Letters to Editor
Business & Trade
Culture & Science
Policy Making in Depth
News of This Week
Learning Chinese
Ambivalence About Migrants

What if the city's 3 million migrant workers suddenly packed up and left Shanghai? Judging from the recent holiday inconveniences, the city most likely would be paralyzed.

As about 1.8 million of these out-of-town workers are prepared to return home for the Spring Festival, their value is being highlighted to the local Shanghainese who often discriminate against this group.

Heading home

When news broke that train ticket fares would experience price hikes over the most cherished of holidays, migrant workers began heading home earlier.

Of course, some workers remain in the city for the holidays to save money, and some, who are required to work during the festival, have to stay behind.

Outside the well-educated migrant population working in high paying jobs, most laborers - mainly from Anhui, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Hunan and Jiangsu provinces - work in the construction and service trades.

Zhang Yanqiu, 34, is a white-collar worker in Shanghai. Zhang said she wanted to find someone to help her with the tedious and burdensome housework during the coming Spring Festival. However, she was disappointed to find it almost impossible as most workers have returned to their hometowns during this period.

Fengwei Home Services has been receiving more than 100 calls a day for nurses or hourly wage laborers, but only four to five of those who call are lucky enough to find someone.

"Our company has lost about 60,000 yuan ($7,200) in possible income during this period and clients have to wait about two or three weeks for a worker," said Zhang Shun, director of the company.


Along a 200-metre stretch of Qiancang Lu, a community in Pudong District, various kiosks and stands are run by out-of-town laborers, such as the Xinjiang grilled mutton shop, a Sichuan hot pot restaurant, several shoe-mending places, a store selling funeral products, a laundry, a hair salon, a dustbin station and odd vegetable and slipper sellers, to name only a few.

"I can buy vegetables at half the price of those in the market every day and I need not take a 10-minute walk to buy daily necessities," said a middle-aged woman in the community. "But during the Spring Festival, I may have to spend time and energy to get those things."

In a hair salon on Huashan Lu, almost all the staff are from other provinces and usually receive at least 30 to 50 customers a day for hair washes, massages and cuts. With this business especially busy during the festival, their presence is a necessity for the boss.

Therefore, these workers accepted the stipulation upon employment that they would give up their national holidays, including the Spring Festival.

Even trash collection is done by migrant workers.

"All the employees in our garbage collecting station are not locals. We will get several days vacation outside the holiday season, but not during the Spring Festival," said Tan Xiaofu, a garbage collector from Jiangsu Province, who came to the city together with his wife, leaving their two children behind in the village.

This year the couple will celebrate the Spring Festival in their rented shabby house on their own.

"We have become used to it because it has been the same since coming to Shanghai three years ago," he said.

His wife is an hourly wage nurse and Tan receives a salary of 600 yuan ($72) a month. They send most of their income to their children regularly.

"It's a considerable amount to spend 120 yuan ($14) to buy two tickets home, which is also a reason why we remain in the city," he said.

On the other hand, those self-employed workers and part-time employees may have more freedom to decide whether to stay or leave.

"I will not go back home because I cannot close my business. I would lose at least 2,000 yuan ($242) during the period," said Ni Xiping, owner of a laundry. "If the shop is closed, I still have to pay the rental and taxes."

Dirty words

When asked whether they felt that migrant workers were important to Shanghai, most local people gave the same answer - definitely, but...

Lina Yan, 26, a local computer engineer said, "They are too hostile to the city. They spit, speak loudly and say dirty words in public."

"The bad habits of migrant workers have come to represent their image. Although some Shanghainese have such habits, those we see most often behaving poorly are the out-of-town laborers," said Kenneth Yang, a local resident.

Even though many recognize the value of migrant labor, most Shanghainese have trouble accepting them. This is a fact that irritates out-of-town laborers.

"After the Spring Festival, I will not come to work in Shanghai again because I feel we are not welcomed and unfairly treated. The city is now trying to drive us away," said Jiang Yong, a vegetable peddler from Jiangxi Province.

Sometimes policemen rush illegal stands along the street with their cars, Jiang said. However, they only destroy the stands operated by out-of-town vendors, not those of locals'.

"We were usually fined more than the locals," he added.

Jiang will go to Nanjing in Jiangsu Province or Xiamen in Fujian Province next year, where he feels residents there are not as harsh as the people of Shanghai.

"The city itself has an increasing number of laid-off workers now who are seeking work, so they want to drive the migrant workers away," he said.

However, Shanghai residents would not admit to discriminating against the migrant population.

"We respect those of high education and with good manners. We are not biased against them," Chen said.

A subtle change has been taking place in recent years. Shanghainese have usually referred to anyone from other provinces as xiangxiaren (countryman). However, now they have added a new word to their vocabulary, mingong (migrant worker) to distinguish the laborers.

"We may accept the out-of-town laborers in a real sense when their intrinsic quality is improved," Chen said.

(Shanghai Star February 7, 2002 )

Workers’ Dilemma: Go Home for the Holidays or Stay
Migrant Rural Labor Needs Better Channeling
Shanghai on Internet
Shanghai Municipality
Copyright © China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved
E-mail: webmaster@china.org.cn Tel: 86-10-68996214/15/16