Tang Fajun was once a typical Jintang County farmer in Chengdu City of southwest China's Sichuan Province. He made 15 cents a day in the fields and could hardly feed himself. In 1979, he joined 30 other villagers and left for Xichang City.
30-year-old Zhou Shuqing is examining the quality of shoes in a Baolilong shoe factory in Zhugao Town of Jintang County. She once worked in Guangdong for three years and returned home in 2008 to take care of her young child. [CnDG by Jiao Meng]
"I was eager to go out and change my destiny," Tang said.
Most of the first generation migrant workers in China had little education – Tang left school after junior high to help out his parents and six siblings. But they had the determination to escape poverty and were willing to take on tough physical labor, and many of them became construction workers.
Tang's salary jumped 10 folds, and in 1981, he moved again to Qiaojia County in Yunnan Province and put together a construction team to contract entire projects. The team gave out lower prices and worked more efficiently than its competitors, and the business flourished.
By 1990, Tang had saved up 100,000 yuan (US$22,321 in 1990). Because his son had reached school age, he decided to go back to Jintang, making him the county's first returning migrant worker.
He took out a loan, started a brick factory and hired 80 workers aged 45-55. "Because all of the young farmers had migrated to cities, I wanted to solve employment problems for those in their middle ages," he said.
But business back home proved a different beast, and in the first year the factory lost 360,000 yuan (US$75,313 in 1990).
Tang began to question whether to keep on with the factory and struggled to find ways to repay the loan. But on New Year's Day – the loan payment deadline – he received a surprise visit.
Officials in his district traveled past muddy roads and through the severe winter cold to come to his aid. They gave him encouragement to continue on and promised to help raise funds.
"I will never forget that day," Tang said, "I realized I had made a correct decision to come back [to Jintang County]."
The brick factory turned a profit the following year. Since then, Tang had set up a hospital and formed more construction teams. Now he is a successful businessman with over 100,000 employees all over the country.
Tang is one of 7,600 migrant workers who left the county and returned home to start their own businesses.
Government's helping hand
Deputy Magistrate Yin Xianpeng introduced detailed policies to encourage migrated entrepreneurs to return home. The measures include having the local government help returnees smoothly transfer social security files and apply for micro loans.
In addition, an industrial park was set up as a landing ground for new firms. Migrant workers could obtain a three-month temporary business license with no taxes or fees. If the firms survive past the first three months, they could apply for formal licenses with reduced taxes and fees; on the other hand, failed businesses could minimize their losses.
Moreover, the local government offers training courses to improve the returnees' management skills.
'New trend of social development'
Statistics from a recent report by Ministry of Agriculture shows that there are over 120 million migrant workers in China, and about 5 million have returned home to start their own businesses.
"Migrant workers have made great contributions to China's economic growth in the past 30 years of reforming and opening up," Yin said. "Returning migrant workers bring back funds and relatively advanced knowledge, which will help narrow urban-rural gap and create local jobs."
"However, social problems followed such as couples being separated and young children and elderly parents being left behind," Yin added.
Director of Rural Social Development Center of Ministry of Agriculture Wang Xiuzhong said he believed it is time for workforce and capital to change from moving in a single direction – from the countryside to cities – to going both ways.
"Balanced urban and rural development will become the new trend of social development," he said. "Home is the end goal for migrant workers, which can motivate them to start businesses."
"We should provide more favorable conditions to encourage them to return to their hometowns and devote themselves to building the new countryside."