Negative Effects of China’s Migrant Population to Cities

Recently there was a fire in a Beijing suburb. The fire was located in an area and building that housed migrant workers. This trigger sparked not only the fire but the legal expulsion of a large number of migrant workers and their businesses from Beijing. These expulsion movements are not new and have occurred with regularity in the past. Use and abuse of migrant workers in China has long been a point of contention. This article also mentions the migrant workers, poverty and the hukou program. Chinese intellectuals have spoke out against the mass evictions in the middle of winter.

It is with great regret that I see parts of my family in China being ripped apart because they wish to make a living and better themselves: They are migrant workers.

China’s migrant workers are present in great numbers in every large Chinese city. Without them much of Beijing and Shanghai would simply not be built. China’s use and handling of migrant workers can demonstrate a lot about how China works. The implications for China’s reliance on migrant workers, great for those in large cities, are pretty damning for the rest of China. Changes to the migrant worker system in China are slow in coming, and for very good reasons.

What is a Migrant Worker?
Each person in China has an identity card called a hukou 户口。 This identity card is created when you are born and is quite difficult to change. If you are born in a large city then great, you are lucky. If, however you are born in the countryside, then it is near impossible to change your hukou to one in a city.

The hukou allows you to legitimately and legally access jobs, health care, education and other social services within your city. These social services are very sought after by everyone.

Jobs are more easily found in China’s bustling large cities. If you do not have a hukou for a large city but wish to move to that city, you are, by definition, illegal and are a migrant worker. There are strict rules that make changing your hukou almost impossible.

Thanks to the country’s hukou residential permit system, those born in the rural areas are disadvantaged when compared with those born in cities…

Most of the country’s second-generation migrant workers were born in the 1980s and 1990s. Without farming experience and eager to be part of the city, they strive not only to make a living, but also to be accepted by the society they live in. They want a fairer, more decent and more respectful lifestyle than that of their countryside parents. source

Why are Migrant Workers Needed in Cities?
Cities like Beijing are growing very quickly. Beijing needs construction workers, but as well need a slew of low cost workers to do the jobs that local Beijing residents need but are unwilling to do. These jobs are fulfilled by the never ending supply of migrant workers.

City and State governments are well aware of this need for inexpensive labour. In typical unwritten Chinese fashion, migrant workers are needed and tolerated, but not actually sanctioned. The reason is that every once in a while some event will occur and the city government will round up as many migrant workers as possible and deport them back to their home towns. In this way City governments can easily control the number of residents in their city. This ambiguity in Chinese law gives governments great flexibility and power in controlling social unrest. If an event is triggered by migrant workers, such as a fire, an expulsion movement will occur and Beijing will begin deporting migrants back to their home towns. This method is brutally efficient though cold hearted.

Because these migrant workers are not legal, they may not count in the statistics for a city, thus making the city sound better and more wealthy than it actually is.

Implications for Migrant Workers
Like illegal workers in a foreign country, migrant workers are tolerated but are still technically illegal. Any run-ins with police might result in their removal from the city, thus, people may tend to not cooperate with police. This makes them a target for unscrupulous business owners, who may pay them a cut rate, or even not pay them at all.

This occurred with migrant worker who opened up his shop to other migrant workers that, after the Beijing fire were thrown out of their homes, only to be visited by police and thrown out himself.

The municipal authorities have denied the most recent sweep targets the so-called low-end population of migrant workers and their families, insisting the main goal is to tackle threats from unlicensed buildings.

But the effect has been to force men, women and children onto the street at the start of winter…

Back at his rented home above the closed drop-in centre on Sunday night, Yang had packed up his belongings and was ready to move out, ordered to leave in yet another visit by the police. He said he would stay at a friend’s place before looking for a new home for himself and his community endeavour.

Socially this cannot be good for society overall. After all, these are legal Chinese residents in their own country, just not in the right city. There is a lack of permanence for migrant workers, who would like to settle down, have kids and simply live, yet there is always the possibility of forced expulsion.

Migrant workers by definition do not have a hukou, so they are not entitled to education for their kids, health care and social services. They are illegal and can be taken advantage by business owners. In general, they lead a more tenuous life than those with a legal hukou.

How can this be good for the long-term benefit of China? Much of China’s improvement has come on the backs of these migrant workers, yet they are marginalized.

Implications for Migrant Worker Families
Migrant workers do have work and make wages. These wages can be sent back home to support aging parents in their home towns. What is less obvious is that in order to find work, much of China’s working age population have left their farms and smaller cities and moved to the larger cities.

