LIFE OF MIGRANT WORKERS IN CHINA
In China, migrant construction workers often move around from job to job and live in squatter camps or on the sidewalks. Officially, they are supposed to have residency-status cards, which can sometimes be obtained by bribing officials, but most can't afford to do that ad live illegally without cards. The long-term migrants settle into ethnic ghettos that have been described as "Chinatowns in China." Those that work on construction sites often live in cramped dormitories that in some cases have two or three men sleeping together on bunks in 10-meter-long rooms crammed with 40 men.
The migration for many is seasonal. The average migrant spends about eight months of the year away from home, returning to his village in spring and the fall to help plant and harvest crops. Everybody that can tries to return for the long New Year’s break Some workers are only able venture to their home villages once every two or three years. Sometimes they spend half of their two weeks off getting there and back in several-day, bunk-bed bus journeys.
Because many workers change their jobs or workplace frequently finding friends is hard. Many are very lonely and depend on their cell phones as lifelines to stay in touch with people back home.Many of the migrant workers in Langzhou, a gritty industrial city in Gansu Province, are unmarried men with no families. Describing a group of them looking for work, Joshua Kublantzick, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Dressed in torn jeans and dirty shirts and carrying thermoses of tea, they push towards the exterior fence, jostling for the attention of a site manager who hands out short-term jobs...Finding no work they trade tea for large bottles of beer, which the gulp down. Many of them soon stumble in circles.”
Migrants can stay in basement rooms for as little as $42 a month. Some share beds with workers who work different shifts and sleep at different hours. Others sleep in “starlight hotels” in public parks when they have nowhere else to go. For those who are desperate chairs at Internet cafes can be had for $2 a night. In Beijing and Shanghai they are seen sprawled on the sidewalk eating their lunch, often a tin bowl of sheep-gut soup that they can bought for 14 cents from a vendor.
Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Hutongs in Beijing A good book on hutong life is “Last Days of Old Beijing: Life on the Vanished Backstreets of a City Transformed” by Micheal Meyer (Walker and Co., 2008). Web Sites on Hutongs Wikipedia ;China Highlights China Highlights ; Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Chinatown Connectionchinatownconnection.com ; China Dailychinadaily.com; 2009 New York Times article nytimes.com ; China Beat blog report thechinabeat.blogspot.com;
Migrant Villages in China
Many are poorly paid construction workers, cooks and security guards who have little choice but to settle in low-rent "migrant villages." Such villages are often built on cheap land that the government has designated for construction projects, making whole communities vulnerable to demolition on short notice. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011]
Huang Ziyi and Li Rongde wrote in Caixin: “Dongsanqi village, about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) northwest of downtown Beijing, is home to 50,000 rural farmers who have migrated to the Chinese capital in search of work. These construction workers, street vendors and scrap dealers are often unable to secure the required documents such as a work permit and tax slips that would allow out-of-town workers to send their children to public schools.” Therefore, schools run by the migrants themselves are their only alternative. [Source: Huang Ziyi and Li Rongde, Caixin, July 10, 2017]
Many migrants have come to accept the constant threat of demolition as an unavoidable part of life in the capital and other cities."As soon as they want to expand the road, this place is gone," said Zhou Jun, a mechanic working just outside the gates of the community center in Heiqiao, pointing to a two-lane road a quarter of a mile from his shop. Xia Ling, 32, said her family moved to Heiqiao two years ago after their last home in Beigao, another migrant village in suburban Beijing, was condemned to make way for a government project no one seems willing or able to describe. "The whole village was knocked down, including the school," she said, watching her 3-year-old daughter play by the center's basketball courts. "About 1,000 students had to just move on."
