Official statistics show there are now 130 million (equivalent to one-half the population of the United States) migrant workers in Chinese cities who constitute China's main industrial workforce.
The term "farmer" carries different connotations in China to the West, where farming is a profession taken up by well-educated people and involves large-scale mechanical production.
However, being a farmer in China is synonymous with low social status. Chinese farmers have a comparatively poor education and they live on small patches of farmland (per capita farmland is less than one mu, or 1/15 hectare). Therefore, some farmers have to work in non-agricultural industries, or go to cities as migrant workers, where they do not enjoy the same political rights and social guarantees as their urban counterparts.
Migrant workers thus have a raw deal, despite providing cheap labor for China's ongoing economic development. Their huge numbers also challenge the system of domicile registration and legal and social guarantee systems that have been in force since 1949.
(Shenzhen Daily August 25, 2004)