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Last Train Home

Premiere Date: September 27, 2011

'Last Train Home' in Context

The Migrant Worker in China

People born after 1980 account for about 60 percent of China’s 240 million migrant workers, and their changing habits and aspirations will help determine the development of the country’s manufacturing sector and broader economy.



Since 1978, when China implemented economic reforms intended to liberalize and boost the economy, the country has seen a rapid, massive urbanization. Not only have populations moved from the countryside to urban areas in unprecedented numbers (the proportion of China’s urban population increased from 18 percent in 1978 to 43.9 percent in 2006), but the number of cities themselves skyrocketed, more than tripling from 191 in 1978 to 661 in 2005, as industrial centers were erected and expanded to meet global demand for Chinese-made goods. It is expected that an additional 345 million people in China will move from rural to urban areas in the next 25 years — a mass migration larger and faster than any in history.

Seven cities and provinces have absorbed the majority of the migrant workers, who now make up more than one third of the population in cities such as Beijing and Zhejiang. Shenzhen, the town where Qin is bartending at the end of the film, has grown from a small town to a major metropolis in the past three decades; as of 2007, 12 million of the city’s total population of 14 million were migrants.

As the population urbanizes, the gap between rural and urban wages widens, making the move to city centers more and more appealing. In their hometowns, rural workers hardly make enough to get by; by 2006, the average urban worker earned 3.27 times as much as his rural counterpart.

People born after 1980 account for about 60 percent of China’s 240 million migrant workers, and their changing habits and aspirations will help determine the development of the country’s manufacturing sector and broader economy.

Young Chinese migrant workers earn an average 1,747.87 Chinese yuan ($277) a month, about half the average urban salary, but have high expectations for personal development, according to a survey by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

That survey also found that young migrant workers are three times as likely to change jobs as their parents. They also have far less experience in farming than their parents, an indication that they are likely to remain in urban areas even if they cannot obtain the residency permits required to access the full range of social benefits.

As a way of accommodating this movement, the trade union federation recommended that the government allow at least 4 million young migrant workers to settle permanently in cities every year.

Photo caption: The father on his journey back home as the train nears his village.   Credit: Lixin Fan

Sources:
» "Migrant Workers in China." China Labour Bulletin, June 6, 2008.
» "The Second Industrial Revolution." BBC News. May 11, 2004.
» Hesketh, Therese, and Ye Xue Jun, Li Lu, and Wang Hong Mei. "Health Status and Access to Health Care of Migrant Workers in China." Public Health Reports, March-April 2008.
» Swift, Richard, "Whose Miracle." New Internationalist Magazine, April 1, 2011.
» China's young migrant workers mobile, ambitious – survey. Reuters, Feb 21, 2011.



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