Dongxiaokou, an Urban Village of Migrants in Northern Beijing
Carlo Inverardi-Ferri wrote in Made in China: Dongxiaokou, an urban village in the northern outskirt of Beijing, infamously known in the press as the ‘waste village’ (feipincun). Until urban redevelopment projects accelerated its demolition in recent years, this informal settlement had been one of the biggest in the metropolis. Situated between the Fifth and Sixth ring road, around ten kilometres from the city centre, it hosted a massive population of migrant workers, who had made this place their home and used it as a base to enter the Chinese capital’s labour market. [Source: Carlo Inverardi-Ferri, Chinoiserie, September 28, 2017; Made in China, Issue 2, 2017]
“The story of Dongxiaokou highlights, in particular, the tension between land used as a common resource by migrant workers and land utilised as a way to produce economic profits for real estate development. In the early 2000s, the village rented most of its land to migrant workers coming from outside the municipality of Beijing. Its proximity to the city centre made it a convenient place to settle down and find work opportunities in the metropolis. When the first migrants arrived, local cadres welcomed them and accommodated the newcomers in uncultivated fields, which were rented out as a way to drive new revenues into the village.
“Wealthy migrants rented big plots of land that they then divided and sublet to less well-off migrants, who in turn established their dwellings and economic activities in Dongxiaokou. Very quickly the village population grew from little less than two thousand people into an agglomeration, according to some sources, of almost thirty thousand inhabitants. Interestingly, Dongxiaokou quickly became a local hub for waste recycling activities growing in scale and scope. As one of my informants claimed in a personal communication, in few years Dongxiaokou was transformed into ‘one of the biggest scrap distribution centres (feipin jisandi) in the entire country.’
As the story of Dongxiaokou suggests, two different levels of urbanisation exist in contemporary China. The first is a process mediated by the state that operates inside the administrative boundaries of the city; the second is an unofficial one, which goes beyond these boundaries and occurs at the margins of the metropolis or in the countryside. Here, migrant workers, attracted by the possibility of improving their material lives, enter Chinese metropolises and create particular urban economic landscapes, while suburban villages benefit economically from their presence. Yet, official planning recurrently subsumes these spaces.
“These different modes of urbanisation also mirror contrasting ways of creating and living in the city. Enclaves of informality — and the specific use of land operated in urban villages — reflect the way less-privileged groups make a livelihood, rather than a strategy to produce profits from land development. While they come from poorer rural regions and moving into metropolises, friendship and kinship networks support the adventures of these migrants who lack any basic formal right to the city. As a dweller in Dongxiaokou clearly pointed out, the social community that inhabited Dongxiakou provided important support to migrants. In his words: ‘Being here is like being back home… Like this, it is easier to do our business.’
“As this quote suggests, urban villages are microcosms of people and relations that represents a social community and not only economic outcomes. Here the physical and social dimensions of land are strictly intertwined with the everyday livelihoods of the people that inhabit these spaces. Their redevelopment is thus a process that brings about a destruction of these communal spaces, highlighting once more the need to ask an old — but urgent — question: who has the right to the city in contemporary China?
Dongxiaokou Becomes an Entrepreneural and Mass Recycling Center
Carlo Inverardi-Ferri wrote in Made in China: “A complex network of buyers and suppliers for all sort of waste materials developed in the village. During the day, local recyclers roamed the wealthy neighbourhoods of Beijing in search of valuable products, such as used mobile phones or old compressors. In the evenings, they came back to Dongxiaokou to resell their products to middlemen who, in turn, resold them to manufacturing companies in nearby regions. A large number of complementary businesses, such as mechanic workshops, logistics firms, groceries, and restaurants, also quickly flourished in the village. [Source: Carlo Inverardi-Ferri, Chinoiserie, September 28, 2017; Made in China, Issue 2, 2017]
“Hundreds of family-owned enterprises dominated the landscape. They all looked more or less the same. Behind a metallic gate was a rectangular courtyard where old newspapers, waste wood, plastic bottles, used electronics, or anything else with a commercial value was stored. In one of the corners of the yard there was always a small building, usually composed of two rooms, where an entire family lived. Sometimes a dog was chained to one of the walls to guard the yard.
