Life Goes On
A report of the financial crisis from the perspective of migrant
Beijing Cultural Communication Center for Facilitators
Life Goes On ——A report of the financial crisis from the perspective of
This report is developed by Beijing Cultural Communication Center for
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The Financial Crisis in My Eyes
Behind a research report with participation of migrant workers
While worries about the global financial crisis have not disappeared, another spring has come.
If warm sunlight can bring us new hope, we will understand that in a cold weather one can never
be happy without warmth and he will be like a lonely island in a vast sea. The global economic
winter has made all of us feel cold. The plight faced by migrant workers is the same as that faced
by us all, as evidenced by 20 million migrant workers’ premature return to their hometown.
Before the Spring Festival, the staff of Cultural Communication Center for Facilitators based in
Beijing (Beijing CCCF) distributed mountains of questionnaires to migrant workers. After going
back, these migrant workers would distribute these questionnaires to other migrant workers in the
same village and interview them, and then completed an interview report.
These migrant workers, some of whom had not gone back for two or more years because of
economic considerations or the snowstorm last year, carefully squeezed the questionnaires into
their tightly-bound luggage. Some of them only had less than five days to reunite with their
families, but asked for more questionnaires, saying that there were too many migrant workers in
Why did we carry on this research?
The financial crisis is too significant to ignore. As an agency aiming to provide services to migrant
population, if we ignore the impact of the financial crisis, it will mean we ignore the 200 million
migrant workers. We hope we can make our shares of contribution to our country.
Why did we involve the migrant workers in this research?
These migrant workers, whether in urban or rural areas, have their roots in the land. They can
better feel tremors of the earth, and are more concerned about changes in their daily life. They
understand what they are undergoing, and what their needs are.
Although most of them don’t understand why foreign banks have gone bankrupt and they have
lost their jobs, and many of them have never heard of butterfly effect and ripple effect, they have
never complained. They are also thinking and trying to find their own answers to these questions.
The urban life experience has broadened their vision and enabled them to have their own mind.
They are not what they used to be.
CCCF aims to provide services to migrant population in various communities. When the financial
storm struck, we started to pay close attention to the status of migrant workers in this context, as
what we used to do every time when serving them based on their needs. We constantly remind
ourselves: we can do more, and we can face it together.
This research moved CCCF and made it proud once again. CCCF was moved by the strong sense
of responsibility shown by migrant workers in the research, by optimism and enthusiasm
demonstrated by migrant workers in face of the crisis, by the text message “I’m handing out the
questionnaires on the train. It’s too crowded. I really regret I only took two pencils’, by the reports
attentively written by hand, and by the words said by a 18-year-old young man who had just come
to Beijing to work: “I’m feeling sorry, because the financial crisis has caused a huge loss to our
country. I love my country.”
These migrant workers are treating what the country is suffering seriously in the way they are
dealing with the situations of their families.
At the same time, they can not bear to stand by without doing anything in this crisis. They want to
change, and have taken actions.
They are never complaining or dependent on anyone, no matter going back home or staying in the
workplace, going southward or northward. After packing their simple belongings, they embark on
another new journey.
But they also need more support, more opportunities to participate in training, and learned
techniques and skills to live and work in cities. While building their skills, they are also trying to
find opportunities to embark on a new journey. They also need more opportunities to develop in
their hometown. No matter policy support or information support, useful or not, so long as they
are aware of the attention paid by the government, they will feel warm in their heart. They also
need more employment information, more stable salary and commodity prices, and more
protection of labor rights. “We don’t ask for more. We’ll be satisfied if we can make our life better
with our hands.”
They believe firmly from the depth of their heart that the crisis will go with the time, as does
the winter, which leaves behind not mud, but a spring.
What unfolds before your eyes is not a very academic or professional research report, or maybe it
includes something unreasonable, but we beg your forgiveness. We are willing to share with you
what we have seen and heard. We believe that this report written from the perspective of migrant
workers will be an important part of the broad picture of China in the financial crisis, and the
existence of this report is a meaningful thing.
The nation which can face a crisis directly is a mature nation, while the man who can shoulder his
responsibility is a strong man.
We have felt the hope brought by the spring.
The hope comes from our migrant workers and government. To deal with the crisis, the State
Council has introduced various policies and measures, which are responsive to even small changes
of the current situations. Putting people first and governing for people demonstrate that our
government fulfills its commitments and shoulders its responsibilities. After NPC and CPPCC, we
believe that we can gain more benefits.
Three decades of reforms and opening has taught us to be grateful. We are grateful to this age. No
time in history can be comparable to today when we face so many difficulties and challenges,
opportunities and changes. The people who live in this age are still highly hopeful, no matter what
frustrations and despairs they once experienced. We feel fortunate to be the witnesses to all this.
But we are here not to witness and experience all this. The hope we have for this age could be
meaningful only if translated into contributing back to people. Therefore, we still have a long way
----Project team of Beijing CCCF
Life Goes On (Part 1)
—A Report of Financial Crisis from the Perspective of Migrant Workers (Cases)
%¡ Project team of Beijing CCCF
We Pack Our Belongings to Go Back during this Spring Festival.
The Spring Festival is a day for reuniting with family. But during this Spring Festival, people are
not only excited and expectant, but also anxious. The global financial crisis has made this Spring
Festival a little different. Due to the reports of media, anxiety permeated the air from coastal
industrial parks to everywhere in China, which added a little cold to this spring. At the same time,
north and mid-west areas of China are as calm as before.
Before 2009 Spring Festival, CCCF sent some of its staff and volunteers to conduct this research
of migrant workers at home in the financial crisis by means of questionnaire and interview and
asking them to write reports.
What you read now is not a professional research report, but the descriptions of our hometown in
our eyes in the conditions of the financial crisis. When we focus our eyes on the people we have
not see for long, and our heart feels changes of this land, present and future of our hometown, we
try to record the stories about those small towns, villages and migrant workers, status, dreams and
hopes of the migrant population with our hands that are used to manual labor instead of pen.
We are willing to share with you what we have seen and heard. We believe that this report written
from the perspective of migrant workers will be an important part of the broad picture of China in
the financial crisis, and the existence of this report is a meaningful thing.
n In Beijing
Changes in Daily Life
When the financial crisis started to appear on newspaper, radio and TV, the daily life of Beijing
people was as normal as before. Migrant workers continued to do their work, did odd jobs,
collected wastes, and worked on the construction sites. They did not feel the impact of the global
financial crisis. As time goes on, they start to feel small changes in their daily life, although the
media don’t sound as worrying as before.
Storms in the Depth of Alleys
Place: an alley community within Erhuan, Beijing
This is a typical old bungalow community of Beijing. In this long alley lives a floating population
of 1,300, most of whom are doing small business here, such as opening a grocery store, selling
snack food on the night market, or selling vegetables in the morning…
Xiaowang opens a grocery store in the alley. Even during the Spring Festival time, his store was
open until two o’clock in the evening. You have to work harder when it is harder to earn money.
Xiaowang said, “When the financial crisis comes, everybody becomes cautious. Some people
have money, but they feel safe putting the money in their pocket rather than spending it. For
example, you heard less firecrackers in this Spring Festival. Before, people used to buy a lot, and
you could hear fireworks for two hours. So you can see now people buy less firecrackers. They set
off firecrackers only for celebration. The next day, if they want to set off firecrackers again, they
will buy a little more. They’re not so generous as before.”
Xiaoyang, coming from Anhui, also run a grocery store in the alley together with his wife and
children. He said, “The impact of the financial crisis is really big.” When there’re fewer migrants,
then there will be fewer people coming to his store to make long-distance calls. He charges ten
cents a minute for the long-distance call. His store once had five telephones, and months ago there
were always people lining up for making calls, and the line would be longer during the Spring
Festival time. Now there are only two telephones outside his store, but still few people come here
to use them. “The migrants have all gone home. Local people will never bother to come here to
make a long-distance call.”
Fewer tourists also mean falling sales. As the migrants who used to work on the construction sites
here had no work to do, they have all gone home.
Xiaoyang has to pay a rent of RMB 1,200 every month, in addition to the tuition of his two
children and daily expenditure. The tuition of his older child is not high, but his school often
organizes the students to travel or watch a drama. “He is in primary four. What does he know
about the drama? But he has to go and watch it. Transportation, ticket, and food all cost money.
Each time it costs us more than RMB 100. It’s really difficult to make money now.” In face of
such a situation, his wife has to do two part-time jobs, doing cleaning and cooking meals every
afternoon and evening, which can earn her more than RMB 1,000 a month. In the morning, she
has to take care of her children and the grocery store when her husband is absent.
As the breadwinner of the family, Xiaoyang is under enormous pressure. “His grandma is too old
to make the children behave themselves if I leave them going to school in our hometown. Actually,
my home is much more spacious than this. You eat what you plant and can make ends meet. You
just cannot make much money. Here we’re still not rich here. I just want to support them until they
grow up. I’m not going to save money. If I can earn enough money for the expenditure of my
families, I’m happy enough.”
Laoxia sells snack food in the night market. He sees the financial crisis in a different way. “The
financial crisis doesn’t affect us very much, but the prices are too high. My business is good this
year, and I can sell a lot.” Laoxia is 43 now. When he was young, he had strong business acumen.
He once opened a restaurant, sold clothes and fried chickens. He was richer than he is now. Later
when his wife gave birth to boy-girl twins, they were heavily fined due to violation against the
family planning policy. He has not been able to recover these years.
