Thanks to Jenny Zhu of Chinesepod, we’ve been made aware of an interesting migrant worker blog. Migrant workers coming from the countryside fill construction sites in every major city. They face poor working conditions, low wages (although considerably higher than in the rural areas where they come from) and urban residents’ discrimination. Locals here in Beijing blame them for everything from the piles of trash that fill hutongs to spitting (as if Beijingers don’t hock their fair share of loogies).
Here is an excerpt from a post by Wan Xiaodao, a migrant worker in his 20s, who defends the migrant workers’ profession.
Many people don’t believe that I’m a migrant worker. A few people have even taken to calling me names. Someone said: “Don’t fear bullies and don’t fear landlords. Only fear an educated migrant worker 不怕地主和恶霸，就怕民工有文化.” As far as they know, migrant workers are supposed to be ignorant and easy to control. Even if I became president like Obama, I would still consider myself a migrant worker. These words might sound tragic to some. But we migrant workers shouldn’t be ashamed of ourselves. We should be proud of who we are.
I became a migrant worker because I didn’t want to do anything against my conscience. I’ve worked plenty of jobs that city folk think are respectable (or at least jobs they think are more respectable than being a migrant worker). But none of these jobs gave me the peace of mind that being a migrant worker does. Coming from a farming family, I don’t want to do bad things that will harm other people’s image of farmers. Now I’m going to talk about the experiences I’ve had working so-called “respectable” jobs.
After dropping out of college, I was a small-time manager at a factory in Jiangsu. Everyday I dealt with bringing in goods and sending out the finished products. I filled out forms and wrote up bills. In my spare time, I cleaned up the factory house and wrote some pretty crappy fiction. This job was actually quite enjoyable. My three managers, however, made the job miserable. These three managers were all very close with the the heads of the factory. They were always trying to outmaneuver each other to get promotions and would constantly cause problems for each other. In the beginning, I really liked it. It was like getting to read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms for free. These three managers each tried to get me to take his side. The productions manager was always trying to make me write bad things about the business manager. The assistant manager was no slouch either. He would try to get me to go over my other two managers’ heads and say bad things about them to the general manager. The assistant manager said that if I helped him out, after we squeezed out the other two managers, I would get promoted. I don’t know what kind of person this job was turning me into. I decided I didn’t want to be a manager at all. Even though my managers weren’t very old, you could already see their heads full of white hair. They were working themselves to death every day. They had to defend themselves from attack while launching their own assaults on other people at the same time. After I had worked there six months, they all got fired.
[Ed. Note: The post goes on to detail two other experiences that we don’t have room for here.}
After all this, I reached a conclusion: if you want to survive in the immoral (丑陋) city, you have to become a scheming immoral person. My mother used to say, “You have to be a good person. If you can’t help people, at least don’t hurt them.” So I’m perfectly content with being a migrant worker. We shower together from the same pipe in unfinished apartment buildings. We drink and play cards in smelly migrant worker camps. We risk our lives dozens of storeys above ground working on skyscrapers.
But I still think it’s a happy, full life.