Interestingly, while academia and the media have paid much attention to different generations of migrant workers in their role as wage-labourers, the rise of Dongxiaokou paints a less familiar picture. It tells the story of small family-owned firms and self-employed entrepreneurs, or in other words, petty capitalists. It is a story of what some define as the informal economy: a heterogeneous sector that crosses many different industries, and employs a large proportion of the population in contemporary China. It is not my goal to romanticise this phenomenon, which raises serious questions of occupational health and safety, as well as issues of local citizenship and environmental justice, but rather to underline what I believe to be one of its most peculiar characteristics. Migrants in Dongxiaokou — at least a good portion of them — enjoyed a relatively high level of freedom and mutual support, being part of a local society that conceived of their resources — labour and land — as means of common subsistence.
“Dongxiaokou was not an isolated case. A report by the United Nations published in 2013 estimated that the informal recycling sector in China comprised twenty million people, and that it was organised in a myriad of informal settlements scattered all over the country. While numbers certainly cannot give an accurate account of the great variety of businesses that this industry creates, they are nevertheless useful to provide a general idea of the magnitude and impact that these activities had, and continue to have, on Chinese metropolises. This involves the creation of employment opportunities on the one side, and the production of physical landscapes on the other side. “Dongxiaokou was not a new phenomenon either. In their work on the ‘Henan village’, Béja and colleagues documented the emergence of these urban and economic spaces as far back as the 1990s.
“The fate of Dongxiaokou was decided in the 2000s. When urbanisation reached the borders of Dongxiaokou, space had to be made for the new real estate projects. As a result, demolitions of the ‘waste village’ of Dongxiaokou accelerated in 2015. The place that previously buzzed with economic activity was again geographically transformed. Workshops that were filled with all sort of valuable products became empty fields, as their occupants had to relocate to other parts of the city. Roads were silent, except for the sounds coming from the new infrastructural works planned by the municipality. Having lost their usual clientele, shops closed down, and most dwellings were levelled.
Migrant Workers and the Villages They Leave Behind
A study of 2,749 villages in 17 provinces found that 74 percent of them had no workers fit enough to travel and work as migrant workers. Once they have left many workers don’t want to return ever to their village to live. They find the idea that things change so little in their villages to be depressing and worry for their children because village schools are of lower quality than schools found in the cities.
Migrants workers who leave behind a spouse and children see them maybe once a year. Sometimes parents are gone for so long their young children don’t recognize them and recoil from them as if they were strangers. One mother told National Geographic as she was heading off in a bus to her distant job and her two-year-old daughter showed no emotion about her leaving, “It’s hard to bear. But there is no other way for us to give our daughter a future."
The trend seems to be a clear indication that money now has precedence over family in traditionally , family-oriented China. One villager in Henan Province told the Los Angeles Times, “In the countryside people pay more attention to economics than to emotions, feelings, family ties and all those sorts of things.”
Many migrants want to return to their villages some day. They are reluctant to get residence permits in the cities they work, and the pension and benefits that go along with them, even if it offered to them because they want to have access to their land back home. Some migrant who have worked in the cities for some time use their money to build fine houses in their home villages, outfit with refrigerators, washing machines and large screen televisions. These homes often stand among in village made up mostly of mud-walled huts.
Some migrants try to save enough money to pay for a wedding or open a small grocery store or clothes shop back home. One woman interviewed by Time earned $150 a month working as a maid in Beijing for 20 years and managed to pay for her son's wedding and buy a new farm and house in her village with flush toilets and running water. "I don't buy clothes or wear make-up," she told Time magazine, "so things are a bit easier at home.”