Only the very old and the very young are left in the villages, resulting in many houses sliding into decay. Families may not be able to afford education and health care for their kids, so they split the family in order to make a living. The kids live with the grandparents in the village. This can continue for decades. The result is that because the parents live away from the kids, their family bonds are weaker. When the grandparents die, this bodes badly for the family dynamic. Is this just a minor cost for China’s economic success?

Wang Fuman’s plight

But the photo of [Wang] Fuman shined a light on the plight of the tens of millions of so-called left-behind children who grow up in impoverished rural areas largely on their own after their parents leave to work in big cities. The social fabric that once held together the Chinese countryside is falling apart as millions of workers move away to chase dreams of prosperity.

Many left-behind children like Fuman live with their grandparents. They face a variety of obstacles, including malnutrition, dilapidated homes and poor access to transportation. Scores of rural schools have been shut in recent years, forcing many children to travel long distances to attend classes. source

Last year, according to government statistics, there were 9.02 million minors who matched the profile of Yuzhong: rural children both of whose parents were working away from home or where one parent was working and the other did not have guardianship of them. A much wider definition, which counts all children with at least one parent as working away from home, would put the figure at 61 million. source

Further, many couples are forced to live apart, sometimes for years, because they cannot find work in the same city. Sometimes one partner is provided living arrangements with her company, with no room to accommodate their spouse. This strain on such a basic relationship in China, family life and between a married couple, cannot be good in the long run.

It is only during the Chinese New Year that all family members return to their home towns. This results in the world’s largest mass migration, every year. While Chinese New Year should be a joyous occasion, for me it is a clear indicator that the bonds of the Chinese nuclear family are being tested. This can end very badly for many families.

The parents I interviewed always claimed they left their villages to “eat bitterness” for the sake of their children: for them to have a better education and a better future.

The sad truth is that when their parents are away, the children sometimes go off the rails as their ageing guardians often fail to impose discipline. source

Parents move away to provide funding for education of their kids. Meanwhile their kids grow up with no parents, lack the fundamental family base, and cannot achieve academically, defeating the purpose of the parents.

I hope that in the future China will allow migrant workers to legally stay in cities that need them. They have a social obligation to accept and care for those that contribute to the city’s wellbeing. Sadly, this has not occurred as yet, and there seems to be little movement on this social issue.

Just because China, the world’s most populous country, does this, and just because it is so common in all of China’s largest cities, does not mean that this is morally right. The abuse of migrant workers hurts Chinese people in the long run.

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Reuters

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Reuters

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Reuters

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Reuters

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Posters for migrant workers looking for work. Some are computer related. Reuters

China, Beijing, Daxing, Xinjian Cun, where the government has destroyed the neighborhood of migrant workers and evicted everyone. Posters for migrant workers looking for work. Some are computer related. Reuters

China can move very quickly when it wants to move.

Adendum: Beijing Refugees and the New Displaced Class

Addendum 2017 Jan 25 100 Million Chinese Lose Their Homes ( NHK documentary): A very interesting documentary about China’s farmers and migrant worker class.

Addendum 2018 Jan 26 It’s no surprise that the most populous nation has megacities, but are they smart or liveable?

It was only five years ago that, for the first time in China’s history, more Chinese people were living in cities than living in the countryside.

Much of this migration was in the service of explosive growth of an export manufacturing economy in China’s coastal provinces, and here indeed, there were many risks and some awful unintended consequences…

The migrations broke up families, leaving millions of young children orphaned with grandparents. The world might have been in awe at China’s ability to maintain economic growth levels above 10 per cent a year for decades, but these were the horrendous practical unintended consequences of a growth convulsion on such a scale.

Addendum 2018 May 26 Left-behind children a poignant reminder of the cost of China’s development

One of the most far-reaching effects of this internal migration is the phenomenon of “left-behind children”. An estimated 61 million rural children – about 22 per cent of all children in China – are currently living without one or both parents, according to a 2013 report by the All China Women’s Federation. These children are, in a sense, orphaned by China’s economic miracle.

Circumstances oblige migrants to leave their children behind: high living costs in the city; their often unstable job situation requiring them to move from one construction site to another, for instance; and China’s hukou or family registry system, which makes it very hard for them to send their children to local schools in the city.

2019 Jan 17 China’s Looming Crisis: A Shrinking Population

The looming demographic crisis could be the Achilles heel of China’s stunning economic transformation over the last 40 years.

The declining population could create an even greater burden on China’s economy and its labor force. With fewer workers in the future, the government could struggle to pay for a population that is growing older and living longer.

A decline in the working-age population could also slow consumer spending and thus have an impact on the economy in China and beyond.

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