Following two nights of rioting after a fight between a migrant teenager and a local boy in Shaxi, Guangdong, riot police have been brought in to restore order. BBC reporters visited Shaxi:
We kept a low profile on the streets of the town last night.
To say the least, foreign journalists are not always welcome at what China calls “mass incidents”.
We saw hundreds of chanting, marching riot police, moving in formation through the streets, the black plastic of their helmets and shields reflecting the street lights.
At one point, I found myself ducking behind a row of beanstalks in a tenement garden while about 80 police gathered outside, just one of dozens of such groups guarding government buildings, banks and petrol stations.
It was an overwhelming show of force designed to send a clear message that the rioting and trouble of the previous two nights wouldn’t be tolerated.
Migrant workers in China have long been unhappy with their pay, inhumane treatment in factories and lack of equal education opportunities for their children. They are increasingly launching factory strikes and taking to the streets to protest.
Or clashing with locals as a group of migrant workers did on Tuesday in the town of Shaxi in the Guangdong province, which is known as the “world’s factory floor.”
Migration from the countryside has provided the cheap labor that has fueled China’s economic boom. Today, more than half of the 14 million residents in Guangzhou are now migrants. And their numbers are swelling in other cities, too.
The voluntary migration of workers in China – said to be the largest in human history – has not only created huge housing, healthcare and education obstacles for the big cities that have attracted them; it has also helped raise the expectations of those workers and their children who come from towns and villages where options are few.
Meanwhile, the official China Daily acknowledges that reforms are needed to resolve issues that lead to unrest, including an inherent inequality between migrants and local residents:
Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said he isn’t surprised that mass incidents have broken out between permanent residents and migrant workers in the prosperous province that borders Hong Kong and Macao.
“But local officials should really undergo special training to prepare them to properly deal with these incidents,” Zhu said.
He said the mass incidents were likely a result of Guangdong’s rapid economic growth and the fact that migrants are not always treated the same as permanent residents.
“Many migrant workers actually cannot enjoy the same social welfare benefits that other residents get,” Zhu said.