Freelancers Not Free in China


When I told my parents and friends that I wanted to be a freelance writer after graduating from university, almost none of them were supportive.

There are two types of freelancers in my eyes: those who are forced into freelancing because they are having trouble finding a job, and those who are talented in certain field and enjoy the freedom of working for oneself. I see myself as the second type as I’m a professional in music and fond of writing.

There are a lot of advantages to freelancing. I can work in my pajamas and am often able to set my own hours. I can work late into the night or start early in the morning. I don’t need to conform to a typical work day. I get to be my own boss, choose which jobs to take and determine how much pay I will ask for. This can be either fantastic or terrifying, depending on the person and the situation. I find that I have enough work to keep myself happy and my finances healthy, while others may struggle to find work.

On the other hand, as a freelancer, I have to face certain difficulties and inconveniences. The idea of freelancing hasn’t been widely accepted in China, where conventional wisdom prizes stability over freedom. Parents and society expect graduates to get stable jobs with signed, legal contracts.

My dad once asked me how I could make money just sitting at home all day. He thought I was wasting time. My neighbors are curious why they always see me in the garden during the day when other young people are at the office. My lovely grandmother even asked everyone in the neighborhood to help me find a job. There was a period when people kept offering me jobs. The head of our community still calls me every week to see if I’ve gotten a job with a contract.

At first, I tried to help them understand what freelancing was. But after a while, I gave up. For many in China, a job isn’t a job unless it has fixed hours and benefits. I don’t deny the importance of health insurance and pension benefits. I don’t have them, which might turn out to be a problem for me. Many people get their health insurance from their jobs. It is easier to get a good policy if you are part of a large group, and employers tend to cover not only their employees but also the employees’ spouses and children. Freelancers, however, usually have to find their own health insurance, which is much more expensive.

But the bigger problem is societal discrimination. For example, because I don’t have any proof of income, I had to ask a friend to pose as my employer so that I could get a credit card. In addition, some landlords don’t want to rent apartments to me because they prefer tenants who are white-collar workers. A male friend told me that his mother would never accept a daughter-in-law who is a freelancer because the job is so unstable.

I hope that society will eventually have a more open mind about freelancers. We have chosen this line of work because we value our freedom and can manage our time effectively. As a cosmopolitan city, it’s time for Shanghai to embrace us.