The Great Migration: Chinese Workers Return Home

For Marketplace, Rob Schmitz visits with migrant laborers who have returned home to cities and towns in China’s interior from coastal factories, following an upsurge in investment there:

Zhang Xianjun just returned from a factory in Guangzhou, where he assembled plastic parts. He left home ten years ago, joining a quarter of a billion other Chinese in the largest human migration the world has known. But times have changed. These days, factories are migrating. Companies are relocating manufacturing from China’s coast to inland provinces like Sichuan and Henan, where the labor came from in the first place. Zhang can now choose between making iPads at Foxconn or microprocessors at Intel. Both companies are hiring here. “Everything here has modernized,” says Zhang, “I live three hours away in a small town. Now my hometown even has an industrial park where I could work. It’s a big change.”

After years of focusing on its coast, China is now investing in its interior. Chengdu, for example, enjoyed fifteen percent GDP growth last year. Ben Schwall is a factory consultant in the former boomtown of Dongguan. He says all of this began in 2009, after the financial crisis in the U.S. Americans stopped buying things, and millions of Chinese factory workers were suddenly unemployed. They returned home and realized home wasn’t so bad anymore. “Cost of living was a lot cheaper,” says Schwall, “You can live at home. Mom cooks good. you’re not locked in a dorm room with six people. You can perhaps sleep with your wife, you can see your children. Hey! Being at home was not so bad.”

Listen to the full report here:

This is the third story in a series by Schmitz on the End of the Great Migration. Listen to the previous two episodes:
The end of the Great Migration: A factory town’s downward slide
The end of the Great Migration: Foreign companies look to China’s interior

Read more about China’s migrant workers, via CDT.

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