The financial crisis has brought opportunity to Laoxia’s business. “Now all of my children have
grown up. It’s not appropriate for us to crowd in a 10-square-meter room. I had been looking for a
less expensive house, and now I can spend more time looking for a bigger house.” Laoxia is now
planning his future life.
n In Pearl River Delta
The Storm Has Landed
For migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta, this winter was extremely long. As the holiday came
so early, the whole winter was very leisurely for them: no extra work, long holiday, and so on. But
they started to worry in this leisure. What will be tomorrow like? The orders held by the
manufacturing sector like industrial parks, companies of clothing, electronics and toys and foreign
trade companies had fallen significantly. Some companies had gone bankrupt, or downsized its
workers, or took holidays in turn, to relieve their financial burden. Anxiety and restlessness was
prevalent here. Some people left, some stayed, some left and then came back in the hope of a
Draw Lots to Decide
Place: Baoan District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province
Mrs. Chen, 45, came from Sichuan, working in a Taiwanese-invested plastic-shoe-sole factory. For
these migrants working on a production line, the direct consequence of the financial crisis was
reduction in their salary. As a matter of fact, if only their salary was reduced, they could still
sustain themselves. However, many companies introduced a policy to make its workers work in
turn: while one group of workers was working, the other group was equivalent to the jobless.
The factory where Mrs. Chen worked adopted a measure to make its workers draw lots to decide
who was to leave and who was to stay. Mrs. Chen was one of the lucky dogs. He could continue to
work in the factory. Her team had more than 20 people in total. After the Spring Festival, only half
of them could come back to work. The rest had to take a three-month leave temporarily. When the
factory returned to normal, it would call in them back.
“They’re all old, all in their forties, but without any skills. Many of them have worked here for
quite a few years, some for more than ten years. What can they do if they go back? Some have
gone home for the Spring Festival, some are waiting for coming back, hoping they can return to
work after their holiday.” said Mrs. Chen.
Mrs. Chen’s husband was working on a construction site in a different place. He could save RMB
5 thousand a year excluding his daily expenditure. Although working in the same city, they could
hardly meet each other. When talking about his work the next year, Mrs. Chen looked really
worried, “There will be no construction work to do next year, but he only got primary education,
what else can he do if not doing construction jobs?”
Diligent, But Fortunate
Place: Baoan District, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province
Mrs. Zhang, 45 years old, coming from Hubei, cooked for middle- and high-level managers of a
Taiwanese-invested company, with a monthly salary of less than RMB 1,000. Originally there
were two cooks, but now in order to reduce expenditure, the company gave a three-month leave to
the other cook. As a result, Mrs. Zhang had to do two people’s work, and got additional RMB 200
every month from the company as compensation.
None of the middle- and high-level managers were asked to leave when the company downsized
itself. Therefore, the work load of Mrs. Zhang was not alleviated at all, but she was helpless,
“What can you do? You have to work. Anyway, I can still have this job, but many of my
workmates can’t be back for a very long time.” For example, the warehouse keeper was asked to
leave for five months, and got no pay at all when back home. Compared with the warehouse
keeper, she was much better and quite satisfied, as she still had a stable salary.
Mrs. Zhang’s husband was farming back in hometown. They had two sons, both in Shenzhen.
After graduating from college, the first son worked as a model designer in a factory based in the
outskirts of Shenzhen, earning a monthly salary of RMB 1,800, not enough to cover his own
expenses. Mrs. Zhang had to send him money from time to time to support him. The second son
came to Shenzhen after graduation from the junior high school, and had worked here for half a
month. Later he joined the army, and now worked as a security guard in Shenzhen, with a monthly
income of around RMB 1,200. Mrs. Zhang was very thrifty, only spending about RMB 20 making
calls each month. She did not spend much, and saved about RMB 900 a month. When necessary,
she would send some to his sons. She worked almost seven days every week, without any spare
time for rest. On weekend, her work would become less intensive, but she did not get any
premium pay for working on weekend. Anyway, she had an extra income, “When the bosses play
cards on weekend, I can get RMB 50 from serving water to them.” said she, quite satisfied.
Likewise, Xiaoxu, who worked as doctor in the factory, also felt fortunate.
Xiaoxu, 35 years old, coming from Hunan, earned a monthly salary of RMB 1,000. The factory
provided free accommodation and meals to him. He worked five days a week, so his work was
quite leisurely. The financial crisis was a good excuse for the factory to cut expenditure, and as
this post was more of a nominal job, the factory decided to give him a three-month leave, although
the factory could not dismiss him.
When his leave started, it was still two months away from the Spring Festival. “I can’t go home at
this time. You need money to pass the Spring Festival and pay for children’s tuition next year.” So
he felt it was too early for him to go back home. Moreover, he got no pays at all during his leave.
Education of his two daughters in his hometown was a big expenditure to him. After careful
consideration, he decided to stay to find another job. As for the income, “so long as it is enough
for me to live here and send some back to my children, it’ll be fine to me.”
After one week of job hunting efforts, Xiaoxu got a security guard job in a light factory near his
former employer, with a monthly salary of RMB 900, without free accommodation and meals. If
expenses for rent, water and electricity were excluded, his net income was only about RMB 600.
Xiaoxu planned to do this job for a while. If his former employer asks him to come back as a
doctor when his leave ends, he will take it. If not…he’ll just wait and see.
n In the Yangtze River Delta
You Have to Go Out
Due to the financial meltdown, many migrants working in the Yangtze River Delta returned home
earlier than they had expected. Their return made one village after another anxious. Many people
started to think what they should do after the Spring Festival. If they went out, it’s difficult to find
a job. If they stayed home, life would be more difficult. Finding a job was difficult, and starting a
business was even more difficult. They weighed it over and over again, trying to find their own
No Money to Earn at Home
Place: Suzhou New District, Jiangsu
Xiaoliu worked in a silica gel factory in the New District of Suzhou, 80% of whose products were
exported to foreign countries. In October 2008, the factory started to reduce its output, and the
workers didn’t have to work extra hours since, hence frequent leaves and lower salary than before.
It was rumored that the factory would downsize itself, some migrant workers resigned voluntarily
and went back home. In December, the factory gave long-term leaves to the migrant workers, and
retained only local workers. The factory said that it would inform them and call them to come
back if it got new orders after the Spring Festival, but Xiaoliu said that all of them knew they
would never be informed after the Spring Festival, and that it was nothing but a pretext to dismiss
Xiaoliu thinks that although there’re fewer job opportunities, working in cities can earn him some
money and broaden his vision. Anyway, it would be better than staying at home with nothing to do
and living a dull life. Of course there are some people who want to stay in their hometown for
development. One of Xiaoliu’s friends has worked away from home for about four years, doing
various kinds of jobs. This time when he came back home, he felt his hometown was also a nice
place for development, and a banner making store run by his relative was short of hand, so he
decided to work in this store and not to go out in the near future. He said he wanted to settle down
in his hometown instead of being away from home.
The village once organized some training programs. “All the villagers who participated in the
training were given a subsidy of RMB 20. Such trainings have been held only once, and most of
the participants were women and children, with few migrant workers.”
“Usually what migrant workers learn during their internship in factories are practical skills that
can be used. There’s almost no training in social adaptability, emotional well-being, and social
skills.” said Xiaoliu. In this age when communicative skills are becoming increasingly important,
good social skills are very helpful in job-hunting, which has also been realized by migrant workers.
Because of big rural-urban cultural differences, many migrant workers find it difficult to adjust
themselves to urban life even after they have lived in city for two or three years. “Although we
live in cities, the people we talk to are mostly migrant workers. We cannot assimilate into the city.
Emotional exchange is also the basic human need. I want to learn how to communicate with
people, so I think we need training in social skills.
A Second Hometown
Place: a garment factory in Jinshan District, Shanghai
Laowang comes from Anhui, 45 this year, with a diploma of senior high school education. He has
been working away from home for nearly 10 years. Until recently were he and his wife reunited
together, both working in the garment factory in Jinshan District of Shanghai. Most of their
earnings were used to finance schooling of their children. Now his son has started his career, and it
is time for him to get married, so they still feel a heavy burden on themselves.
Before 2008, Laowang had to work nearly 10 hours a day, and often stayed up working overtime
at night. At that time, he could only have half of national legal holidays off. The factory was then
making quite much money, so he could earn RMB 1,500 to 2,000 a month, and got bonus and
basic necessities at the end of the year. In the past one or two years, the profitability of the factory
started to decline day after day, and workers were not paid their salaries for several months. Some
workers started to protest, and some abandoned their jobs. Laowang and his wife also decided to
go back home to find employment opportunities in a garment factory in the county, and not to go
out anymore. “My hometown has also witnessed rapid development these years, and set up
industrial parks where there are many garment factories.”
So this year during the Spring Festival, Laowang visited the nearby industrial parks in his
hometown. However, after the visit, he still decided to go back to Shanghai. “The local salary is
too low, and the environment is not as good as Shanghai. I have lived here for many years.
Everything is familiar to me.”
It’s true that when you have lived in a place for many years, you will be familiar with everything.
Compared with the empty house in his hometown, the simple room in Shanghai is more like a
home to Laowang. His son failed the college entrance examination in 2008, and came back to
Shanghai directly, working in a relative’s printing store. His daughter will graduate this year, and
she has applied for the postgraduate program of East China Normal University, which is also in
Shanghai, and she is quite likely to pass the examination. If she can get a full scholarship, they
will not have to worry about the tuition. Although they are not well off now, Laowang still feel
pleased at the thought of reunion of the family.
Waiting for an Opportunity
Place: Nanjing, Jiangsu
Laoli is working in Nanjing doing auto quality monitoring. At 8 o’clock in the morning five day
before the Spring Festival, he got on the train heading home. After 4 hours of ride, he arrived in
Xuzhou, and got on a bus and got home one hour later.
The village in which Laoli’s family lives is in the northernmost part of Jiangsu. Five kilometers
away to the north is Shandong province. The village has more than 2,000 people. When they are
not busy on farming work, most of the young people will leave home to make money, some doing
upholstery, some working in factories. Only those too old to leave stay behind to till the land,
while women shoulder the responsibility of taking care of children and old people. His village has
no other enterprises but a vegetable processing plant, where the women left behind can work to
earn a monthly income of several hundreds to supply the daily household expenditure.
