Thursday, February 05, 2009


In his very good book Living with Reform, Timothy Cheek refers to an interview carried out by Sang Ye for his own book China Candid:

... in downtown Beijing at the 'people market' outside Dongdan Park in the center of the city, itinerant workers gather each morning to look for work ... one [worker] from Jianli, Hubei province [...] leads a handful of buddies in his village to hop a train to get work in Guangzhou, in southern China, but after a day on the goods train, it gets colder: they've hopped the wrong train and end up in Beijing. His first job is as an internal wetback labourer in a small restaurant, working around the clock for about 100 to 130 RMB a month (US $8-10).

"Most restaurant workers earn about that much," he said. "It's a hard job, and the bosses are pretty much the same, though they have to cope with all the worries and work harder than we do. ... Back in Jianli I wouldn't make a hundred Yuan in a year, let alone a month."

He bounces between jobs, gets ripped off by labor foremen and has to endure sexual advances from a trucking boss, but nonetheless he is able to return home with 2,500 RMB to share with his parents. When Sang Ye interviewed him, he had returned with his young nephew for the next round. The young man had come to look for work because of the poverty of his home village. Tough and practical, this migrant worker had his own views:

"The people in the old Communist areas made much greater contributions to the revolution than city people. So many lives were lost; the Communists had grown to strength and then came to power on the backs of people like us. But after he went to Beijing, even Chairman Mao didn't do anything for us, let alone Chairman Hu. Sure, they spoke about the victory of the revolution, but we were still as dirt poor as we had been in the old society."

The young man's story, however, does not focus on class politics, but on the grim chances of survival.


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