He has a rice sack for a suitcase and squats on it. He has sun-reddened cheeks and tattered sneakers. He is one of hundreds of migrant workers who crowd the Shanghai Train Station on a sunny, cold afternoon, chatting in different dialects, playing cards, napping with their heads in their laps.
Wang Chuanli is from Anhui, a rural inland province. In his village, almost all the men leave the land to seek construction jobs in cities around the country. “Everyone goes home in June to plant the soybeans. When that’s done, when it’s getting hot, we leave again. We come back to harvest the soybeans and plant corn. That is done by October 15, and then we leave for another three months,” says Wang. “We flow like water.”
China has 114 million migrant workers–or, as they are known here, the “floating population.” All around Wang sit men from different areas of China, men who have built the tall buildings that dominate Shanghai’s skyline but feel none of its prosperity. They are often undocumented and unprotected by China’s labor laws. The going wage for a temporary construction worker such as Wang is 5 renminbi, or 60 cents, per hour.