When in hometown, his old friends will reunite with each other to talk about their work. “We
make money just to improve our life.” This is what they said. The financial crisis has affected
everyone, especially his friends who worked in Suzhou. They came back home before the New
Year after they lost their jobs.
One of Laoli’s friends is also doing quality monitoring. Before the crisis, he could get a monthly
salary of more than RMB 3,000. Now due to the crisis, the company was closed temporarily, and
all the goods were piled in the warehouse. Now he only gets a monthly allowance of RMB 800, as
he still remains in the contractual term, and he is waiting for the company to call him back.
Another friend of him is working in a shipbuilding factory as a welding worker in Taixing.
Although he had a lot of work to do, which was also easy, it was just difficult to get the money
back, and the factory offered no compensation for extra work. So far, one monthly wage still has
not been paid to him, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
Laoli pays close attention to the training policy of migrant workers that have come back home. He
went out of his way to ask about it, and many people know about the training. It is said that before
the Spring Festival, the neighboring village organized a training program, and most people were
asked to participate in it when they were completely in the dark about it. They were photographed
and registered, and then each participant received a subsidy of RMB 10 or 20. The training agency
looked like a private one, mainly talking about cloth making. Laoli considers such a training
program is too simple and dull. He is a mechanical worker and regarded only mechanical skills as
skills. In his opinion, only the training about operation of machines and lathes can really teach
people skills. Besides, he also believes that protection of labor rights should also be covered in the
training. Many migrant workers are helpless when they encounter such problems. Most of them
resign themselves to their losses in this case.
After the Spring Festival, Laoli came back to Nanjing. The performance of his company was not
as good as before. Not only his salary was reduced, but also the transportation subsidy was
canceled. The situation could be worse in the future. Laoli is considering starting his own business,
and is waiting for an opportunity. Most of his career is related to mechanics, and this is his interest.
However, it is not easy to start a business. It is hoped that the government can provide stronger
policy support. “Actually, there are preferential policies made by the higher authorities, but they
didn’t work when these policies reach the village level.”
n In Central Plain
Unchanged Peaceful Hometown
In North China and Central Plain, life has not been changed a lot compared with that before the
financial crisis. Although the prices are higher, agricultural productions cheaper, and young men
came back home earlier than before because of having no work to do, it is not a big deal in their
But there seems to be some changes, which the villagers can not say clearly. Some changes are
taking place in this slow-paced and peaceful village day after day.
“Sister, What is the Financial Crisis?”
Dahu Village, Nanxin Township, Qufu City, Shandong
Xiaoyan’s hometown is in Qufu of Shandong. Her village is not very big, but with a comparatively
large population of more than 5,000 from 8 hamlets. Most of the families rely on farming for a
living, but they increasingly feel they can only make their stomach full with farming. When they
need cash for paying children’s tuition and buying gifts for others, selling grains can not get them
enough money, at this time, they will find themselves short of money.
The farmers of Xiaoyan’s village also joined the rush of migration to seek job opportunities.
Almost all the males left their hometown, leaving behind women, children and old people.
Xiaoyan recalls that in her childhood, her father would stay at home for several days only during
the busy season, and she couldn’t see much of her father. As there were many children in the
family, her father had to work harder to sustain the whole family. Her mother also leased a large
area of land and worked terribly hard. Xiaoyan often took along his brothers to the street and cried
for her mother at night, totally forgetting what the fear was. Later, all the young men left for cities
to find jobs, and only children and old people were left behind. Xiaoyan said that her mother, now
in her fifties, still wanted to make money in city. Such stories are very common in her village,
because merely farming can hardly earn enough money they need, sometimes even causes losses
to them. Irrigation is really expensive during the drought, one mu (667 sq m) will cost RMB 200 a
time, not to mention labor and fertilizers.
Now all the people who can work have chosen to go into cities. Some even leave their hometown
when they haven’t finished their junior high school education. You can hardly find peer fellows if
you come back home not during holidays or festivals. The profitability of factories in the county is
getting worse and worse, and many have gone bankrupt.
Although Qufu is the birthplace to Confucius, the local tourism is not well developed. There are
not many tourists coming here except during the peak of tourist seasons. They have not heard of
any preferential support by competent authorities to migrant workers. They often see on TV that
there are some training programs for farmers before they leave for cities, but in reality, no one
from the village has ever participated in such programs. Qingdao, a coastal city of Shandong, has
provided many job opportunities to the county where Xiaoyan lives, and most of the young people
work in the electronics companies in Qingdao. They are all satisfied with their jobs, and some of
them have even been promoted to management positions. This time when Xiaoyan came back
home, others told her that nearly all the companies faced hard times, their salary had been reduced,
and their salary had not been fully paid before coming back.
“Sister, what is the financial crisis?” When filling in the questionnaire, a 22-year-old man asked
Xiaoyan. She was surprised by this question: he had never heard of the financial crisis. In the first
half of 2008, this man worked in Shanxi, and learnt to drive in his hometown in the second half.
After the Spring Festival, he planned to find a job in an auto repair factory. The impact of the
financial crisis may be bigger for migrants working in south China, while many migrants working
in north China remain ignorant of it, especially for those people living in small cities who don’t
care about anything so long as they have food to eat and clothes to wear.
In Xiaoyan’s survey, there were also some people who didn’t know where to go after the Spring
Festival. Economic recession and bankrupt companies have also caused difficulty to them. Many
of them had not got their salary before they went back home, not knowing whether they would go
back to their company. If they went back to work, they would not get any pay, but if they didn’t go,
they would face more difficulty getting back their pay. They were drowned in confusion.
Not only ordinary workers have felt pressure, but also contractors. One contractor said that he was
also under great pressure. In 2008, he contracted with a real estate developer to do decoration, and
put money into decoration and labor, but finally the developer faced difficulty selling the houses
out. He felt it better to work in his hometown. For example, he could work in a furniture factory of
his hometown, and could earn a monthly wage of nearly RMB 2,000. If he didn’t want to
commute between home and workplace, he could rent a room with only RMB 60, and could also
rent the room with his friend and share the cost. He could save more money if he brought some
grains from home. In this case, he could not only save money, but also have time to take care of
All of them hope that the local government can make more preferential policies for migrant
workers and give stronger support for their employment and development so that they can have
more opportunity to contribute to the development of their hometown.
Young Men Leaving Their Land
Gongzhuang Village, Guyun Township, Shenxian County, Liaocheng, Shandong
Xiao’e is from a village in southwest of Shandong, where you can reach within 10 hours by train
from Beijing. The village has more than 2,000 people. With economic development over past
several years, many small factories have been erected around the village. Apart from doing their
farming work, most of the villagers work in these nearby factories or in oilfields. There is a fair
every day in a place called Sanchang, about 7 kilometers away from her village. At the other end
of Sanchang, there is a small fair called Xiaosanbu, which is very close to Xiao’e’s home. Some
people sell vegetables, fruit and food on this fair, mainly for workers from nearby. As there is a
factory and internet bars near Xiaosanbu, which attract many young people and contributes to its
Xiao’e said that some others also went to other places to work. Take her family for example. Her
family had three children in total, and all of them were working in Beijing. Among the relatives of
Xiao’e, all those who could work had gone to cities to hunt jobs, some in Beijing, some in Jiangsu,
and some in Guangdong. Even during the Spring Festival, the whole family can hardly be reunited.
Leaving home to work has become a trend in the village. Helped by relatives or friends, nearly all
the young people are going out.
This time after coming back, nobody talked about the financial crisis. Those working in Liaoning,
Qingdao and Guizhou even didn’t know what the financial crisis was. Some working in Beijing
knew a little about it, as they often heard from TV and newspapers, but their own work was not
much affected. Xiao’e’s brother, who was also working in Beijing, said, “The financial crisis is
people losing money in the stock market, so money is getting cheaper and cheaper, while prices
getting higher and higher. It is a blow to foreign companies, but not to us.”
Far-Away Crisis and Nearby Shoe-Prices
Yanhu District, Yuncheng City, Shanxi
For those who work in the Huanghe Market in Yanhu District, Yuncheng of Shanxi, their business
this year is not as satisfactory as last previous years.
You need to pay between RMB 300 and 1,000 for administration and other fees such as rent if you
run a business in the Huanghe Market. The salary of these workers is not high, and the average
monthly salary is less than RMB 1,000, mostly around 800, which is not a small sum in that place.
The salary of local teachers is around RMB 1,300, which is a handsome income. Although the
Spring Festival was around the corner, their businesses were still not prosperous.
Xiaocheng, 25, is a man from Dongxinzhuang Village, Longju Township, Yuncheng City of
Shanxi Province. He only had a diploma of a junior high school, now working as an apprentice in
a shoe store. The store, whose rent was RMB 2,550 a year, was rented by his mentor, who had run
this business for 5 years. A pair of leather shoes sold RMB 50. When we met him, his mentor had
gone home, with only Xiaocheng and his counsin left in the store.
Xiaocheng was to go home one day before the Spring Festival and come back to work half a
month later. He ate in his cousin’s home, as it was nearby. He and cousin rented a basement, but
only for sleeping at night. The rent was RMB 50 a month.
When it came to the financial crisis, Xiaocheng did feel much about it, but he was sure there must
be certain impact, such as rising prices and daily expenses. Before, a bowl of congee was only
RMB 0.5, but now it cost RMB 1.0; before a bowl of noodles was RMB 2.5, but now RMB 5.0.
Another example was edible oil. Before, one bottle of oil of Jinlongyu Brand was only RMB 30,
but now 80. As a result, they had to pay more for basic necessities.
The prices of other products were also rising, but the shoe store dared not to raise its price, first
because the leather price did not go up, second and most importantly because the price of the
shoes sold next door was always RMB 5 cheaper than theirs. So for this shoe store, the impact of
the financial crisis could never be bigger than the pricing of the shoe store next door.
