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Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: yi minority
Tuesday, 27 December 2011 18:12

Yi Migrant Workers in Chengdu

Though the numbers change according to economic circumstances, an estimated 150-200 million Chinese rural workers are living and working in cities. They often face discrimination in housing, education, healthcare and employment due to their temporary status, though several cities are working towards improving their conditions. Employers often take advantage of internal migrants’ vulnerable status by withholding billions of Yuan in unpaid wages. Also, school and healthcare fees have a disproportionate impact on migrant workers, whose incomes are on average lower than other urban residents. For migrant families, various additional fees make attendance at state schools unfeasible. Furthermore, most migrants in China’s cities live without health insurance, rarely visit a doctor, and only go to the hospital in the most extreme cases of illness or injury.

The above is especially true when it comes to “ethnic minority migrant workers.” Altogether, 56 "nationalities" are officially recognized in China, the Han and 55 “national minorities". The Yi nationality is one of these national minorities. The various subgroups belonging to entity are spread throughout the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou, totaling more than seven million people (five million in Yunnan, two millions in Sichuan). In Sichuan, most Yi people live in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture. The Autonomous Prefecture covers over sixty thousand square kilometers. It comprises seventeen counties and about five hundred major villages with a total population of more than four million, more than 2 million of the inhabitants being Yi. The relative prosperity of its capital, Xichang city, does not hide the fact that the Liangshan Prefecture is the third poorest among the 30 autonomous prefectures in China. The altitude ranges on the whole from 2000 to 3000 meters, with the highest peak at 5,959 meters.

One can find migrant workers from Liangshan in most of the major cities of China. Many group together in Sichuan’s capital. There are no statistics on the number of Yi migrant workers living in Chengdu, mainly because of the very high volatility of this population (many migrants only stay a few days or a few weeks), and of the low visibility of the Yi community (Yi migrants don’t wear ethnic clothes and look very similar to other migrants). The proximity with Liangshan makes Chengdu one of the natural destinations for inexperienced migrants who want to benefit from the presence of Yi fellows in the city, and older migrants who favor the possibility of returning home regularly to take care of their family.

In contrast with the Tibetan community, Yi people in Chengdu seem very scattered. There are almost no Yi shops, only 1 or 2 Yi bars, almost no place where Yi people particularly enjoy gathering (except the Southwest University for Nationalities). The surroundings area of the two railway stations are known for attracting a number of poor Yi migrants who don’t know were to go and how to get started in Chengdu. The very poor east part of the city used to have some quasi-slums inhabited by drug-addicts, and it is said that many of them were Yi. But it seems that most Yi people in Chengdu are spread out in the city, or in suburb factories, and have relationship with small groups of friends from their native area. They are not strictly enclosed in Yi networks; on the contrary most of them also socialize with local Han people and migrants from other ethnic groups.

These photographs focus on a group of workers coming from the small township of Baiwu, the most distant part of Liangshan, in the Yanyuan district of Sichuan Province. Their ancestors’ lives consisted in farming and grazing sheep, a lifestyle that kept them working from sunrise to sunset every day. Later, through the acquaintances of relatives and friends they went to Chengdu and began to hire themselves out as workers.

As many have not even graduated from primary school and are without any special skills, most of them can only do hard physical labor, such as construction workers or furniture movers. Some also work in restaurants or as security guards. The work is strenuous, the labor very intense and income is low (around 700-800 Yuan per month or even lower, food and rent not included).

The Yi workers range in age from 20 to 40 years old, so they are carrying the twin burdens of supporting their elders and caring for their children, who sometimes number three or four (minorities are exempt from the one child policy). They still have to send money back home (around 500 Yuan per month) in order to satisfy the demanding expectations and desires of their families back in their hometowns.

To save money, several workers rent a single room together so each one only pays 50 to 60 Yuan per month. The living conditions are barely adequate and the hygiene extremely poor. They buy their own food and cook extremely simple meals themselves. When someone from the same province celebrates his birthday, everyone goes together to a small restaurant to share a meal. This is their most extravagant luxury in this big city. Sometimes they allow themselves the pleasure of going to watch a movie. Their social interactions are constricted, with little room for intimacy, but they help each other whenever one of them gets sick or has problems.