A few are clever, ambitious and hardworking enough to start businesses that grow and prosper with cheap labor that they themselves once provided. This is very rare. There are many obstacles the migrants have to overcome
Women with Bound Feet in a Rural Migrant Village
Reporting from a village named Laoshidan, Jim Yardley wrote in New York Times: “AT ages 84 and 83, Wang Zaiban and Wu Xiuzhen are old women” with bound feet. “In recent years, drought drove them out of the mountains of Shaanxi Province to this farming village beside the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia. They now collect cigarette cartons or other scraps for recycling, or they help in the fields. They are widows, grandmothers, mothers and, more or less, migrant workers. At this particular moment, they are resting. “You look a little different, ” Mrs. Wu said to a small group of foreigners who approached them one afternoon near dusk. “I’m going deaf!” shouted Mrs. Wang as a warning. [Source: Jim Yardley, New York Times, December 2, 2006]
“They had been chatting beside the Yellow River, sitting on the bank and taking in the view. The river was brown, and the hillsides were colorless and pebbled with stones. Haze from factories downstream curled around a tight bend. Mrs. Wang wore a white cloth wrapped around her head. A blue scarf framed Mrs. Wu’s sun-baked face. They had grown up together in a mountain village outside the city of Shenmu, located a few hundred miles to the east.
“Laoshidan is decrepit, with battered brick homes, mud stables and dirt paths for roads. Now farm kids are flowing into the cities all over China. Villages like Laoshidan are dying, except that Laoshidan has water from the river. So it, oddly, is a migrant destination. The village has 90 families who have come from seven provinces. Everyone grows corn. The youngest wear T-shirts and watch TV. The oldest, Mrs. Wu and Mrs. Wang, find their entertainment sitting beside the river. “Our houses aren’t very nice, ” Mrs. Wang said. “We like to watch the river. When I don’t feel good, I come by the river.”
“Mrs. Wang carried a few cucumbers in a nylon sack, gifts from her son, and offered one to her guest. Mrs. Wu’s husband died three years ago but she has three sons, two daughters and 17 grandchildren. (The one-child policy is often more a concept than a reality in the most remote farming villages.) “Since we got here, life is O.K., ” Mrs. Wu said. “But it is punishing to still work the land. It is cruel to be so old and still working.” It was a melancholy note but it passed. Mrs. Wang and Mrs. Wu later rose off the ground and began to head home for dinner. The two women with unbound feet laughed and found a bit of satisfaction from at least one of the changes wrought in their long lives. “Back then, if you wanted to curse women, you could curse them, ” Mrs. Wang said. “If you wanted to hit them, you could hit them. But now women are women.”
Migrant Worker Family
David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Wei Yuying is one of about 200 million rural transplants, a massive underclass of migrant workers living like illegal immigrants in their own country with slim prospects of joining the middle class. A former rice and corn farmer from western Sichuan province, Wei moved to Beijing eight years ago in search of a better life. She now lives with her husband in a rented room no bigger than a tool shed in a half-demolished neighborhood filled with fellow migrants. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2012 ]
“Their children stayed behind with grandparents in the countryside. Wei saw her son and daughter just once a year, during the spring festival holidays. Now in their 20s, the offspring are migrants themselves in western Chengdu and southern Guangzhou. "Our family is poor so we decided to leave for the city. Now we're here, we can't make much money either," said Wei, 46, who works under-the-table construction jobs for a few hundred dollars a month. "We have no pension or medical insurance. It's almost impossible. We're barely surviving."
Children of Migrant Workers in Left Behind in Their Villages
With parents gone searching for jobs many children are left behind to be brought up by grandparents or other relatives. The only time the children see their parents is when they return home over Chinese New Year holiday and even then often they don’t make it home because they are required to work at their factory or construction site.
These so called “left-behind” children number in the tens of millions and even hundreds of million because there are that many migrant workers in the cities. One 14-year-old who lived alone for a year after her father left for a construction job told the Los Angeles Times, “My parents are away making money so I can have a better life. But I don’t care about living a better life. I just want them to be home at my side.”