Agricultural Products Getting Cheaper
Ansan Village, Antoutun Township, Xianghe County, Langfang City, Hebei
Shuangshuang is from Xianghe, where you can reach within less than 2 hours taking No. 938
public bus from Beijing Railway Station. Xianghe County is famous as the capital of furniture in
China for having more than 20 furniture malls. Most of the young men engage in making and
selling furniture. Most middle-aged and old people do odd jobs in their own villages or nearby
villages. Few of them are willing to go to other places to work.
Shuangshuang was originally working as a clerk in a port engineering company in Tangshan City
of Hebei, doing filing and paper work. When the state invested money in construction of a new
factory for Shougang Iron & Steel, the company Shuangshuang was working for was responsible
for building roads. Due to the financial crisis, the project was suspended, and she started to take
leave from mid August 2008, and then did some odd jobs like short-term sales promotion in
Tangshan to make some money to cover her expenses on basic necessities.
The accountant of the village said that the village altogether had around 256 households, with a
total population of around 1,000. The main sources of income were farming and working away
from home. Between 400 and 500 were migrant workers.
Shuangshuang talked with other 10 villagers who worked out of their hometown. Two of
them were granted leaves earlier because of the financial crisis, one was 7 days earlier, the
other 4 months earlier, and was jobless for the moment. Other people were also affected, but
they didn’t lose their jobs. Some were working in Xianghe city, others were working as clerks,
carpenters, salesmen, construction workers, auto repairers, and etc. Their average salary was
between RMB 1,000 and 1,500.
Due to the financial crisis, factories and construction sites did not have much work for them to do,
so they worked fewer hours, hence less pay or delayed pay. However, they still felt that the impact
of the financial crisis on urban people was greater than on rural people, although they were
helpless when the price of agricultural goods was going down, like the price of corn was down
from around RMB 0.8 to 0.58, which led to their shrinking income.
After the Spring Festival, most of them will still leave and seek opportunities in city. Those who
have lost their jobs will first take some odd jobs and wait for information from their companies, or
look for other jobs. Still, they believe the financial crisis doesn’t have great impact on them as
migrant workers, believing the places where they worked before the Spring Festival still have
work for them to do. Some other people think it is difficult to find jobs in their hometown, and are
confused about how to find jobs the next year. The person who is now jobless will also come back
to the city to do odd jobs or look for other jobs while waiting for information from the original
Zhongyao Village before the Spring Festival
Zhongyao Village, Luzhou Township, Shanggao County, Jiangxi Province
Zhongyao Village is not large. It takes you less than an hour to finish walking around it.
Xiaoyuan, who came back for the Spring Festival, talked with his villagers, feeling that the
financial crisis almost had no impact on the village.
It’s only one hour’s ride from Zhongyao Village to the county town. Villagers usually take buses
in the morning to buy goods for the Spring Festival and came back at noon. The conductor of the
buses said, “The bus was so crowded that passengers even didn’t have space to put their feet. We
don’t have rest time throughout the year. The financial crisis doesn’t have any impact on us at all.”
With the Spring Festival around the corner, all the people were busy shopping, and you saw
people hustling and bustling both in city and countryside.
Most of the young men of Zhongyao Village are working in the county town, coming back from
time to time to help their family and just take a look. Thanks to the investment attraction by
Shanggao County, the industrial zone has also witnessed rapid development. There are two shoe
factories very close to Zhongyao Village, and they offer good pay and compensation to workers
compared with other local factories and industries. Most of the younger people from the village
work in these two shoe factories. The financial crisis has also reduced the orders of the factory,
and sometimes the workers can take a long rest after finishing an order. However, so far they have
never heard of anyone dismissed. Those who are left behind are mostly middle-aged and old
people, farming the land and raising pigs. Occasionally, they will also do some lighter manual
work on construction sites to make some money.
The villagers say that there are about 20 people working in other provinces, some are couples,
most people will leave their home if their relatives or friends tell them there’re job opportunities.
Most of them work in Guangdong, Shenzhen, Wenzhou, and Fujian, usually working on
production lines or guarding warehouses and earning a salary between RMB 1,000 and 2,000. .
When it comes to the financial crisis, the migrant workers have more or less knowledge of it. The
biggest change they feel is the decrease of orders of the factories they are working for. Some small
factories have become bankrupt, and some have started to downsize themselves. Some people
believe the crisis will have greater impact on export-oriented industries, but less impact on those
strong companies whose products are sold in the domestic market. Most of them think the crisis
has little effect on them.
Most people say they will go back to their factories after the Spring Festival, because it’s hard to
find a job now, and they can make more money away from their hometown. Some people with
children at home don’t want to go back to work, but to stay at home to help.
Xiaoyuan has learnt that the villagers have not heard of any preferential policies to help migrant
workers start their business in the hometown.
“Don’t Allow Companies Give Leaves Arbitrarily and Make Prices Lower”
Taolizhuang Township, Shangyi County, Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province
Xiaoyi is 21 this year, working as a welder in the Xuanhua Iron & Steel Factory of Xuanhua
County, Zhangjiakou. He earns a monthly wage around RMB 2,000, which is a good pay in the
local place, but now he wants to change his job.
“I don’t know why. I just feel dull always working in the same place.” Although in face of the
financial crisis, Xiaoyi is still optimistic about finding a new job. “I’ve asked my friends to keep a
close eye on the job opportunities for me. I’ll change if there’s a suitable job.”
Early December 2008, Xiaoyi came back home. “Our company gave us holidays 2 months earlier
than before this year. We didn’t have work to do, but the companies have to pay the salary if you
stay there, so naturally the company asks you to leave.” Why no work to do? “We ordinary
workers don’t know much about it; it may be because of the financial crisis.” After coming back,
he found he was the first to come back. Most of other people came back early January 2009. Some
people who did cleaning jobs in Beijing didn’t come back until one or two days before the Spring
Although he has heard of the financial crisis, Xiaoyi doesn’t know the real reasons for it. After the
Spring Festival, he will go back to Xuanhua to continue doing his present job and at the same time
looking for other job opportunities.
When asked whether he had ever heard of training programs for employment or starting a business,
Xiaoyi shook his head. Although everybody said the financial crisis had a big impact, Xiaoyi
remained optimistic, believing it would pass soon. However, Xiaoyi also gave two suggestions to
the government: “Make prices lower, and don’t allow companies to give leaves arbitrarily.”
n In future
There will be A Way Out
Crisis is always coupled with new challenges and opportunities. If you cannot work in a city, you
can go back home; if you cannot work in a factory, you can start your own business; you cannot
work in the Pear River Delta, you can go northward. In face of the pressure, the self-development
force of this group has gradually turn up, and a way out is increasingly within reach. Persistence
will bring hope.
I Want to be Boss of My Own
Xiangyazhai Village, Xindian Township, Renxian County, Xingtai City, Hebei
“If without the financial crisis, I wouldn’t have been able to come back until one day before the
Spring Festival. When the factory had a lot of orders, you could hardly have any days off, and you
had to work extra hours every day. Now because of the crisis, the factory doesn’t make us work
overtime. Besides, we each can only work 10 days a month, with a monthly income of only about
400, not enough to cover our own daily expenses. So I came back.”
In mid August 2008, Xiaona and her husband went together to Dongguan of Guangdong Province
to seek job opportunities, but on November 25, they resigned and came back to their home in
Hebei. “We were away for just two or three months. The money we had earned was not even
enough to cover our traveling expenses.”
Xiaona and her husband used to work on production lines, making mobile phone screens and
receivers, earning an monthly wage of about RMB 2,000, which included RMB 700 base salary
and compensation for extra work, RMB 8.8 an hour. “Our company is very big, with branches in
Tianjin, Beijing and Guangdong.” Although she had given up her job, Xiaona was still proud of
the company when talking about it.
As the start of the financial crisis, there was no extra work to do. When their income went down,
many people wanted to leave, but their group leaders wouldn’t let them go. They originally
thought the crisis would pass soon. Later, more and more people talked about giving up their jobs,
and their group leaders then let them leave after getting the approval from the superior leaders.
They couldn’t find new jobs immediately after leaving their former employer. So they decided to
come back home, as the Spring Festival was impending. Some people went back home to get
married. Others planned to seek employment in other factories or cities after the Spring Festival.
Many other factories near Xiaona’s factory faced the similar situation. “The factory really suffered
a big loss.” said Xiaona. “All of our products are for export, but now they cannot be sold out, so
naturally we get no pay. The workers don’t have work to do. One of the old workers told me that
they are really bored, without any work to do, as in the case of SARS.”
Back in the Xiangyazhai Village, Xiaona didn’t hear of any preferential policy for migrant
workers. “We do need technical training. You have a lot of difficulty finding a job if you are
without any skill.” said by Xiaona. “I cannot be idle like this. I must find something to do, or
others will laugh at me, and we will also have big pressures.”
With regard to future, Xiaona is still confident. “After the Spring Festival, I want to open a
clothing store in the town. I’ve been thinking about it for long. Before I was hesitant because I
didn’t have enough money, and other people warn me of high risk to open the store. I’m going to
find some information about it: where I can buy clothes, what style is fashionable, so I can be
prepared. I want to work for myself and to be the boss of my own.”
Go Northward to Inner Mongolia
Xiangyazhai Village, Xindian Township, Renxian County, Xingtai City, Hebei
Laowang is 43 this year, doing house decoration in a decoration company in Hohhot of Inner
Mongolia. Most of his work is about carpentry. His wife is doing farming work and his children
going to school in hometown.
Laowang’s daily wage is RMB 100, and he can earn about RMB 2,000 a month. Sometimes when
he has to work for consecutive days, he can earn more; if not, his income will fall.
