Yale graduate takes low-paying job as a village official in China

Qin Yufei forgoes a high-paying career in New York or Beijing to lead a rural Chinese village, setting an example for corruption-free local government.

Reuters
Barbers shave villagers ahead of the Lunar New Year at a market in Juancheng, in China's Shandong province, last week. The Lunar New Year began on Sunday. Village life in China can be made even harder by corrupt local officials but a young graduate of Yale University is trying to set a better example.

Goldman Sachs it’s not.

Qin Yufei, 27, graduated from Yale University in 2010 with a double major in political science and economics. For the past year and a half, he’s served as an official in a remote village in Hunan Province in China, according to a report in the People’s Daily, a state-owned newspaper. Instead of a cushy bachelor’s pad in New York or Beijing, Qin lives in an old house in Hejiashan village, putting up with rain from a leaky roof and noisy rats at night. His monthly salary is 1,450 yuan, about $233. The villagers respectfully call him “Brother Yale.”

As the first and the only Ivy League village official in China, Qin has lately found himself under a media spotlight – but Qin doesn’t want that kind of attention. He recently posted a message on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, saying that he was “very grateful for the [Chinese] media’s attention . . . But my job is to provide a good service to the villagers, not to tell my stories. I have a lot of work to do, so I don’t have enough time and energy to accept interviews, please understand.”

Qin’s behavior is a sharp contrast from leadership in some other villages, and state-run media is lauding the Yale grad as an antidote to widespread local corruption.

In 2005, Qin graduated from Chongqing Nankai Secondary School, passed the SAT with high scores, and got full marks on his TOEFL exam, a widely used English-language exam. Then he received a scholarship offer from Yale University, according to a report from the Yangcheng Evening News, a newspaper based in Guangzhou, in southern China.

During his four years at Yale, Qin decided to pursue public service as his future career. Inspired by news stories of Chinese college graduates working as village chiefs, Qin thought that being a village official would be a good opportunity to understand and serve the rural areas. In 2011, he became an assistant to the director of the village committee in Hejiashan village.

“Among so many officials that came to our village in the past years, I admire Qin most,” says the village head, Hu Chuanjia, who has worked for the village for more than 20 years. “He solved many difficult problems after he came here,” Hu adds in an interview with Yangcheng Evening News.

Qin’s work covers different aspects of the daily lives of his villagers – agriculture, economy, education, health care, and public infrastructure, including a playground for local kids. Since he is the only village official with a higher education in the area, his work usually extends to other villages when help is needed.

Using the fund-raising experience he gained at Yale, Qin has successfully raised about 800,000 yuan (about $129,000) for the village. The money has been used to build water conservation projects, expand a nursing home, and improve local schools. With the help of other Yale alumni, Qin received the blueprint of the nursing home from a design company for free. He also procured about 700 tablet computers for the students in the area.

“I have a son and a daughter,” Wenmei Kuan, who lives in Hejiashan, tells China Network Television. ”I told them that Qin is a model that you should learn from.”

“I do have a lot of classmates that have chosen more profitable careers, and their wages are indeed much higher than mine. But we are just in different industries,” Qin explains in an interview with Yancheng Evening News. “We are serving society in different ways. I think my choice is also very meaningful.”

It does seem, however, that Qin has his sights set on a higher-profile political career. Last August, he was elected deputy to the Local People’s Congress. He won 85 percent of the votes among 3,547 voters, according to Yangcheng Evening News.

“Every villager wants to seek a better life so that they can afford their children’s education, enjoy better social security, and have access to better medical services,” Qin tells the People’s Daily. “I am one of the common [people]. I agree with those pursuits. So I want to do something to help.”

This article originally appeared at Latitude News, an online news site that covers stories showing the links between American communities and the rest of the world. Latitude News is undertaking a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign. To learn more about it, visit the Latitude News Kickstarter page here.

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