Children of migrant workers who live in villages and rarely see their parents often do poorly in school; and have discipline and psychological problems. One school principal told the Los Angeles Times, “Most of these students tend to become antisocial and introverted. But in times of conflict, they tend to explode and react in violent extremes.” A school counselor said, “These children are so sad. They have to learn early to fend for themselves. There’s one family where the grandparents are taking care of four children from three of their sons. All of them are away at work. At best they can make sure the kids are clothed and fed. But they can’t fill the emotional emptiness.”
Children of Migrant Workers in the Cities
According to figures available from the National Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, China has 20 million children of migrant workers living in the cities, struggling to integrate into urban life. Their lives have drawn much attention recently and inspired several works of fiction and non-fiction. [Source: Qiu Yijiao, China Daily, June 1 2010]
Xu Ling, a teacher in Zhangjiagang, a city in Jiangsu province, who has taught many migrant children and wrote a popular novel about them, told the China Daily, ‘students from the countryside are very sensitive and fragile psychologically. They look strong and tough because they need to protect themselves in a new environment, but actually break down easily.”
Xu's novel Floating Flowers (Xiwang de Huaduo, Xiwang Publishing House, 2009), selected as one of the Top 10 children's literature works since 1949, draws generously on her experiences to present an intimate account of the lives of these children. The novel features a Grade 5 schoolboy Wang Di, who comes from a small town in the west and studies at a public primary school in a southern city. Wang's family has no fixed home and he suffers from inferiority while in the city. He feels shunned and misunderstood by the city kids. However, he perseveres and eventually gains confidence, becoming the class monitor and even forming a music band at the end of the novel.
Xu says their evasive eyes and timid voices reflect their worries and uncertainties about their new life in the city. “This is a special social phenomenon of our times. Migrant workers lead a tough life in the cities and their children also have to shoulder the burden,” Xu says. “But they are only children and they need happiness and encouragement as they are growing up.”
Xu says children of migrant workers are easily satisfied, and once they have adjusted to their new surroundings, they are naturally frank, honest and generous. “They are generally happy when they have a sense of belonging and fulfillment. They are all talented children and what they need is recognition and approval.”
Housing for Migrant Workers in China
The China Economic Review reported: “Local governments and property developers already find themselves under intense pressure in dealing with current hukou holders, let alone those who don't have them yet. “The demand for affordable housing of those with local hukous is so great that local governments will not care too much about migrants [without hukous],” says Kam Wing Chan, a professor at the University of Washington. If local governments are barely able to provide new hukou holders with suitable homes, migrants without hukous hardly stand a chance. [Source: China Economic Review, May 19, 2014 \^/]
“Far from providing shelter for many migrant workers, the massive plan to renovate shantytowns could leave many of them struggling to find new accommodation. Under the new plan, when a shantytown is demolished, affordable housing should be raised in its place. This should put many migrants with hukous into stable homes. But workers without hukous will be forced from their humble slums with no replacement in sight. They are often unable to afford the market rates on commercial rentals. \^/
“Even low-quality affordable housing isn’t a certainty on the slums that are torn down. Local governments, which by some measures generate 60 percent of revenues from land sales, simply can't afford to allow for cheap housing to be built on pricy land; they will still try and maximize the value of their assets. This is likely the case with the Shanghai shantytown demolished a few months ago. \^/
In 2013, the average price of land in Shanghai increased by nearly 20 percent year-on-year for months on end, yet the National Bureau of Statistics said this month that migrant workers' wages climbed by just 13 percent year-on-year in 2013. Staying above water can be difficult.
Health Care for Beijing Migrant Workers
In March 2012, the China Daily reported: “That 1.5 million farmers-turned-workers in Beijing will enjoy the same healthcare coverage as their urban counterparts starting April 1, is a significant step forward for efforts to realize the integration of this particular group of laborers into cities. According to the policy proposal released by the Beijing municipal bureau of human resources and social security, migrant workers with valid employment contracts in the city will receive their own social security cards, which are required for medical treatment, and their healthcare insurance will be extended to cover non-critical conditions. [Source: China Daily, March 22, 2012]
“Meanwhile, employers' contributions to their workers' healthcare insurance will increase from 1 percent to 10 percent of the base amount of their income. That means, taking last year's average monthly wage in the city as an example, employers' healthcare contributions will increase from 25.2 yuan ($4) to 168 yuan.
