Migrant workers lead role in China's countryside change

10:41, January 29, 2011      

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Just days before the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year, Gao Jianhai was chatting with his parents in their local dialect with his wife watching their son read an English text.

Gao Jianhai, 33 years old, lives in Xifangzi Village of Shangdu County of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Gao had not returned for four years to his village during the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, a traditional Chinese festival for family reunions, when tickets become a luxury as billions of people rush back to their hometowns from their work places.

"My brother and his family will return from Suzhou (in east China) before the Spring Festival and that will make it a real family reunion," Gao said.

Hoping for a better life, Gao left his village when he was 17. Since then, he has worked as an assembly line worker, mobile phone salesman and tearoom manager. Gao has now settled in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, establishing a hardware factory with friends in 2009.

"The factory has just started, and it is still in the red," he said, but seemed not to worry about the factory's outlook.

Like much of modern rural China, Gao's village is dominated by old people and children. "Nearly all the young people about my age go out to work," he said.

Many of the villagers make tens of thousands of yuan per year for growing cabbage, carrots or green Chinese onions. However, they could barely make ends meet because of the comparatively low output after years of the arid climate and rising living costs.

In Gao's village, many houses have been abandoned and dilapidated as whole families move to cities. The other mud-brick houses, however, are replaced by homes of brick and tile with remittances sent back by the migrants.

According to local government data, Shangdu County has more than 343,000 people, of which 113,000 have left to work in cities.

The acceleration in China's industrialization and urbanization has lured millions to quit their rural lives. Their influx into cities has helped China to become the world's manufacturing hub.

It has also brought changes to China's villages, such as Xifangzi.

Gao bought a 60-square-meter apartment in Shenzhen when the housing price was still low. "Now I cannot afford it," he said.

During the interview, Gao would interrupt to answer his mobile phone in his local dialect or in Mandarin.

Gao's six-year-old son is in the first grade at a primary school in Shenzhen. "My son does not know the local dialect and he is now learning to speak English," he said proudly.

He bought a washing machine for his parents, who no longer have to wash clothes with bare hands in the freezing winter.

The situation is similar in Dongfangzi Village, which is 4 kilometers from Gao's village.

Xiong Ziyun, who just came back from Ordos, was cleaning their rooms with his father. The 30-year-old man works at a construction site in the Dongsheng District of Ordos.

"I went out to work after my graduation from middle school, as I could not make much money from farming," Xiong said, who now earns 200 yuan (about 30.3 U.S. dollars) per day.

Xiong bought a Changan Suzuki minivan and drove home from Ordos. "It's more convenient to go shopping," he said.

Villagers' living standard have improved, as their wages increase over the years, he said. "More importantly, by working in cities people can learn more about the world and keep up with the urbanites."

Source: Xinhua
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