Migrations from Liangshan: New Data

by on Tuesday, 30 September 2008 Comments
eRenlai has published a series of articles on Yi migrants. The team of the magazine also gives regular news about the Yangjuan primary school and the area where it is located, i.e. Yanyuan county in Liangshan autonomous prefecture, southwestern Sichuan.

As it is the case every summer, a team of volunteers went to the school in July and August. This was an opportunity to collect new data on migrations from this area to other parts of China. Here are a few findings, which can give some light on changes taking place when it comes to the relationship between peripheral regions and urban areas.
Among the 107 families living in Yangjuan proper (units 5 and 6 of Baiwu First Village), 61 have members with migrant experience. 81 villagers went out looking for jobs, and 60 of them are currently on their migrant endeavor. Actually, migrants from Yangjuan can roughly be put into two categories---‘the younger migrants’ and ‘the bread-earning migrants’.

There are currently 26 migrants belonging to the younger generation’. Most of them joined the labor migration directly after leaving school (not necessarily until graduation), which also means that they were not the breadwinner of the family. So they do not need so much to compensate their leaving by providing their family with cash. In fact, only a few of them could save some money and send it home.
As a matter of fact, a group of Yi workers who were introduced by friends from afar into a factory of Shanghai consists mostly of girls who, when leaving home hadn’t finished junior high. They left home in spite of doubts or objections within the family, with the dream of living a comfortable city life. But very soon it turned out that money is much more difficult to earn than they thought, and that there are a number of problems to deal with, such as the boiling weather in summer, suburb lifestyle, language, discrimination, homesickness, strict regulation in the factory… However, they gradually learn to get along with Han people, practice Mandarin, pay rent and bill, and surf the Internet. At least, they keep themselves warm and fed, and to a certain extent, some even enjoy the factory life. Each month they earn about 1300 yuan on average, but one year has passed since they started working and several of them failed to save any money. They also see the importance of skill, knowledge, and certificates (Wenping) in one’s career. In the course of their work, few skills can be learned. Within one year they only have one chance to go back home and stay for a short period. Most of them don’t have a long-term plan about the future, they just intend to stay in the factory for some time. When it comes to farm work, some say they “can’t and don’t know how to farm.”

Other young migrants are males now still working in factories or construction sites in places such as Shenzhen and Henan. They do not save much money either. Many of those working in Shenzhen factories are not as lucky as their countrymen in Shanghai. Usually they follow brokers to the factory. There they often work more than 10 hours a day and then earn less than 30 Yuan, from which the brokers will take away 2~3 Yuan. Moreover, the food and housing provided by the factories are rustic, and they barely have labor insurances.

After having been cheated by the job recruiter and having gotten seriously sick in her migration to Shenzhen, one young woman has the following comments:
‘When I decided to work outside, many people opposed the plan, especially my father, who said migration was not what I thought it was. And some people coming back home also tried to persuade me that life out there is hard for most migrants. But I didn’t take in a single word of them, still dreaming that I could be among the few lucky ones and earn money easily… Now I’ve got bad health and spent thousands on medicine, and I deeply regret having migrated. I finally realize that my father had told me the truth! But there are still more young people migrating, including my cousins. I tell them about my experience and try to persuade them not to do so, but they just don’t listen to me and insist on leaving, just like what I did when I migrated…”

The other category of Yangjuan migrants are the bread earners. The cash entailed by children’s education, the increasing cost of farming, the unfavorable weather… all these factors prompt these villagers to buttress their families’ economy by seeking money from outside. Some of them hand their land over to other family members (old parents or wives) and seek additional income from outside. Others have comparatively more land so they leave home only when the busy farming seasons are over. Their goal is simply to bring money home, so they accept unfavorable working condition as long as the pay is high enough. And, unlike the younger migrants, the financial pressure keeps them from spending money on seeking and trying novel things.