Laowang learnt about the financial crisis on TV when it started. Later the number of people
buying homes decreased, hence less decoration and work.
Laowang came back home during this Spring Festival. He saw many people had lost much money
doing steel business. The small steel factories and several steel trading centers along the way to
Xindian Township had all run at a loss. “Their business was quite good before the Olympics. But
now nobody needs steel after the Olympics.”
After the Spring Festival, Laowang will still go back to Inner Mongolia, and several villagers have
discussed with him and planned to go together. “The prices there are low, and renting a room is
cheap. If you have a room for your own, about RMB 50 to 60 is enough for rent, including fees for
water and electricity.” They are satisfied with all this.
Stay in Hometown for Development
Danjia Village, Weibing District, Baoji City, Shaanxi Province
When it comes to the financial crisis, Xiaoyang, Xiaonie and Xiaotian, who are working as
welders or lathe operators in Wuxi, Shanghai and Shenzhen, don’t take it seriously. Now they just
don’t work overtime as often, and earn as much as before. And sometimes their companies don’t
pay their salary on time. They don’t feel any big change in their life, although the prices have risen
a little. “No big changes, it’s just the same as before.”
“I came back 15 days earlier than before, much earlier than in previous years.” Said Xiaoxiao,
who was working in an electronics company in Jiujiang of Jiangxi Province. As the company’s
products are for export, it has suffered a big blow from the financial crisis. “The workers like me
without any skill had no work to do, so we had to come back home, otherwise you would have to
pay for staying there.” Sighed Xiaoxiao. “Now I’ve lost my job. I don’t know whether I can find a
job in future. I’m a kind man, but why I lost my job. It’s all because of the financial crisis.”
Unexpectedly, Xiaowang, a model for migrant workers for his good education, high position and
juicy pay, was the first to come back home before the Spring Festival. “I came back at the end of
November.” Before, he worked in an auto company as a human resources manager. “Later the
company constantly laid off workers, and the business was getting worse and worse. Finally it
went bankrupt. I’ve been working outside for quite a few years. I don’t want to stay away from
home anymore. So I came back early. Actually it’s because of the financial crisis and I’ve lost my
job, so I had to come back early.”
All the people think it is a normal practice and unavoidable for companies to downsize and cut
salary in the context of the financial crisis which broke out in 2008, so we should accept it. That
there are not enough jobs for people is a narrow bottleneck for development. A large number of
migrant workers have to come back home for various reasons.
“I just plan to stay in Baoji. I don’t want to go out for the moment.” Speaking of his future,
Xiaowang said, “I’m 25 now. I should think about marriage. I want to be close to home. Besides,
I’m the only son, so I want to be close to my parents so I can take care of them. Our house is good
enough. I don’t want to buy another one, as it will cause too much pressure on me. After working
for several years outside, I still feel comfortable at home. My parents also firmly demand of me to
get married within this year. So I just plan to work in Baoji.”
Now Xiaowang is engaging in insurance business in Baoji.
Life Goes on (Part 2)
A Report of Financial Crisis from the Perspective of Migrant Workers (Data)
Project Team of Beijing CCCF
Since 1980s, migrant workers have become an integral part of China’s industrial labor force. On
the other hand, as residents, they have also driven sustained development of China’s urbanization.
Since late 2008, the global financial crisis has continued to aggravate, which has influenced many
Chinese companies, and affected employment of migrant workers. In December 2008, the State
Council convened a meeting of the Standing Committee and made more detailed policies on work
of migrant workers. On February 3, 2009, the State Council issued the Notice on Employment in
the Current Economic Situation. These are the strongest measures in recent years taken by the
CPC Central Committee and State Council for migrant workers, and from this we can see the
significance of the work related to migrant workers.
In face of the global financial crisis, what challenges do migrant workers have during the
processes of working? How will they deal with them? What do they think of the financial crisis?
What impact do the existing social services have on them? How do they evaluate these services?
With these questions in mind, from January 2008, CCCF entrusted its staff members and migrant
worker volunteers who returned home to investigate into the situation of migrant workers at home
in the context of the financial crisis. Meanwhile, we also polled and interviewed the migrant
workers in the Bohai-Rim Region, Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta, three biggest pools
of migrant workers. The survey is conducted by means of questionnaires and interviews, which
lasted one month, involving 33 participants. Among them, 16 are migrant workers, who also wrote
reports from their perspectives based on their life, work and place.
The questionnaire has 38 questions, covering employment of migrant workers, understanding of
the financial crisis, preferential support policies and services, and future planning.
The survey distributed 756 questionnaires and recovered 465, 422 of which are valid. The
questionnaires were mainly distributed to 10 labor-rich places: Anhui, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Hebei,
Henan, Shandong (southwest), Shanxi, Hubei, Hunan and Guangxi, and main 16 provinces and
cities that absorb the labor inflow: Shenzhen and Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta, Nanjing,
Suzhou and Wuxi in the Yangtze River Delta, and Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei in the Bohai-Rim
Region, as well as Fujian. As an NGO committed to serving rural and urban communities, CCCF
aims to provide actual basis for the whole society to deal with the challenges of the global
financial crisis and achieve stable development of migrant workers so that we can also make our
due share of contributions to reforms of public policies and service innovation.
Features of the survey subjects
Of the subjects investigated by the survey, 268 are male, accounting for 63.4%, and 150 female,
35.5% (Figure 1). Most of them are young men, 73% between 16 and 30. People with junior high
school education make up the biggest proportion, 45.9%; people with senior high school,
secondary technical school or vocational education account for 32.4%; those with primary
education 7.1%; people with junior college or college education 12.3%; and illiterate people 1.7%
(Figure 2). Compared with the statistics of the report on status of migrant workers in Beijing,
Guangdong and Qindao, the migrant workers with above junior high school education has grown
by 10 percentage points, rising to 32.4% from 21.3% within 5 years. More migrant workers have
received senior high school, secondary technical school and vocational school education. Rural
young men’s priority after graduation from (or quitting) school is to seek employment in city.
Figure 1: sex ratio of the survey subjects
Figure 2: education of the survey subjects
According to the results of the questionnaires, 52% of the families have only one person working
away from home; 23.9% have both husband and wife working in city and leave behind children
and old people; 14.4% migrate with their relatives together to work in cities; 8.5% have all the
family members migrating to city.
Of 422 valid questionnaires, 70.5% are answered by rural people, and 11.4% by urban people,
which is consistent with the data of the report on the status of migrant workers in Beijing,
Guangdong and Qingdao. This shows that most of migrant workers come from rural communities
of less developed provinces. We can also see that young people from towns and cities of west and
central China, which are populous but short of job opportunities, also take it as an important
option to work in coastal big cities.
According to the statistical analysis of the questionnaires, migrant workers working outside within
3 years account for 45.7%; between 3 and 5 years 23.2%; more than 5 years 29.7% (Figure 3). The
statistics of the report on the status of migrant workers in Beijing, Guangdong and Qingdao
showed 22.5% of migrant workers had worked away from hometown for more than 5 years. This
comparison tells us that an increasing number of migrant workers are now working for a long term
wit hin 1 year 1-3 years 3-5 years 5-8 years 8-10 years above 10 years
Figure 3: time of migrant workers working away from hometown
The statistical analysis shows that the migrant workers surveyed this time mainly concentrate in
the labor-intensive industries and some are employed in informal sectors. Among them, 21.6%
work on production lines; 21% work as technicians; 14% work on construction sites (including
those doing decoration and odd jobs); 7.1% work in service industries (cooking, housekeeping,
hairdressing etc.); 6.6% do small businesses; 8.5% work as managers; 8.3% as salesmen; 4% as
The in-depth interview reveals that the global financial has the biggest impact on the secondary
industry (industry and construction industry), especially the export-oriented labor-intensive
companies. A great number of companies have significantly shortened work time, given long-term
leaves or cut jobs. By contrast, the financial crisis has less obvious impact on the primary industry
agriculture and rural areas. The countryside is relatively isolated and self-sufficient, which
explains why some rural people have no knowledge of the financial crisis. Even after they have
learnt some of their villagers have been dismissed and came back home earlier than before, they
don’t feel any difference about it. At the same time, township and village enterprises have also
played an important role in local places, creating job opportunities for some local people. The
impact of the financial crisis on the tertiary industry has not been felt, and the financial crisis has
also not affected people’s daily life.
The investigation also reveals that the average income of migrant workers is between RMB 1,000
and 1,500. Of the 422 subjects, 158 fit in this category, accounting for 37.4%; below 1,000 15.6%;
between 1,500 and 2,000 22%; between 2,000 and 2,500 9.7%; between 2,500 and 3,000 6.2%;
above 3,000 6.4% (Figure 4). The migrant workers whose monthly income is below 3,000 mainly
work in construction and service industries, or on production lines, while those whose monthly
income is above 3,000 are mainly managers and senior technical workers of companies.
Figure 4: average income of migrant workers
below RMB 1000 RMB 1000-1500 RMB 1500-2000 RMB 2000-2500 RMB 2500-3000 above RMB 3000
When it comes to the overall income level, the report on the status of migrant workers in Beijing,
Guangdong and Qingdao in 2004 indicates that the average monthly income of migrant workers at
that time was between RMB 500 and 800, accounting for 58.1%, and the proportion of migrant
workers with a monthly income below RMB 1,000 was 84.4%. The investigation this time shows
that the proportion of the monthly income below RMB 1,000 was 15.6%, 68.8% lower than in
2004, which proves that the overall income of migrant workers has gone up. However, the income
gap between different migrant workers has been widened.
When asked “When your average monthly income reaches what level, you will be willing to work
away?” 44.7% choose between RMB 1,500 and 2,500; 5.7% below 1,000; 12.3% between 1,000
and 1,500; 12.3% between 2,500 and 3,000; 10.4% between 3,000 and 3,500; and 11.4% above
5,000 (Figure 5). This means that because of economic development and rising consumption level
in urban and rural areas, migrant workers also have higher expectations of their income level.
