Chinese migrant workers flock to cities

Marketplace Staff Jul 18, 2008

Chinese migrant workers flock to cities

Marketplace Staff Jul 18, 2008


Bob Moon: The U.S. isn’t by any means the only country dealing with the issue of migrant workers.

In China, Beijing’s Olympic building boom is being fueled by migrant workers. Already 200 million have left the countryside for more productive jobs in urban China.

But that doesn’t mean they’re greeted with open arms, as Lisa Chow reports from Beijing.

Lisa Chow: The neighborhood surrounding Zhang Long’s apartment building is one big construction site, but you wouldn’t know as he walks his Pekinese dog in a quiet enclosed courtyard.

The dusty air from the construction outside is one thing, but it’s the migrant workers who really bug him.

Zhang Long: They’re dirty. They’re messy. Who can handle being so close to them?

Zhang is a retired bus driver, born and raised in Beijing. He invites over his friend Shi De Yuan, also a retired driver, to talk about the migrant workers.

Zhang: We can’t live without them, but deep down inside we hate them.

Shi De Yuan: You shouldn’t say that, even if it’s true. And besides, whether you’re from Beijing or not, we’re all Chinese.

Less than a block away outside large tents that serve as barracks, migrant workers play music on their cell phones to pass the time.

Zhang Zhen Feng came to Beijing a year ago from the neighboring Hebei province.

Zhang Zhen Feng: On the farm, we don’t have skyscrapers. Maybe it’s not a big thing for people in the city, but for me, wow, skyscapers!

Zhang is 53. He came here by himself and says he doesn’t have a family back home to take care of. He suffers from a limp and because he’s older than the typical migrant worker, he does landscaping instead of the more labor intensive road and construction work.

Zhang: I don’t have weekends nowadays. Why? Because we’ve got a tight schedule with the Olympics coming. We work eight to nine hours every day.

Zhang said as farmer, he used to make 3,000 yuan a year. That’s about $430. In Beijing, he earns more than triple that amount.

Zhang: After working in Beijing for eight to ten years, I’ll be richer than the farmers back home and I can use the money to help develop the countryside.

I ask him if he ever feels discriminated against.

Zhang: No, I don’t. We do the most physical jobs, the hardest jobs, and it helps develop the city. Beijing people know — and we know — that they need us.

It’s the one thing that local residents and migrant workers agree on.

In Beijing, I’m Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.