Migrant Schools in China
Under China's hukou, or residence registration system, migrant workers are not entitled to the same social benefits as city dwellers, including the right to enroll their children in free public schools. In Beijing, many migrant children attend unregulated "migrant schools," where tuition is high despite often underqualified teachers and overcrowded classrooms. "We'll take her wherever she can get a basic education," one migrant told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't want my daughter to work in a kitchen her whole life." [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011]
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Though the quality of education they offer may be questionable, private schools like Red Star are often the only option for the children of low-skilled migrant laborers, who for the most part are ineligible for the free public education available to legal Beijing residents.The challenges become even more heart-rending after middle school, when the children of migrants must either return to their parents’ hometown for high school “and thus live separated from their parents “or drop out. “It’s a cruel, unfair system that stops people from pursuing their dreams,” said Song Yingquan, a researcher at the Rural Education Action Project, an advocacy group. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times August 29, 2011]
There are about 20 million migrant children living in Chinese cities. Many of them attend migrant schools that have often been set up by the migrant workers themselves. These schools tend to be basic but are often manned by committed, decent-quality teachers. Generally they have lower fees than public schools. Some even have school buses. As of 2005, there were 293 migrant schools in Shanghai. As of 2007 there were about 200 migrant schools in Beijing with 90,000 children.
The first school for migrants to win government approval in Beijing was opened in 1993 by a teacher from a rural school who was shocked to find that many children of migrant workers were basically illiterate because their parents were too busy to help them and because they lacked residency status necessary to attend local schools.
One school was founded in some empty rooms at a market. Describing a classroom in this school Yusaku Yamame wrote in the Asahi Shimbum, “The 50-square-meter classroom with more than 80 students. Children read from their textbook in a loud voice: “A puppy, puppy runs slowly...” The teacher has difficulty even walking around the desks in the room
Migrant School Made of Shipping Containers
Reporting from Beijing Jonathan Kaiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Inside the shipping containers stacked like Lego blocks and painted bright, pastel colors, groups of middle-school students sat in newly renovated classrooms scribbling in notebooks and joking distractedly with their friends. Their classrooms at a 19-container community center in Heiqiao Village, a dusty sprawl in suburban Beijing, had survived a summer run of local government closures and demolitions of more than 30 schools. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011]
Compassion for Migrant Children, the nonprofit organization responsible for building the center in Heiqiao at a cost of about $150,000, is well acquainted with the sting of demolition. After more than two years in operation, one of the organization's centers was razed in 2009 to make way for an office complex, leaving families in the lurch.
Now the organization believes the shipping container setup in Heiqiao, which provides after-school programs for about 70 youths and has room to grow, can survive even if the surrounding village is marked for demolition, said Yin Chia, communications manager. The group plans to build dozens of additional centers. "We can just put the center on a truck and move with the community," she said, adding, "Donors are very concerned about the sustainability of their donations. We can't be sustainable if we keep getting demolished."
Shutting Down Migrant Schools in China
In the summer of 2011 local governments closed and demolished more than 30 schools for migrant children in the Beijing area, affecting almost 15,000 youths. Officially, local authorities considered the schools that closed "unsafe" and "unhygienic." But some migrant education experts believe the closings were more likely a heavy-handed effort by district officials to get migrant families to move away. "The government has a bad name for these migrant workers — they call them the 'low-end population,' " said Song Yingquan, an expert on migrant education at Peking University. "They're trying to stop children from going to school in order to send parents back to their hometowns." [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2011]
In 2006, the government mandated that public education must be provided to the children of migrant workers. Before then these children were barred from public schools. Once consequence of this decision has been the shutting down of migrant schools In Shanghai, 100 policemen and larger numbers of security agents officials showed up one day at the Jianying Hope School for migrant children and announced the school was closed and informed the 2,000 students and the teachers they would have to go home. One teacher told the New York Times, “They just showed up and closed the school while we were teaching. Children were crying, teachers were crying and people were very scared.” This took place even though there were no public schools for the children to go to.