When conducting interviews, the investigators also feel that migrant workers have growing
expectations of their salary, because their daily expenditure has risen due to increasing prices on
one hand, and their needs, material and spiritual, have also changed significantly on the other hand.
They have temporary and development needs that remain to be satisfied. With support of mobile
phone and internet, migrant workers now have formed a larger network and have more options in
choosing jobs. As a result, they are equipped with favorable conditions to realize their goal of
higher pay. Xiaowei, a chef of a restaurant in Dongcheng District of Beijing, will go to another
restaurant in Haidian District, and this job-hopping will increase at least RMB 500 to his monthly
income. “My friend introduced this job to me. We cooks have created a QQ group, in which we
can talk with each other in leisure time, so we know everything about the restaurants in Beijing.”
Figure 5: expected monthly income by migrant workers
below RMB 1000 RMB 1000-1500 RMB 1500-2000 RMB 2000-2500 RMB 2500-3000 RMB 3000-5000 above RMB 5000
The Financial Crisis in the Eyes of Migrant Workers
1. Perception of the Global Financial Crisis
In this investigation, 233 people believe they understand the financial crisis, and that the crisis has
generated negative impact on their work and life, accounting for 55.1%; 153 people believe that
they understand the crisis but are not affected by it, accounting for 36.2%; 33 people say they
don’t understand it and they are not affected by it either, accounting for 7.8% (Figure 6).
Comparatively, those working in coastal regions suffer bigger impact, while those working inland
are not, which is also reflected by feelings of most subjects. The financial crisis has generated big
impact on coastal industrial zones, particularly on the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta.
It has also affected the life of migrant workers in these regions, but not for migrant workers in
inland cities, particularly for central and west part of China.
Figure 6: migrant workers’ knowledge of the financial crisis
understand but not
affected, 36.20% understand and
Further investigation reveals that the migrant workers’ immediate responses to the financial crisis
are lower pay and more difficulty in finding jobs, accounting for 53% and 50.4% respectively;
35.9% will associate it with losing jobs; 29.8% with rising prices; 28.4% with falling living
standards; 5.2% have no ideas, believing there is no big change (Figure 7).
Figure 7: migrant workers’ first response to the financial crisis
more difficulty lower pay losing jobs rising prices falling living have no ideas
in finding jobs standands
When it comes to the real impact of the financial crisis on migrant workers, 24.8% think that
because of the crisis, there is no extra work to do, so their income has been significantly reduced;
45.8% say it’s more difficult to find jobs; 20.3% say it’s difficult for their business to make money;
8.5% have lost jobs due to the crisis; 3% feel they are not affected (Figure 8). These figures have
told us that the financial crisis had created tangible impact on migrant workers. The most direct
consequence of the crisis is that their income has declined, and then they have more difficulty in
seeking employment. The research also shows that income from working extra hours is an
important part of their salary.
Figure 8: actual impact of the financial crisis on migrant workers
no extra work, harder to do harder to find lose job no impact
lower pay business jobs
However, when it comes to the impact on their daily life, 45.4% choose they have been affected a
little, but there’re no big changes; 12.5% think the financial crisis has no impact on them; 37.6%
say their monthly expenses have grown and suffer big impact. Although migrant workers are
under direct impact of the financial crisis, like falling pay, they don’t take it as a very grave crisis.
They are trying to adjust themselves to deal with the negative impact. This also proves that the
financial crisis has not seriously affected people’s daily life, but with continued aggravation of the
crisis, their life will also be affected and many problems will rise, which is also felt by the
investigators. As the market is like a chain made up of links, any problem in one link will also lead
to problems in other links of the chain. For example, major companies in the industrial zones of
coastal cities have suffered from plummeting orders, which has led to their worsening
performance. To cut cost, they start to lay off workers and cut salaries, forcing workers to leave.
Decrease of workers has affected business of restaurants, stores and entertainment businesses in
the industrial zones. Such ripple effect has also in turn affected community life of migrant
2. Features of migrant workers returning home prematurely (for abnormal
The survey subjects of the 422 valid questionnaires include both migrant workers who came back
home or remained in cities for normal reasons and those who came back home prematurely (for
abnormal reasons). 161 of them came back prematurely for abnormal reasons, accounting for 38%
of the total, with 112 males, 69.6%, and 46 females, 30%. 239 did not come back prematurely,
accounting for 57%, with 144 males, 60.3%, and 95 females, 39.8%. 5% of them are difficult to
determine whether they came back for normal or abnormal reasons (Figure 9).
Figure 9: prematurely or not
The investigation also reveals that of the migrant workers who returned home prematurely, 22.4%
were working on production lines; 24.8% were technical workers; 19.9% were construction
workers; 8% were employed in the service sector; 7.5% were doing small businesses and
managers; 8.7% were salesmen; 1.9% were clerks (Figure 10). It is easy to find that migrant
workers who came back prematurely mainly come from various sectors, but we can also find that
the financial crisis has penetrated into all sectors. In the context of economic integration, no
industry can be isolated from the economic chain, and be immune from the impact of the crisis
Figure 10: distribution of migrant workers coming back prematurely
production t echnical const ruction service small business magagement sales clerical work
According to the research, compared with previous return time, 29.8% came back within 7 days
earlier; 24.8% 8 days to 15 days earlier; 9.3% 16 to 30 days earlier; 13.7% 30 to 60 days earlier;
10.6% over 60 days earlier (Figure 11). The collective feedback from the subjects is that coming
back at the end of 2008 was a significant phenomenon. Before that, they would usually come back
within one week before the Spring Festival, but before the 2008 Spring Festival, nearly 60% of
migrant workers came back home nearly 2 weeks earlier. They attributed their early return directly
or indirectly to the financial crisis. For example, a migrant worker from Anhui was doing a
business of collecting waste cloth. Due to the financial crisis, the garment factories’ orders had
fallen, so their business was also indirectly affected. Without waste cloth to collect, he had to go
back home early.
Figure 11: days earlier than before
over 60 days,
within 7 days,
30-60 days, 29.80%
When it comes to the reasons for coming back earlier, 29.2% returned because of shutdown;
24.8% because of lower pay, so they abandoned jobs to go back home. From this we can see that
migrant workers are quite flexible. When their jobs can not meet their needs, they will choose
other options, and flow to places with more opportunities. Of the subjects we investigated, 4.4%
had been dismissed. Our in-depth interviews show that some companies didn’t fully shoulder their
social responsibility and the labor rights of some laid off workers were not fully protected. It is
noteworthy that 6.8% of migrant workers were attracted back by preferential policies to start their
own business. They learnt information of preferential policies from the media. If the media hype
these preferential policies so that a large number of migrant workers are blindly optimistic about
going back, they will face higher business risk in this context of economic recession. Once they
fail, their life will be more difficult, causing greater pressure on cities and countryside. 8.7% chose
to go back because of the cold weather. These people were mostly working on construction sites in
north China (Figure 12). Now we can come to the conclusion that the financial crisis has affected
the performance of factories, which explains why they didn’t have work to do and most of them
went back home earlier. The rising prices forced them to leave cities, as what they can earn is not
enough to make ends meet when their pay has been cut. This is the main reason for migrant
workers going back prematurely.
Figure 12: reasons for coming back earlier
losing jobs, 4.40% 29.20%
When asked about how they perceive the premature return of migrant workers, 65.8% of the
premature-return workers believe they are forced to go back ahead of time because of the financial
crisis, while 53.6% of those who didn’t go back earlier; 15.5% consider it normal in the context of
a financial crisis, while 22.6% of those who didn’t go back earlier. The migrant workers have
associated financial crisis with their early return, but they don’t think premature return is the
natural consequence of the financial crisis. 13% think it’s attributed to low performance and
bankruptcy of their employers, while 12.1% of those who didn’t go back ahead of time; 11.8%
believe it’s because of personal affairs instead of the financial crisis, while 7.5% of those who
didn’t go back earlier. 6.8% say it’s because of the chilly weather that they went back earlier,
while 6.3% of those who went back ahead of time (Figure 13). The above data and views show
that the migrant workers going back earlier are more or less affected by the financial crisis. Of
course, we cannot rule out some extraordinary reasons like icy weather in north China, as one
migrant worker said, “We were working in Yantai, Shangdong, the weather this year is much
colder than previous years. We were not allowed to work, so we came back.” For those working
on construction sites in north, such early return is just a seasonal thing.
Figure 13: perception of early return of migrant workers
r et o
Challenges and confusion after coming back
1. Migrant workers who came back for abnormal reasons
The investigation reveals that of the migrant workers who came back earlier, 57.1% say they face
the same employment challenges in hometown as outside; 33.5% say they have not tried to learn
about employment after coming back; 5.6% say it’s easier to find a job in hometown. The in-depth
interviews show that the places from which migrant workers are coming are lacking in job
opportunities, so there is a limited supply of jobs to those who come back, even when there is no
financial crisis. The 5.6% data shows that job opportunities in inland areas have risen these years,
and migrant workers have shown geographical diversity in terms of employment.
When asked about their knowledge of preferential policies and service support, the investigation
reveals that 34.8% of the survey subjects say they have no ideas; 22.4% know about the micro
credit provided by their hometown to support starting a business; 15% know regular employment
information is provided; 12.4% know starting one’s own business is encouraged and technical
support is offered; 13.7% say they know free employment training is available; 8.1% understand
they have simplified procedures to go through if they want to start a business; 25.5% say their
hometowns don’t have any form of support.
