Why are Chinese university graduates, who in the past avoided socio-economically backward rural areas, willing to start their careers in such areas today? This research argues that the Chinese authorities have promoted “grassroots employment” for university graduates through preferential policies together with the values of “socialist citizenship”. However, the preferential policies actually reflect a different value of “instrumental utilitarianism” which resonates well with the dominant youth culture. This article examines the promotional strategies of four “grassroots employment” programmes in order to determine whether the popularity of the four programmes is due to the success of “socialist citizenship” or to the preferential policies. The benefits, difficulties and prospects of achieving the objectives of these “grassroots employment” programmes are briefly evaluated. The main conclusions are that the authorities have used “socialist citizenship” as a camouflage and that the preferential policies have accentuated youths’ enthusiasm to join the programmes.