The majority of the workers who are currently working in Chengdu are satisfied with the current situation because they consider it to be better than farming in their hometown or grazing sheep. It could be better, it could be worse: the workers are generally of a placid spirit. They frankly say that although the city of Chengdu is pleasurable, bustling and lively, they are only passing by. In the end, they will return to their land where their roots are.

Working as hired men gives them an opportunity to experience another style of life, and shows them their own deficiencies and shortcomings. All the workers also assert that they will do their best to allow the future generations a greater chance to study. Although each worker has his own aspirations and expectations concerning the future, the general wish is just to earn a little more money and go back home, in order to improve their own lives and those of their families.

Minority migrant workers are often the first victims of overall economic difficulties. If their experience in the cities is to be a meaningful one, it is urgent to teach them the skills that will later on help them build a sustainable future once they are back on their land.


Tuesday, 28 December 2010 18:16

December in Yangjuan

I went to Yangjuan beginning of December 2010. During these 10 years I have been more or less10 times to this little village…

This time my purpose was to see the state of the school we help to start in 2000. The school does not need outside subsidies any more. Now schooling is free and the government is also paying for textbooks. But there is at least one reason to worry: this semester the school has only 6 certified teachers. According to the number of students the school should be entitled to get 11 certified teachers, but the local government or the bureau of education is always short of personnel. Consequently the gap is filled with substitute teachers. They receive a monthly salary of only RMB 600 which is not high (RMB1100 for a unqualified work, construction work for example, is not considered that much). Nothing surprising that a there is a great turnover of substitute teachers. How to help in the management of the school is another question that none of us presently can answer properly. There is an informal network of friends that may provide some ideas. It seems to me that we cannot only focus on the management of the school. From the beginning, ten years ago, we came with this idea that the school could become a center for local development. The school itself has its own goals but the shelter it provides every summer has been instrumental for working on the development of this small place.

In 2001 we started to bring Taiwanese students for animation and tutoring. In 2001 and 2002 two nurses and two medical students came to make a health survey of the children. After the health survey we started “waterworks” in order to provide cleaner water. The idea of a French engineer during a trip to Yangjuan has been at the origin of this endeavor. He thought it could be possible to build a dam along the river feeding a small power plant. That idea brought to Yangjuan the following years a team of “Hydraulic without borders”, an organization founded by a retired hydraulic engineer, Mr Wang, born in Canton but brought up and educated in France. Our first practical realization was to dig a well. That was a failure and a good example. A failure because the well dig during summer (when underground water is at its highest level) became dry three months after. It was a good example because we told the people that the water from the well was much cleaner and healthier than the water from the river. Thereafter, especially in lower locations of the village, people dig wells in their courtyards to keep water supply at hand and alleviate the chores of fetching water from the river (most of the time this burden is allotted to women and children).

duraud_yangjuan_dec_3The next step was very interesting. One year after digging the well we were ready to dig another one the following summer. We were served a flat refusal. People from the 3rd brigade belonging to a “lower class” in the “old Yi society” asked us if it could be possible to help them in order to fetch water more easily. The fact that the initiative came from them is noteworthy. After discussion we decided to build a very simple network of water supply serving about twenty households. Unfortunately this network is less efficient during the “dry season”, but it was successful enough to inspire later the 6th brigade who asked for help in turn. This new water network has not been a success either for the same reasons but led the people of the whole village to look for a more satisfactory solution.

During these years my back and forth travels were always reported to the Liangshan Friendship Association. People from the office knowing what we were doing in Yangjuan and what we were planning to do sent me an estimate asking if I was willing to finance a project intended to provide water to the whole village. The price tag was well above our means and the realization of the project would have been entrusted to an outside company. This outsourcing could deprive the villagers from appropriating the technology, so to say, and from being involved in the maintenance of the network. Of course that would have also guaranteed a more reliable construction and for sure that would have sent money in private pockets.

