The balance of power between capital and labor is shifting back towards the former in China's troubled manufacturing heartland as the economic slowdown wipes out jobs faster than the labor supply falls.
Many factories in the Pearl River Delta are reverting to past practice of hiring only young, preferably female, workers, a different approach from China's post-stimulus years when even men in their 40s or 50s were in demand.
In many recruitment flyers posted on walls, electricity poles and bulletin boards in Changan, a small town in Dongguan, the maximum age requirement is 35, and another less explicit preference is for women, who are regarded as less rebellious than men.
The shifting job-hunting landscape is particularly hard for people like Huang Li.
Huang, from a village in Guangxi and approaching 35, was leaning against a pool table in a public park and drinking a can of beer during a break from job hunting. Wiping sweat from his face with the bottom of his shirt, Huang said he lost his previous job at a Dongguan lamp factory last year when the boss "ran away" – a term describing a factory owner who suddenly disappears to avoid debts and salary payments.
Although Huang finally received his wages with the help of local authorities, he became one of the migrant unemployed and was desperately searching for a new position – returning to his rural home was no longer an option for him as he can't make a living from the small family plot of land.
"I'm deeply worried," Huang said, adding that it was easier for women to find general, or non-skilled, jobs. He described a jobs vacant post he had seen from a watch manufacturer saying it needed dozens of general workers, but only women aged 18 and 35 would be accepted.
"I want to work in an electronics factory," Huang said. "I don't have much education, all I can do is manual labor."
For now, Huang pays 300 yuan (HK$350) a month in rent to share a room with another worker, and is desperately in need of cash to cover his monthly expenses of about 2,000 yuan, including food and phone bills.