Since Deng Xiaoping began the policy of economic reform and opening-up, Chinese migrant workers have become the biggest labour force in whole world. Zhao Shilin, now the owner of a flower shop on the Street of Eternal Happiness in Shanghai, was one of the workers motivated by Deng’s speeches, and left her home in northern China in 1992 to find work. Rob Schmitz at Marketplace tells the story of Zhao’s life as a migrant worker under the economic changes in China:
“Before I left town for Shanghai, the women in my village stopped talking to me. They looked at me in a sort of sarcastic way – why on earth would a woman move so far away from home?” Zhao said. “All of them stayed at home, knitting, and most of them were laid off. They thought I was leaving to take part in some immoral business.”
In fact, Zhao was playing a crucial role in China’s economic history, joining hundreds of millions of other workers heeding Deng’s call to change their — and their country’s — destiny.
The movement was considered the largest human migration in history.
[…] Zhao’s two young sons moved to Shanghai to join her. Her oldest son finished junior high with some of the best grades in his class. But because he was a migrant, he wasn’t allowed to attend high school in Shanghai—only legal residents of the city are allowed to do that. It’s like this throughout much of China. By law, migrants are typically treated like illegal immigrants inside their own country. In the cities they move to, many of them aren’t eligible for social benefits like health care and schooling.
“This makes me so angry,” Zhao said. “How can it be that all of us are under the same leadership… We live
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