When asked about the effect of these preferential polices and services, 36% worry that they are
nothing but a show without any effect; 34.2% consider such information important and helpful;
21.1% think they have no effect and help on them (Figure 14). A volunteer from Anhui has learnt
from his interview with 8 migrant workers that they have little knowledge of preferential policies
of competent authorities of their hometown. They just learnt on TV that the local government had
sent a letter to migrant workers who had come back, but this letter had no actual help. “It’s all
slogans, without any use. If they really want to do something effective, they should come down to
the towns and villages to provide training. What’s the point of reading a letter on TV?” Most of
migrant workers return to rural communities rather than to cities, so implementation of
employment policies should find ways and approaches suitable to migrant workers. What they are
mostly concerned about is that such policies are only a slogan and a show.
Figure 14: evaluation of preferential policies of hometowns by migrant workers coming back
no effect on me,
just a show, 36%
The migrant workers whose work has been affected after coming back are more in desperate need
of external help. The investigation shows that 74.5% of them have never been trained; 17.4% have
(Figure 15). Of those who have been trained, 14.9% have received technical training; 11.8% have
received employment information service; 10.6% have been trained in starting their own business;
3.7% in laws; 6.8% in inter-personal relationships and skills in living and farming; 1.2% in health
(including occupational health); 3.1% in adaptability to urban life; 2.5% in life and career
planning (Figure 16). The overall statistics show that most of the migrant workers retuning home
have not enjoyed services from competent departments. The services they have received are
mainly provided in the form of training, which is mainly related to career and skills. Training in
law, health, and adaptability to urban life and the like is lacking.
Figure 15: whether participated in training provided by government after coming back
not clear, 8.10%
Figure 16: content of training provided to migrant workers coming back earlier
vocational employment business legal career healthcare living skills farming int er-person adapt ability
skills information start-up information palnning skills skills relations to urban life
The questionnaires show that after coming back, the migrant workers are vague about what to do
in 2009, and such people account for 53.4%; 42.2% consider it difficult to seek employment; 23%
find themselves more used to urban life rather than rural life; 6.2% have no farmland at home;
3.1% have no houses after coming back; 6.8% have to find new schools for their children after
return (Figure 17).
Figure 17: major challenges to migrant workers coming back earlier
difficult to confused no land no shelter schooling of inabilit y to ot hers or no
find jobs about future children adapt t o challenges
When it comes to challenges to the development of migrant workers back in their hometown,
44.1% say they cannot make money; 37.3% have no start-up fund; 33.5% find it hard to find jobs;
29.2% don’t know what to do; 18% are unable to adapt themselves to interpersonal relationship;
25.5% feel more opportunities in city than in isolated rural communities; 4.4% feel bored staying
at home; 1.2% find their children unable to adjust to rural life.
When it comes to the most needy training for migrant workers, 51.6% choose practical skills;
32.3% business start-up guidance; 22.4% legal education; 16.8% inter-personal relations; 12.4%
living skills; 13% healthcare skills; 14.3% how to adapt to city life; 15.5% farming skills; 5.6%
career planning (Figure 18). Their needs of vocational skills training come from their expectation
of a better life with support of skills. Mastery of a good skill is a guarantee for their employment
and pay rise.
Figure 18: The most needed training for migrant workers coming back
practical business legal int er- living skills healthcare adapt ability farming career
skills st art-up education personal to urban skills planning
relat ions life
The investigation reveals that in migrant workers’ view the most effective way to alleviate or
eradicate impact of the financial crisis is to create more jobs, and 34.2% of them think this way;
24.8% think local governments should provide preferential support; 16.2% believe better
agricultural production conditions should be created; 26% argue that the central government
should take more measures beneficial to farmers; 17.4% maintain that the rural-urban social
security system should be improved; 23.6% hold that more business start-up opportunities should
be generated; 13% think that macro economic policies should be strengthened to stimulate
domestic market demand; 9.3% believe that public services should be strengthened (Figure 19).
Figure 19: ways to alleviate or eradicate the impact of the crisis in the eyes of migrant
creation of local improvement more benefits improvement more business preferential improvement
jobs government of agricultural to farmers of urban-rural start-up policies and of public
support production social security opportunities stimulation of services
The figures above show migrant workers’ expectation of policies formulated by the government.
Their priority is to find a job. The in-depth interviews reveal that the basic need of migrant
workers who have come back is that “these preferential policies can be truly implemented, and the
benefits can be brought to them. Only the policies that can be put into practice are favorable to
us.” In our investigation, we can feel that they are reliant on these policies, but meanwhile suspect
whether these policies can be executed effectively in the basic level.
2. Migrant workers who didn’t come back earlier (came back for normal reasons
or remained in cities)
Of the migrant workers who came back for normal reasons or remained in cities, 45.6% feel that
the employment situation back in their hometown is as terrible as outside and it is difficult to find
jobs; 39.8% don’t know much about the employment situation; 6.7% believe it is easier to get a
job in hometown than in city.
In terms of preferential policies and services directed at migrant workers, 39.8% say they know
nothing about it; 17.2% say their hometowns don’t have any form of policy support; 18.4% know
micro credit is available in hometown; 12.1% know their hometowns encourage starting one’s
own business and provide technical support; 6.3% say their hometowns provide regular
employment information; 9.2% know their hometowns offer free employment training; 5% say
their hometowns have simplified procedures for starting their own business.
With regard to the effect of these policies, 31% say they don’t have any effect or help to them;
27.6% consider them very important; 24.7% worry they are just a show (Figure 20).
Figure 20: evaluation of preferential policies of hometowns by migrant workers who didn’t
come back earlier
just a show,
no effect, 31%
The biggest challenges to them can be shown by the following figures: 36% feel unclear about
what to do next year; 30.5% find it difficult to get jobs; 24.3% are unable to adjust to rural life
(Figure 21). Migrant workers remain vague about the economic landscape in a new year, and they
need more support to recover their confidence. These figures also explain why some of them give
up the idea of celebrating the Spring Festival at home because they worry it will be more difficult
to find jobs the next year, so they must retain their current jobs. At the same time, over one third of
migrant workers who didn’t come back earlier or came back for private affairs have common
confusion: what to do and where to go in the coming year. Therefore, it is vital for society and
companies to train and care for these people. The efforts should be scaled up to care for mental
well-being, plan career and the sense of belonging of migrant workers.
Figure 21: challenges conceived of by migrant workers who didn’t come back earlier
difficult t o confused about no land at no shelter at schooling of inability to ot hers or no
find jobs fut ure life home home children adjust t o rural challenges
When it comes to the development of migrant workers in hometown, of them who didn’t come
back earlier, 35.6% think their hometowns are isolated without as many opportunities as in cities;
27.2% think they cannot earn money; 25.1% are in lack of start-up fund; 23.4% don’t know what
to do; 17.2% feel it more difficult to seek employment back in hometown. One of these reasons or
a combination of these reasons contributes to the outflow of migrant workers, particularly
second-generation migrant workers, to seek development opportunities outside rather than in their
own hometowns, which is a realistic idea and a rational practice. The rural-urban imbalance has
impeded urbanization and modernization of China.
When it comes to their training needs, 37.7% are in much need of practical skills for seeking job
opportunities; 28% choose business start-up guidance; 24.3% legal education; 19.7%
inter-personal relations. Their needs are consistent with those who came back earlier, which are
their common needs. Their top-priority option is to get income and better development. Many of
them said in our interviews that “those working away from home are usually bread winners.
Without them, life will be much difficult, so they must learn some skills. Physical strengthen
cannot earn you much.” In the meantime, we have seen migrant workers confused about their
future and development, which proves that vocational skills training alone can not completely
meet the development needs of migrant workers.
When it comes to the most effective way of eradicating the financial crisis, of the migrant workers
who didn’t come back earlier, 19.7% choose stimulating initiatives of local governments; 30.1%
generation of more jobs; 26.4% creation of more business start-up opportunities; 22.2% more
central preferential policies; 20.5% improved conditions for agricultural production; 14.2%
improvement of urban-rural social security system; 18.8% stimulation of domestic demand
through macro policy adjustment; 10.5% betterment of social services (Figure 22). Their views are
compatible with those of migrant workers who came back earlier, which indicates that their urgent
need is to acquire equal employment opportunities, as this is the basic guarantee for their living.
For the second-generation migrant workers, land is no longer a part of their living experience.
Their needs and pursuits are moving to a higher level, which also explains why many migrant
workers prefer to remain in cities looking for jobs than go back to their hometown.
Figure 22: the effective way of eradicating the crisis in the eyes of migrant workers who
didn’t come back earlier
generation of local better more better urban- more business policy better social
jobs government conditions for preferential rural social start-up adjustment to services
sup port agricultural policies to security op portunities stimulate
production farmers internal
After the Spring Festival, 59.3% choose going back to cities to seek employment; 13.2% staying
at home for a while to wait and see; 7% finding a job in local places; 12.3% starting their own
business; 3.3% learning a skill before going out; 2.1% farming at home (Figure 23). We can see
that seeking jobs in cities remains the first choice for them.
Figure 23: migrant workers’ planning for post-Spring Festival
go back to cit y find a job locally farm the land start a business wait and see learn a skill others
before going out
Of those who don’t plan to go out again, 20.3% want to start their business; 18.4% think there is
too much competition in job-hunting in cities; 18% argue that high income is offset by high prices;
17.2% choose to stay in countryside because they enjoy preferential policies and attention from
the central government; 15.6% maintain that they cannot find a job in cities in the context of this
financial crisis; 15.4% want to make their mind after the economy has become stable; 13.5%
maintain that working locally can enable them to take care of their family while making money;
8.8% choose to work in cities in future, rain or shine.
Of those who still want to go back to cities, 28.4% think that despite the crisis, there are more
opportunities for development in cities than in their hometown; 23.9% think their hometown is
futureless, so it is better to stay in cities; 18% believe that the financial crisis will not affect their
seeking jobs in cities; 13.2% still have jobs with their former employers, so they will go back;
11.4% hold that “Although there are preferential policies in countryside, but they have nothing to
do with me. You have to rely on yourself to improve your life”; 10.2% choose going back to get
back their defaulted payment. These figures tell us that the migrant workers are still keen to go
back to cities, and that many migrant workers still suffer from defaulted payment of salary, which
means there is much room for improvement in the protection of labor rights of migrant workers.
