Girls from rural countryside learn to be maids for the newly wealthy class. They learn to cook and iron at the Fuping Vocational Skills Training School. Li Lingping responds to flying grease in one of the cooking classes.
Since opening up its economy in 1978 and moving toward a market economy, China has lifted about 400 million people out of poverty, according to the World Bank. But this has led to wide income inequalities that the Communist Party is trying to address through its notion of a “harmonious society” that has a more even distribution of the benefits of recent decades of speedy economic growth. Migrant workers in China are mostly people from impoverished regions who go to more urban and prosperous coastal regions in search of work. According to Chinese government statistics, the current number of migrant workers in China is estimated at 120 million (approximately 9% of the population). China is now experiencing the largest mass migration of people from the countryside to the city in history. An estimated 230 million Chinese (2010), roughly equivalent to two-thirds the population of the U.S., have left the countryside and migrated to the cities in recent years. About 13 million more join them every year—an expected 250 million by 2012, and 300 to perhaps 400 million by 2025. Many are farmers and farm workers made obsolete by modern farming practices and factory workers who have been laid off from inefficient state-run factories. Men often get construction jobs while women work in cheap-labor factories. So many migrants leave their homes looking for work they overburden the rail system. In the Hunan province, 52 people were trampled to death in the late 1990s when 10,000 migrants were herded onto a freight train. To stem the flow of migrants, officials in Hunan and Sichuan have placed restrictions on the use of trains and buses by rural people. In some cities, the migrants almost outnumber the residents. One young girl told National Geographic, “All the young people leave our village. I’m not going back. Many can’t even afford a bus ticket and hitchhike to Beijing.” Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one.Buy This Image