Recently, Zhengzhou has become a hot spot for these bread earners. They follow brokers to different construction sites, working more than 10 hours a day, and being paid 140~180RMB by the brokers, who have already extracted a portion (about 10%~25%) from their original earning. If the brokers can’t find work for them in the construction sites, the migrants have to wait, consuming their own money. Some of them spend almost all their savings waiting, and then come back home with empty hands. They often try hard to learn professional knowledge through practice. Also, the pressure and competition at work as well as the high wages for skilled workers enable them to learn skills such as bending steel with machines and woodwork. Some brokers still try avoiding to give the migrants the money they should receive. Many Yangjuan migrants want to go to Zhengzhou because it is pictured as a place with “good’ brokers.

Last year, the prices of farming necessities surged, lessening further the profit of farming. The phosphate fertilizer rose from 20~25 Yuan per bag to 48~50 Yuan, and the corn seeds from less than 7 Yuan/kilogram to 38 Yuan. Some migrants invest their earnings on these highly-priced farming necessities, but the unpredictable weather exerts another risk on the harvest. Ma Linjun, who because of poor health had to come back home, says that, nowadays, compared to the profit brought by farming, earning money through migration seems not that bad. On the other hand, the high price of meat stimulates in the villagers an impulse to find some capital for raising animals. Ali Vuda is one of them. Although in his last labor migration he was cheated by the broker and got 1800 Yuan less than was promised, he still plans to go out because he believes that this time he will be more careful and may find a better broker. He says that once he has saved thirty thousand Yuan he will raise pigs on a large scale. He would spend about 10 thousand on 5 sows, another 10 thousand on the shed, and the rest on forage. He says the buckwheat and corn in his field could be used to feed pigs, and his family, in turn, would sell the young pigs at high price and then buy rice to eat. By then, he says, he would never go out, because seeing the colorful life outside would just make him feel sad about himself. Though they migrate for different reasons, both Ma Linjun and Ali Vuda are family bread earners, adjusting their income in order to fit in with the increasing commodity prices.

Ma Pengchen calls himself a veteran of labor migration in Yangjuan. At the age of 17 he started working outside and has been doing so off and on for almost ten years. He has been to places such as Shenzhen, Shanghai, Wenzhou, Zhengzhou and Tianjin, as well as some other parts of Sichuan. He helps with farming at home in the busy seasons, and migrates at other time, leaving the comparatively easier farm work to his parents. In the early years, he was no different from other young migrants, spending almost all his earnings before coming home. But later on he began to save money for his family, especially since he decided to get married. Till now he has brought about 40 to 50 thousand Yuan back home. When he worked in a factory in Shenzhen, the broker refused to pay the promised wages, alleging that he himself had no money. It was after several quarrels that he finally paid Ma the long-delayed 1400 RMB. Ma plans to leave again soon: he says that, by growing crops and taking care of the animals, his family has a daily average income of about 12 Yuan, while his bending steel skills can bring him more than 100 Yuan of net income in a single day. He also wants to grow some walnut trees at home, because he finds that a big walnut tree may bring in about 4000~5000 Yuan each year (after they are grown, it takes four years before walnut trees begin to bear fruit). He says that growing walnut trees and migration can bring him quite a good income, but he needs to carefully distribute his time and energy between the two in order to optimize the benefit. He urges his nephew, who has been herding the family goats after dropping out of primary school, to go back to school, pointing out that only going back to school can bring about a brighter future for the nephew, and that the bottom line is to finish his junior high.

With different mentalities, both the younger migrants and the migrant family bread earners start on their journeys of seeking fortune away from home. Differences in their desires and responsibilities explain for the variety of outcomes. Presently, some youths from Yangjuan are advancing towards graduation from high school. Consequently, new trends in migration may emerge, and a third category of labor migrants will come into being. In a few years of time, we will see how various educational tracks determine the young migrants’ career paths and their future lives.

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Yanni He

He Yanni(Holly Ho).A college student in Shanghai, was born and grow up in Liangshan. She has a well-read, humorous father, a strict mother and many wonderful lively friends from Yangjuan to Shanghai. She likes sharing and laughter! It’s a pity that she has no siblings but she will let her children have some!

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