A Great Migration into the Unknown

The Economist looks at prospects for widespread unrest as unemployment rises both among rural citizens and recent college graduates. The article concludes: “Whether or not unemployment brings unrest on the scale seen in 1989, the party will be severely challenged over the next few months”:

As the Communist Party prepares to celebrate 60 years in power on October 1st, it worries that citizens will be in a fractious mood.

Xinji sits about four hours’ drive south of Beijing, in the dusty plain of Hebei province. It is typical of China’s many fast-emerging cities, driven by the big ambitions of local governments. It is now just as typical of the many Chinese boomtowns that are hitting the buffers. Xinji has suffered badly from falling demand for its clothing exports. By November, most of its factories had closed two months earlier than normal for the spring festival break. Tens of thousands of workers went back to their nearby villages, expecting to return after the holiday. Many won’t do so.

This is a huge problem for Xinji’s government, whose aspirations are symbolised by the city’s new town with its broad boulevards, an Eiffel-Tower-like structure at one crossroads and a rocket-shaped protrusion on top of the leather-clothing exhibition centre. It had been planning for an average of 13% growth a year for the rest of the decade. When thousands of Chinese factories began to halt production late last year as export orders dried up, much attention focused on the travails of Guangdong, an export-driven southern province bordering on Hong Kong. Several protests broke out as factories there closed down, leaving employees unpaid. But after making their point, many of the workers departed for their home villages in distant inland provinces. Xinji’s workers are mainly local. It cannot shed its difficulties so easily.

Nor can many other towns and cities across China.

The government has launched a rural support plan to help raise incomes and boost development.

February 1, 2009 10:42 PM
Posted By:
Categories: Economy, Society