Slideshows: Reflections on China’s Migrant Workers

Reflections in a Chinese Eye has two rich posts about the state of migrant workers in China’s urban centers today.  The first, entitled ‘Systematic Government Theft of Migrant Workers’ Retirement Pensions‘ reproduces the full text of an article from China Labor News Translations and was covered here previously on CDT.

The second post aggregates a blog post by Megan Shank at Megan Shank dot com and two photo essays on China’s migrant workers.  In ‘The Problem with Mingong‘, Shank describes her brief January 2008 encounter in Shanghai with construction workers from Jiangsu province:

Today while at a Bund-side five-star hotel’s cafe where I was conducting an interview for the Enterprise section we’ll launch in March’s edition of Newsweek Select, a troop of 30-plus mud-covered construction workers tromped in with their rubber boots and construction hats and plopped down next to white collar workers disinterestedly sipping 55RMB ($7) lattes – an amount of money one of said workers would love to earn in a 14-hour day on the job. These construction workers are “waidiren” or people from outside of Shanghai. They were clearly agitated. Some joked, some laughed, some called for “foreign coffee.”

[...]This morning, the unrest proved palpable. To see these two colliding worlds this morning once again struck me to the core. Women in smart suits quickly picked up briefcases and fled. Groups of men in Western formal attire snapped pictures of the workers with their iPhones and joked amongst themselves about what a spectacle it made. Because I was with a PR official from the hotel, I knew I couldn’t escape for long, so I rushed over to speak with one of the construction workers, turning on my recorder. He told me they were from Jiangsu province, and so in my dealings with him, I tried to speak with my best Jiangsu accent, which is hardly standard Mandarin, but I wanted him to feel comfortable around me or at least to see I was trying, however poorly I fared.

He told me that the men, who mostly tacitly sat with unreadable expressions on their faces, had been working on the hotel for six months and had not been paid because their boss had not yet been paid. This is an entirely common situation in China. Either the developers or the contractor weasel or cheat the workers out of their money. With only a few days before Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival), China’s biggest holiday, the man said, they needed their wages to get home.

Patrick Zachmann captures migrant workers on the job, in conflict with management, and in rare moments of rest in his photo essay Mingong: The Hidden Face of China.

The ‘People’s Beijing Heaven Hotel’ is a guesthouse in the ‘Underground Forbidden City’, a vast subterranean bunker system dug out under Mao’s rule in case of nuclear war.  In her captioned slideshow The Hotel Between Heaven and Hell, Su Fang at The Common Language Project documents in stark black-and-white the conditions of mingong living beneath the streets of Beijing.

Find out more about China’s ‘floating population’ under CDT’s migrant workers and labor rights tags.

November 9, 2008 4:45 PM
Posted By:
Categories: Economy, Society