In Guangzhou, the city government has bought out private schools and converted them to schools for migrant workers. Other cities such and Hangzhou have given technical and financial assistance to existing migrant schools.
In September 2006, authorities shut down 50 migrant schools in Beijing to discourage migrants form staying in Beijing during the Olympics. Shanghai has closed down the schools more gradually. In 2006 it closed 16 migrant schools out of a total of 293 and aimed to have 70 percent of the children of migrant workers enrolled in public schools by 2010.
In January 2008, authorities in Shanghai said they planned to either take over or close down 240 illegal schools for migrants by 2010 and integrate the students into the regular school system.
Destruction of Rural Immigrant Schools in the Beijing Area
Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “Xie Zhenqing spent 12 years transforming a collection of ramshackle houses into Red Star, a privately run, low-cost school for 1,400 children of migrants from poor rural areas. It took just a few hours this month for a government-dispatched demolition crew to turn the place into a jagged pile of bricks.” “What the government did to us is unconscionable,” Ms. Xie, Red Star’s principal, said angrily as parents of her students scrambled to find other arrangements before the start of the new school year on Thursday. “I’ll never work for a migrant school again.” Red Star is one of 30 technically illegal private schools in Beijing that have been torn down or closed in recent weeks in an official campaign billed as a war against unsafe and unhygienic school buildings. In all, more than 30,000 students have lost their classrooms this summer. Advocates for the migrants warn that many of the capital’s 130 other unlicensed schools could be next. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times August 29, 2011]
Some observers see other motives behind the campaign, including the municipal government’s unceasing pursuit of land sales to fill its coffers. The site where Red Star once stood is already surrounded by a crop of expensive high-rise apartment towers and a new subway station. But school administrators, parents and many Beijingers view the bulldozing as nothing more than a roughshod exercise in population control. Although education bureaucrats insist that the closings of the migrant schools in Beijing are a matter of safety, many parents raised questions about the timing and the lack of alternatives. Some parents, especially those whose children have been displaced more than once, admitted defeat and said they would either return to their hometowns or send their children back to be raised by relatives. “If officials don’t want our kids to be educated in the capital, then we should all go back to the places where we truly belong,” said a recyclables collector who sent his two school-age children back to Henan Province this month. “I don’t see why we should live here without dignity.”
In 2017, thousands of children of rural migrants with their families in Beijing found themselves without schools after the school buildings were demolished as part of a crackdown on slums in Beijing’s Changping district. Huang Ziyi and Li Rongde wrote in Caixin:“Zhiquan school in the village of Dongsanqi, which has classes from grades one through six, has been earmarked for demolition at the end of July as part part of a plan to increase the forest cover surrounding the city, according to Beijing municipal authorities. “The school, with over 500 students, is frantically searching for another site before the new school year. If they are unable to secure a location, they may have to close the school, he added. “Another primary school with a similar number of students administered by Qin in the nearby town of Cuizhen, also in Changping district, faced a similar fate.[Source: Huang Ziyi and Li Rongde, Caixin, July 10, 2017]
Although Qin Jijie, the “Zhiquan’s principal. had obtained a license to operate a school, Changping authorities said they were demolishing it because it was run in an illegal building. The site was constructed by locals years ago without the necessary building permits. Many schools catering to migrant children operate in similar premises as they don’t receive government subsidies and can’t afford to rent other places. It isn’t clear how many schools are affected in the latest clampdown, but four schools Caixin visited in Changping district face closure by the end of July.