 

duraud_yangjuan_dec_6

This year, on December 7, I could see that the work had been done: a small dam on the creek of a remote valley tributary to the river running down the school secures water intake and brings it 20 meters down below to a water tank. About 1500 meters down below from the first water tank another one was built above the houses of the 6th brigade (the highest houses in the village). Most lines for distribution seem to start from this water tank. While I was in Yangjuan, one morning, water ran from the faucets for about half an hour. I guess by now distribution of water is ensured.

Though impressive and as far as I can judge well built, this water supply is not absolutely perfect. After a survey I found out that 4 houses from the 3rd brigade were left aloof though the main pipe runs only 200 meters from their houses. After pondering the matter I decided to give them RMB 1,000 to buy the pipes needed for the extension.

This very remote village, Yangjuan has been affected all these years by the changes in Chinese society and the effects of globalization. Ten years ago very few people had left the village to pursue studies outside and even to work outside. Now it is obvious that the trend for young people is to go out for temporary work. People went even as far as Pakistan and Burma, with the company they were working for. Most of the people go to places like Shanghai, Beijing or Canton and Shenzhen. Three years ago, an acquaintance from Taiwan operating a factory in Shanghai tried to hire about 30 workers from that village. That was a failure. Despite seriously warned about the necessary requirements they left the village unprepared (lack of documents like ID card, health certificate, under age etc.). After one year they were all back to Yangjuan or headed on for other destinations. On of their main complains was the weather conditions in Shanghai (very cold in winter and unbearably hot during summer). During that year a friend of ours in Shanghai tried to accompany them. Their salaries were spent in sophisticated electronic objects like cell phones but it seemed that there was no plan whatsoever to use the earned money to improved their livelihood back home.

duraud_yangjuan_dec_4While in the village, I had a conversation with one villager. He has been going out for work for 20 years. He is now 42 years old, father of three children (one in Senior High School, one in Junior High School and the third one is attending classes in the elementary school of Yangjuan). He has been working all over China. So his Mandarin is devoid of the Sichuan’s accent. During these twenty years his longest absence from the village was a full year. Now he does not venture farther than Chengdu and only for periods of three to four months. He usually does not go alone but with other villagers.

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Another phenomenon affecting the village is that people from the upper part buy land halfway between the village and the nearby township. The reason is that communications with outside is easier. They nevertheless continue to cultivate their plots of land in upper locations. Moving down the village these people find themselves now deprived of the benefit of the last water supply improvement. They came to me asking for subsidies in order to extend the network up to their houses. I did not give a definite answer as I don’t know clearly the capability of the newly built system. If the network is extended for 2 kilometers it may require the construction of another water tank in order to secure enough pressure. In the coming months this is a matter to consider.

This last trip showed me also that living conditions were improving. Nobody builds anymore adobe houses. They all use cement bricks, and in many houses they cement the front yard, which is cleaner and more practical to dry the crops.

After this trip I can see that further action from our side could be the improvement of the water supply. Water supply is not only of importance for good health condition, it is also a factor that makes life in Yangjuan more sustainable particularly if part of the young labor force is outside to secure some cash income. Water supply makes life of those left behind (often children and grand parents, women) less painful.

duraud_yangjuan_dec_2Another line of action is education. The general trend is to go outside to work. This task force unfortunately inflates big cities underclass. Mr Ma, mentioned above, who has been working outside for 20 years thinks that a monthly salary of RMB 1,100 for construction work is indeed not a good salary. It could be that helping young people getting skills will allow them to emerge from the underclass. It might be a better option than sponsoring studies up to Senior High School that don’t secure anyway access to good Universities. A skilled worker can make much more than the basic RMB 1,100 a month and can, if smart enough, start his own business. There is a Japanese foundation running a school not far from Yangjuan providing short trainings to boys and girls in different crafts and businesses. That could be a possibility to explore.

Photos by J. Duraud

 

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010 00:00

Happy 10th anniversary, Yangjuan!

