghai for Suzhou, in neighboring Jiangsu Province, at the end of 2017 and applied for a simple, dull job at e-book company Yuewen Group.

I still write novels and make jewelry after work. And if I save enough money, one day I would like to become a freelancer again and return to the pure happiness of doing what I truly love.

Nan Zhi, 23

Years freelancing: 2018 -

Previous office job: accountant

Freelance job: photographer

I live in Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province, where fresh college graduates earn only 2,500 yuan to 3,000 yuan per month. As an accountant I worked hard and earned 4,000 yuan, higher than the average, but I was still not satisfied.

I was eager to earn more money so I could travel and buy whatever I like. So I decided to become a freelance photographer earlier this year, shooting portraits for young females. A photography enthusiast myself, I bought a camera and took training courses to improve my shooting and Photoshop skills.

 I started my new job with self-promotion on Weibo, gradually attracting more and more young women to follow me. Some of my followers later became my clients. Every month I have around 15 clients, charging 800 yuan to 1,000 yuan per portrait package.

Now my monthly income has increased to more than 10,000 yuan, higher than the overwhelming majority of my peers in Qingdao. More importantly, I love photography very much. Being a freelancer enables me to not only live on my hobby, but also live a life much more financially decent than before.

Coco Liu, 30-something

Years freelancing: 2013 -

Previous office job: accountant

Freelance job: accountant

Before I made up my mind to become a freelancer, I worked as a full-time employee for 10 years. During that decade, I repeatedly suffered long commuting hours and heavy traffic congestion five days a week. I learned all the dirty words on rush-hour buses. No exaggeration.

Getting bored of my dull, 9-6 routine, one day in 2013 I simply resigned. Since then, I started doing part-time accounting work for multiple companies. Now I freelance for eight companies, enjoying a similar income but a more flexible schedule. I can get up whenever I want! I don't have to rush in the morning.

But a flexible schedule is indeed a double-edged sword. Being a freelancer, I have to face the fact that there's no clear boundary between my work and private life. Once, while I was on holiday outside of Shanghai, I was suddenly called back by a client. Today I'm sick, but I still have to finish some auditing work for another client. I have no coworkers to help me.

Wang Junfeng, 23

Years freelancing: December 2015 - September 2017

Previous office job: pharmacist

Freelance job: clothing shop owner

Current office job: pharmacist

I had a full-time job for two years working as a pharmacist at a local pharmaceutical factory. As a polytechnic school graduate, I was satisfied with my salary, which was between 7,000 and 10,000 yuan per month after tax.

But I was exhausted. I usually worked overtime till late at night, sleeping for only three or four hours. It severely damaged my health, making me feel weak and ill. As a result, I left at the end of 2015 when my contract expired.

I then opened a small clothing shop in suburban Shanghai, but only got one or two customers per day. My earnings dramatically dropped to just 4,000 yuan to 5,000 yuan per month, but I felt much more relaxed and happier than before. My body also felt better.

Sadly, running a shop was so costly that I had to reconsider my choices. Eventually, in late 2017, after 21 months, I returned to my former workplace. For those who are interested in freelancing, I would suggest they think over what they really want to do and whether they can subsist on it.

Being a freelancer sounds fun, but only those with true perseverance can handle it.

Photo: VCG



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