June 12, 2024

A new wave of young digital nomads is moving away from mainstream ideals, choosing the serene hills of Dali in China’s southwest as their haven. Breaking free from the constraints of urban life, these individuals, ranging from tech enthusiasts to artists, are drawn to Dali’s unique blend of affordability, mild climate, and a history of relative tolerance.

Dali Seen as Haven for Young Nomads

President Xi Jinping’s strictness in controlling personal freedoms and the economic challenges in the nation continue to worsen youth unemployment. These negative events have brought Dali to the limelight, with many considering it a way of cultural escape.

The Old Town district, part of a larger city of 650,000, has been a magnet for cultural workers since the late 1990s. Also, recent factors, such as the normalization of remote work and Dali’s less restrictive policies during China’s zero-COVID crackdown, have further fueled its appeal.

Besides these points, searches for “Dali” on WeChat recorded a 7% increase in November compared to the previous year, surging by a remarkable 290% on a single day in late July. This rise shows a growing interest in this alternative lifestyle.

Reuters’ interviews conducted with 13 Chinese migrants in Dali revealed the town’s role as a refuge on the borders of mainstream society. 

Bai Yunxi, a 33-year-old civil servant who became an astrologer, highlighted the sentiment of younger generations seeking personal growth and freedom in a spiritually confusing landscape.

However, in Beijing, this growth and freedom remain threatened by police scrutiny, with reports of event cancellations and police raids creating an atmosphere of caution among residents.

Government Scrutiny on Residents Catalyzed Mass Movement to Dali

Amidst the high extent of youth unemployment and Beijing’s push for rural revitalization, Dali stands out as an exception. This is primarily because it offers an alternative to the allure of large cities. Beijing’s residents like Bai Yunxi emphasized Dali’s capacity to provide space for personal and career development without external interference.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old recruitment startup founder, Chen Zhengyun, also noted the freedom from societal pressure in Dali, fostering open discussions on topics often deemed taboo elsewhere. 

While the local government seeks to attract young tech talent, skepticism among residents persists regarding Beijing’s attempts to shape their personal lives.

Also, co-working spaces, central to the digital nomad lifestyle, have faced unexpected closures and police visits. This event reflects the challenges posed by this emerging community’s decentralized and less structured nature in the eyes of state authorities.

Besides these troubling cases, the Chinese economy has been grappling with multifaceted issues, including a deceleration in growth, challenges in the private sector, escalating debt levels, and the consequences of an increasingly aging population.

These hurdles not only impact Beijing’s economic landscape but also cast a shadow on the overall well-being of its residents.

Secondly, China has set ambitious targets to address environmental issues, aiming to reduce carbon emissions and invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. 

However, the pursuit of these goals while sustaining economic growth presents a formidable challenge, indirectly affecting the youths and necessitating the migration to Dali. 

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