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Yangjuan is a village of the Yi minority, located in the mountains of southwestern Sichuan. In Fall 2000, the Yangjuan Primary School, built with the support of Chinese and foreign friends and dedicated to comprehensive education for the children of Yangjuan opened its doors. Thus, Yangjuan is the site of an innovative arts education program directed by Benoit Vermander of the Taipei Ricci Institute and Li Jinyuan of Sichuan Normal University and of a multidiciplinary anthropological-ecological research project carried on by the Sichuan Provincial Institute for Minority Studies, Sichuan University, and the University of Washington.

The 10th anniversary of Yangjuan took place in August 2010 and was a real success, with even more people in attendance than at the opening in 2000. To me the highlight was Aku Vyvy, the foremost Yi poet, getting the children to recite his famous poem yyr ggut (calling the soul) along with him. There was also a lot of very nice singing and dancing. It rained before and after, but not during the ceremony, just as HiesseVuga had predicted from his astrological knowledge. Three yaks were butchered, constituting the largest pile of meat I've ever seen as it sat in the courtyard. He Laoban donated 10,000 kuai for the top-ten students in the graduating class. Unfortunately the Principal literally put the money in his pocket, so we don't know how much of it the students will eventually see. We can ask them next time we go back.

Foreigners in attendance were very few, consisting of Eddie Schmitt, Geoff Morgan, Abby Lunstrum, Prof Chen Mei-ying of Chiayi (all current or former University of Washington students) and me. Zhang Wei presented a very nice set of posters that I think he and Li Jinyuan had made up (I was not there to ask when they arrived), and Li Xingxing and I put together a slide show of 200 pictures or so, using a projector borrowed from Chuan Da.

The dearest thing was that Fagen found out that it was my birthday on the 15th, and went all the way to Yanyuan to purchase a cake, watermelon, and bananas, and someone else had a bottle of vin rouge français (vraiment!), so it was a very endearing gesture and a welcome break from the succession of more carnivorous parties.

The next day we gave out 160 scholarships, including 15 for students in their last year of high school, which means we need to think about college next year. I'm applying for some funds from a Seattle foundation for this purpose.

Li Xingxing wants to start an online discussion group about the present and future of the school. The primary proximate problem is the lack of state-credentialed teachers; of course the ultimate problem is the management skills of the principal, everyone including the teachers (except for Ma Erzi's close relatives) seems to agree.

Geoff made some further repairs to the 6 water system, after Amanda Henck and her husband had made some earlier this summer. But it's clear that that system is a stop-gap measure. But none of us outsiders needs to do much, we think, because the ¥310,000 that was given by the Provincial Assembly (省民委) to the Prefecture Poverty Alleviation Office (州扶贫办) is apparently actually physically in Xichang, so that work on the larger system is to start soon.

In connection with water, Geoff and I went to see both the 3rd system given by a Chinese entrepreneur, and the revived version of the 4th system from Hydroliques sans Frontières. The #3 system, using Laizigou water, seems to work very well, and people say it provides water year-round, unlike any of the others built so far. The big surprise to me is the 4th system, which was revitalized last year. They have given up on the communal taps that were part of the original system, and every household paid a small amount to bring water inside where children won't mess with the taps. Only four households are still using a communal tap, which is, predictably, broken. Two households near the well are still using the well. Geoff and I talked to several families, all of whom are quite satisfied with the new system, except that it still runs dry in the winter. They pay the manager 20 jin of corn per year for his services. Anyway, it's in the best shape I've seen it since just after it was built.

The people depending of the 6th system are almost sure to "sell" its forest to a company in Xichang. The deal is being kept quite secret, and Ma Ningjun claimed not even to know the name of the company. The final papers have not been signed yet, but everyone seems to think they will be. The remaining rights of members to the resources are ambiguous at present. All the members of the other 3 systems have agreed not to sell theirs for the time being.

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(Photos provided by S. Harrell)

 

 

 


Tuesday, 30 September 2008 05:02

Migrations from Liangshan: New Data

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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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Thursday, 27 September 2007 02:28

Voices of Yi Migrant Workers

Let us listen directly to what Yi migrant workers have to tell us. These testimonies come from Yanyuan county, Liangshan prefecture. Most of the people who are interviewed here have been working outside their village, and prepare themselves to leave it again...


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