“Qin said his school has survived several crackdowns in the past, but had to relocate twice, first from the downtown district of Chaoyang to the periphery, and then again to another village in rural Changping district since 2014. “Everything had been smooth in the first couple of years since we opened the school, ” Qin said. “But the forced relocations have made it harder for us to operate, and we lost nearly two-thirds of the students when we first moved in 2014.”
“The Zhenxing School in Yandan village, also a licensed school for migrant students in Changping district, had its water and electricity cut off by authorities in early April in an attempt to coerce them to wind down operations, according to its principal, Wang Zhenguo. The school of 700 students managed to remain open in the past semester until the end of June by relying on its own power generators and bottled water, Wang said. They have also found another venue in the same village for a new school, but township authorities ordered the principal to stop work at the second, citing building-license violations. “Where will our students go in the next school year?” Wang asked.
Anger Over the Destruction of Rural Immigrant School in Beijing
After the Red Star school described above was demolished many of the families who had kids there vowed to stick it out in Beijing. Two weeks ago, as devastated parents and their children gathered at the rubble of their former schools, local newspapers eagerly captured their despair. Compounding popular ire were news media reports about a government-affiliated charity that is spending more than $300 million to construct 1,000 schools in Africa.
The public backlash was immediate, prompting education officials in several districts to relax restrictions that bar nonresident students from enrolling in Beijing’s public schools. Still, many parents complained that the remedies were inadequate or elusive, and said that similar promises after a spate of school demolitions in 2006 proved to be hollow.
Li Haixin, 32, a math teacher at Red Star who sent her 6-year-old son to the school, said the boy was still shaken from seeing the desks, chairs and student art projects buried under a mound of broken masonry. Although she is now unemployed, Ms. Li said she would try to send him to a more expensive but legally registered private school, borrowing the money to pay the fees, rather than enroll him in a slapdash building that the authorities said would open as a replacement school for some of the students. “This is a ruse,” she said of the campaign against illegal schools. “Let’s face it, they just want to elbow us out of the city.”
Chinese Cities Relax School Entry for Rural Migrants
In December 2012, Reuters reported: “Three populous Chinese regions plan to relax restrictions on the children of workers from rural areas trying to enter university-track high schools, China National Radio reported, in an apparent response to protests over discriminatory practices. Beijing and Shanghai as well as Guangdong Province, whose Pearl River Delta factories are a magnet for migrants, will phase in access to the higher-education exams for students living within their borders, China National Radio reported. Chinese high school students can only take university entrance exams where they are registered, a stipulation that effectively locks out the children of migrant workers in cities. [Source: Reuters, December 30, 2012 /*]
“Reformists had seized on the case of Zhan Haite, 15, the daughter of migrants who had been raised in Shanghai but was ineligible to attend a university-track high school there. Her case triggered protests in Beijing and Shanghai, while her father was detained for several days for campaigning to secure education rights in Shanghai. /*\
“The rules as announced still do not treat the children of migrants as equals of city residents with legal registration. "It's not ideal. They have just made the regulations more detailed, not changed the underlying situation," Zhan said from her home in Shanghai. The new criteria were so strict that she, and others like her, would still be ineligible, she said. "I bet only 5 percent of the kids would meet the new requirements." /*\
“But in practice, academically gifted migrant children will still face discrimination. From 2016, Guangdong will allow migrant children to sit the exams and apply to university on an equal footing with legal residents. Beijing and Shanghai plan to relax admission rules for vocational-track schools and in some cases open the door to university education to students who have first graduated from a vocational school program. Migrant children may take the university exam in Beijing from 2013 and in Shanghai from 2014, but their university applications will still be processed in their legal hometown. The children of migrants long resident in Beijing already have some rights to attend elementary school, but in practice they are often kept out by high fees, red tape and complicated admission procedures. /*\
Image Sources: Beifan.com,China Labor Watch, Cgstock.com http://www.cgstock.com/china
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021