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China: Confession of a ‘Second Generation Migrant Worker’

China’s hukou system, adopted in 1958 to control population movement, has long been criticized for tying the population to their place of origin. With the mass migration of rural workers to China’s cities and coastal regions, the system is under the spotlight as it means that these migrants suffer discrimination vis-a-vis urban residents in public services such as education, housing, healthcare and other social protection. The debate reaches a new height following a joint appeal to abandon the system by thirteen Chinese newspapers to the National People’s Congress earlier this month.

Could reforming the hukou system bring better lives to migrant workers? Wang Xiaodao, who calls himself a ‘second generation migrant worker’, airs in his blog the grievances and doubts which are representative of this special group in China. Compared with the first generation, this second generation migrant workers face fewer opportunities. Competition is fierce in many occupations. After working for more than seven years in the cities, he has many doubts. Perhaps some doubts could be answered by a hukou reform:

我不明白,在上海,与上海人在同一家事业单位干同样的工种,为什么他每月就比我多五六百块?经理说他是上海人,有福利保障和各种补贴,我不明白为什么他有,我就没有?我们不都是中国人吗?难道中国城市是分等级的,中国人也是分等级的?

I don’t understand why, in Shanghai, I receive 500 to 600 yuan a month less compared with other workers, who are doing the same kind of job in the same unit. The manager said because he is Shanghaiist, he can enjoy various social benefits and subsidies. I don’t understand why he can have it, but I cannot. Aren’t we both Chinese? Is it true that Chinese cities are hierarchical, and Chinese people are hierarchical too?

我不明白,我堂哥在城市打工十几年了,侄子现在在城市读书,为什么我侄子要缴比城里孩子还高的学费?为什么城里人却不让他们的孩子与我侄子同桌?为什么我侄子在学校会受到孤立和排挤?

I don’t understand why, with my cousin having worked in the cities for over ten years, his son still needs to pay higher school fees than urban children. Why do urban residents not allow their children to share the same table with my nephew? Why is my nephew being isolated and discriminated?

But the above are only parts of the problem. Many more difficulties, such as lack of reasonable safeguards of rights and interests of workers, and unaffordable housing, cannot be solved merely by reforming the hukou system:

我不明白,我们民工用血汗,甚至用生命在城市建设了那么多高楼大厦,可建一辈子房子,却买不到哪怕一间厕所?这跟种一辈子地却没粮食吃异曲同工

I don’t understand why, having spent their lifetime constructing many skyscrapers, migrant workers couldn’t even buy a toilet. This is the same as farmers who spend their lifetime growing crops but could not even feed themselves.

我不明白,为什么南方那么多工厂,就是找不到一家八小时工作制的呢?最低工资标准,意思应该是工资不低于那个标准吧?为什么我们的底薪就等于最低工资标准?为什么辛辛苦苦一天工作十四五个小时,一年下来只够买几包化肥?是工资低了,物价高了,还是我们生活太奢侈了?

I don’t understand why, with so many factories in southern China, I could not even find a single one with an eight-hour work day. Minimum wage means that the salary would be above a certain standard, right? But why are our salaries merely equal to that standard? Having toiled for over 14 hours a day, a few packs of fertilizers are all that we can afford at the end of the year. Is the wage too low and the price too high, or are we too luxurious?

我不明白,为什么我们干了活,可以不给我们工钱,不是说“一份耕耘,一份收获”么?为什么找相关部门解决总那么难,总把我们当球踢,当猴耍?为什么会出现跳楼讨薪,开胸验肺?

I don’t understand why, having worked so hard, the managers dare to withhold our salaries. ‘You get what you give’, isn’t this what they say? Why are the relevant departments finding it so difficult to solve it, kicking us around like footballs? To fight for missing salaries and compensation, some go so far as to threaten to jump off from the building, and voluntarily ‘opening their breast’ through a surgical operation to prove that they’ve developed pneumoconiosis from their workplace.

How about going back to the countryside and be a farmer? He has though about it:

城市,已没有我们安家之所,而农村呢,我们怎么回去?像一个逃兵一样?又有何面目见江东父老?回去之后,会种地吗?愿意种地吗?其实我本人是赞成回农村种地的,毕竟我们国家还得需要人来种地,但怕父母从此在农村抬不起头来,被其他村民嘲笑,尽管其他村民的孩子们也在城市流离失所。在他们看来,战死在城市,也比做一名逃兵好。

The cities have no place for us, how about the countryside? But how can we go back? Like a deserting soldier? Do we have the ‘face’ to see the villagers again? After returning, do we know how to farm? And are we willing to farm? Personally, I’m actually in support of returning and becoming a farmer. After all, the country needs someone to be farmers. But I’m afraid that my parents will be laughed at by other villagers, though their children are also suffering in cities. In their eyes, dying in cities is better than being a deserting soldier.

This new generation of migrant workers is a generation with dreams bigger than money. As Prof. Xie Jianshe, a specialist on migrant worker studies, commented:

They are more attached to cities, rather than rural villages. They are eager to blend into cities, but they are unable to break through the barrier of system and culture. When they go back to the the countryside, they find themselves unable to do farming.

When wealth, houses, cars and a good life are distant dreams, he sees no future, only doubts, illusions and frustrations:

人呐,其实就像种子,最重要的是看你被撒在什么地方,撒在城市,再劣质的种子也能茁壮成长,撒在农村,你再优良也得拼命挣扎才有出头之日。

Human beings are like seeds. What matters is where you are dropped. Dropped in the cities, the worst quality can still grow and be strong; dropped in the countryside, you really need to struggle before you can be strong, even if you are of the best quality.

我们的明天,该何去何从?我不知道。只能像一个无根的浮萍,随波逐流。我曾经说只有猪才是最幸福的动物 […]真的,我真喜欢做一头猪,没心没肺,有吃有喝,也不会去想劈什么柴喂什么马,呆在猪圈里,不知道天高也不知道地厚,就这样迷糊至死。

As for my future, where should I go? I don’t know. I can only be a piece of duckweed, floating along with the waves. I once said that pigs are the luckiest animals […] I would really like to become a pig, without any worries and feelings, only eating and drinking. They just stay in the pigsty, not knowing the world around them, until they die.

现在基本上也不怎么存钱了,因为存了也没用,有钱就花掉,今朝有酒今朝醉,做一天和尚撞一天钟,说我们消极也好,说我们破罐子破摔也好,都无所谓。因为积极奋斗也只会更加头破血流,因为就算是一只好罐子,也卖不出好价钱。消极,更让我释然,日子也过得更轻松。

Now I basically don’t think about saving, because saving is useless. I spend all I earn. You can say I am too negative. But striving for a better live will only lead to blood, sweat and toil, and no more. A good vase cannot be sold for a good price. This loss of hope makes me feel better and easier to pass the days ahead.

1 comment

  • 标兵

    不仅仅是户籍制度,中国各个地区高考难度不一,农村的考生上一流的大学比起城里的孩子要难得多。真的是很不公平~~

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