Rags to Riches

Thousands of people every year migrate from their rural homes in the country to find work in the big cities.Yet, 9 times out of 10, this procedure is not successful.

So why do they continue to do it?

This article will focus on China’s everlasting struggle with poverty and unemployment through the generations, and why nothing is being done about it.

A Harsh Reality

Today’s urban China is a melting pot of rich and poor. While successful businessmen go about their hectic lives of working, socialising and showing off, they turn a blind eye to the poverty that surrounds them. It is not often that these people take notice of the waiters, waitresses, chefs, shop assistents, factory workers and builders who are responsible for China’s wealthy citizens’ comfortable lifestyle. And it is sufficiently more unlikely for them to care about the conditions in which many of these people live and work. It is said that suicides in China count for 26% of suicides worldwide, and many of these suicides are within factories due to ridiculously long hours, hard labour, and extreme stress and pressure, with no end reward. Recently, Shenzhen’s Foxconn factory had to hang suicide nets due to a dozen people committing suicide in the factory.

And these people are the lucky ones. Some of Shanghai and the other big cities’ residents do not even have a fixed job: ‘urban life for them might mean sifting through rubbish for things to sell, or a fresh search for work – like the men who sometimes squatted on the pavement with little cardboard signs laid out in front of them advertising their services: ‘carpenter’, ‘plasterer’, ‘labourer’…’ *

In Hewitt’s ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’, we are told about a man called Wei Yuan who works for a rich businessman called Mr Pan. After complaining that the people who usually wash his car (which was now Wei Yuan’s job) never do a good job, he states that he’s sure with Wei Yuan, this won’t be the case. “Its a new job for them, so they’ve got to work extra hard to protect their rice bowl” * His mocking tone is one employed by many others of the same social status with anything concerning their poor migrant employees. It is simply not one of their priorities to care about the lives of others less fortunate than them. Hense the term The ‘Me’ Generation.

The ‘Me’ Generation

This is term used to describe the generation of rich and successful young people living in Modern China, who are often portrayed as self absorbed and concerned more with the latest fashions than current affairs. “On their wish list, a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of democracy.” **

“There’s nothing we can do about politics, so there’s no point in talking about it or getting involved.” ***

There is a vast divide between the ancient, tranquil China and the ever-increasing global power that it is gradually becoming. And between them? The twenty-something generation: a cross between the shallow, successful young business people of urban China and the struggling factory workers from the countryside. While the young adults of the ‘Me’ generation continue to ignore the issues with their suffering peers, nothing can be done to help them. “Contemporary Chinese society: the officially enshrined divide between urban and rural citizens.” *

The Migrant Generation

For years now, the young people of rural China have followed the somewhat mundane procedure of finishing school, and leaving their countryside homes to find work in the big cities like Shanghai or Hangzhou. As I said earlier, this is never usually successful. However, poverty is extremely prominent in rural China, and people have no choice. “My family are real peasants…I felt my burden was too much on them so I went to look for work” * 

Through the years, as the big cities have gotten bigger and imported foods have become easier to access, there has been less and less demand for produce from the farms in the coutntry . Therefore there is less work in the country, and more work (for however little pay) is available in the cities. Hense, the migrant generation. These people must find work in the cities to provide for their families, but as their search to find a living becomes more desperate, poverty becomes more prominent.

China’s ‘American Dream’

Its hard to express…It’s like wanting something that’s out of reach” *

Ultimately, the people of China, whether they are poor, rich, young or old, are in search of one common thing: the American Dream. It is this idealised concept that encourages the ‘me’ generation, and divides them from the older generation and the unfortunate migrant workers whom they live so close to. But it is not only the so called ‘me’ generation who are in search of this dream. The reason people migrate to the cities and work so hard for such little money, is because they strive for the same thing. And this, I believe, is the reason that poverty and unemployment in China cannot improve.

TT

* All quotes marked with (*) are from ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’ – Duncan Hewitt, Vintage Books, 2008.

** Quote from Hong Huang, ‘ China’s Me Generation’ article by Simon Elegant, Time Magazine, 2007

***Quote from a young Chinese person,’ China’s Me Generation’ article by Simon Elegant, Time Magazine, 2007

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