When it comes to their willingness to seek development in cities if conditions warrant, 40.4%
choose to stay in cities because of more opportunities and rapid development; 22% want to create
better growth conditions for their children; 17.7% for fulfilled and enriched life in cities; 13.7%
because of attraction of urban complete infrastructure.
24.4% are not willing to seek development in cities, believing they are rooted in the countryside,
where they have better sense of belonging, while in cities they face higher pressure from living,
high prices, expensive houses and inter-personal indifference. Whatever decisions they make, we
should respect them, and create a unified and fair playing ground for development so that these
people can have diversified channels of development.
As for work and life planning for the 2 years ahead, 32.4% have adjusted their plans because of
the financial crisis; 22.9% think their plans have been affected by the crisis, but the effect is not
significant; 15.4% think their plans have not been affected; 26.5% don’t have clear plans.
As for their planning for the coming year, 27.4% think they will be significantly impacted by the
financial crisis, suffering falling income and living standards; 18% believe they are immune from
external factors; 40.9% think everything is unpredictable, it could be worse or better, or no change
at all. These figures tell us that quite a few farmers have not thought about the financial crisis
thoroughly, as evidenced by the words said by one of them, “I have to live, no matter with or
without the financial crisis. I have to go back to cities. If not, who’s going to raise my family and
fund my children’s schooling?” The investigation shows that the migrant workers are passive in
seeking development, and they have trouble in predicting and planning their future.
When asked about their confidence in response to the impact of the financial crisis on their life
and work, 39.2% say they have full confidence in future and that the financial crisis will go soon;
14.7% think it will last two or three years, and has bigger impact on cities than on countryside;
22.7% think it has equal impact on cities and countryside; 7.3% think the impact of the crisis is
too big for the economy to recover; 15.6% think they are just the same as before (Figure 24).
Interviews with individuals show that most of the migrant workers are still full of expectations
about their future. They may not understand what the financial crisis will bring to them, but they
believe they can improve their life with their hands.
Figure 24: the impact of financial crisis in the eyes of migrant workers
Evaluation of the impact of the financial crisis by migrant workers
Confident, believing the crisis
will go soon
1 The crisis will persist, having bigger impact
on city and no impact on countryside
3 The crisis generates equal impact on
city and countryside
The impact is too big for the economy to
recover within a couple of years
Nothing special, same as before
Life Goes On (Part 3)
A Report of Financial Crisis from the Perspective of Migrant Workers
Project Team of Beijing CCCF
Based on the questionnaires and interviews as well as our many years of experience of serving
migrant workers, we offer our following findings and recommendations:
Findings and recommendations
1. Finding: Compared with the statistics of the report on the status of migrant workers in Beijing,
Guangdong and Qingdao, the proportion of migrant workers that have received the education of
senior high school, secondary technical school or vocational school has grown by 10 percentage
points within 5 years. The first choice for rural young people after graduating from or quitting
school is to seek employment in city. The young people from densely populated central and west
China also take it as their first option to find jobs in coastal big cities.
Recommendation: The whole society should take actions to change people’s perception of
migrant workers that they are just cheap labor, and misperception that they are uncultured and
poorly educated, so that migrant workers can increase their awareness of their own value, hence
increasing their drive to participate in social development.
2. Finding: Thanks to long-term preference of industry over agriculture, there is now a clear trend
that migrant workers move their whole family to cities to work. The proportion of migrant
workers that have worked away from home for more than 5 years is also rising. Their needs are
not merely limited to employment, but cover all aspects of urban life.
Recommendation: The change in composition of migrant workers requires the city to change the
mindset that they are just temporary urban residents, and to create an equal community
environment so that migrant workers can also be covered by urban community service. Reforms
of traditional static community service methodology will not only meet the development needs of
migrant workers, but also contribute to sustainable development of urbanization. At the same time,
the township and village authorities should scale up efforts to provide public service to old people
and children left behind to ease pressure on migrant workers.
3. Finding: The migrant workers employed in the secondary industry suffer the biggest impact
from the global financial crisis, particularly those employed in the export-oriented labor-intensive
companies, which have cut work time significantly, given long leaves or laid off workers.
However, the financial crisis has not shown obvious impact on agriculture and countryside. The
migrant workers in coastal areas are also highly affected, whereas those in inland are not
Recommendation: While supporting development of rural communities and migrant workers
coming back, we should also diversify employment channels in coastal regions, and provide
psychological interventions to migrant workers. Besides, the legal labor rights of migrant workers
must be protected to avoid strained relations and conflicts between employers and employees
arising from downsizing or falling income.
4. Finding: The direct impact of the financial crisis is migrant workers’ lower income and
unemployment. In the mean time, the investigation shows that compensation for extra work is also
a major source of income for migrant workers.
Recommendation: The financial crisis has led to falling job opportunities, but the main reason for
migrant workers’ giving up their jobs is reduced income and earnings not enough to cover
expenses. Therefore, to raise the minimum salary standards of migrant workers and set up a
minimum living standards scheme will not clash with employment promotion, but contribute to
stable employment of migrant workers, build their capacity in handling fluctuations arising from
abnormal factors, stimulate rural and urban consumption, and reduce additional human resources
cost arising from abnormal turnover of workers for companies.
5. Finding: Within the past 5 years, the average salary of migrant workers has grown moderately,
but with rising prices both in city and countryside, the second generation migrant workers have to
invest more in acquiring new skills for employment. As a result, they have higher expectations for
their income level. On the other hand, the intra-group income gap is also widening.
Recommendation: We should also allocate more resources to sectors such as health, education,
transport, postal service, and business in the industrial zones where migrant workers concentrate
to cut living cost for them. Meanwhile, we should further segment low-income migrant workers
and give them tailored preferential policies and social services.
6. Finding: The places from which migrant workers come usually lack job opportunities, so there
are very limited jobs for migrant workers coming back in this context of financial crisis. As a
result, going back to city remains the first choice for migrant workers. However, with rapid
development of information service, migrant workers now can use mobile phone, internet and
other means for communication, which has extended their social network, hence more job options.
When a place can not meet their needs, they will flow to other places with more options, so the
places and sectors in which they work will be further diversified.
Recommendation: Apart from policy and service for migrant workers coming back, we should
also strengthen service support to migrant workers that choose to stay in cities so that they can
better adapt themselves to the urban life and find opportunities for self-development. Besides, we
should also provide help and support to those needy migrant workers. Protection and support of
migrant workers in non-formal sectors should also be enhanced. While safeguarding safety and
health of migrant workers, city management should also be committed to creating a relaxing
service environment and avoid interference in self-employment in community economy.
7. Finding: Although migrant workers suffer falling salary and unemployment due to the financial
crisis, they don’t regard it as a grave crisis. They are adjusting themselves to minimize the impact
from the crisis.
Recommendation: Instead of providing service to migrant workers with a mindset of sympathy,
we should value the initiative of migrant workers and create channels for migrant workers to
participate in social service and economic development. The views of migrant workers should also
be enlisted, their wisdom and experience valued, so that migrant workers can be part of social
service, self-management and innovation.
8. Finding: Due to the financial crisis, the government has introduced many preferential policies.
The advertisement of the media has also aroused the enthusiasm of migrant workers to start their
own business. A small portion of them are optimistic about quitting their jobs and starting their
own business in hometown.
Recommendation: While the economy has not walked out of the recession, migrant workers will
face higher risk of failure when conditions of starting a business are not mature. Once they fail,
their life will be in deeper difficulty, which will cause bigger pressure for both rural and urban
communities. Therefore, information guidance should be enhanced to help migrant workers who
are ready to start a business so that they can be aware of risks involved. The financial system
should also be reformed, encouraging commercial banks to provide micro credit, with or without
guarantee, to migrant workers with the support of communities, social organizations, and trade
9. Finding: The attention of the central government and a series of supportive policies have
encouraged migrant workers and warmed their hearts, and some achievements have been made as
a result. In the mean time, implementation of certain policies is not compatible with needs of
migrant workers. While showing faith in and reliance on government policies, migrant workers
also doubt whether the grassroots governments can really put these policies into practice.
We should encourage the private sector to participate in public service in the form of government
purchase and public bidding to maximize effectiveness of resources. Various social forces should
also be encouraged to participate in supervision and management. An open evaluation system
should be set up, particularly for services to migrant workers. Establishment of NGOs and
non-profit organizations should be encouraged to beef up professional social workers. In this case,
a bottom-up participatory service model based on migrant workers’ needs and policy
implementation can be established.
10. Finding: Migrant workers are passive in seeking self-development, and they can hardly
predict and grasp their future. They are all confused about their future and development. Most of
them just wait and see.
When paying attention to the promotion of migrant works’ employment and skills, social sector
and companies should focus on the mental health of migrant workers and strengthen their ability
of career planning. Though the urban-rural integration institutional reform, try to intensify migrant
workers’ sense of safety, development participation and belonging.
(Special thanks to strong support from Nanjing Community Development Center for
Facilitators and Zhuhai Social Work and Education Promotion Center for Facilitators, and
to migrant workers for their voluntary service: Han Jin, Zhang Yanyan, Li Deshu, Qian
Chuanbiao, Yan Xiang, Wang Yinglin, Zhang Weiwei, Wang Haiying, Sun Zhenliang, Wang
Ruihai, Wang Shuangkui, Zhang Linghang, Gong Li’e, Gong Jiaru, Li Xia, Li Mingyu and
other volunteers. )
Migrant workers are “cheap labor”, but more community residents;
Migrant workers are “disadvantaged groups”, but more constructive groups with huge
What Should We Think about in Face of the Financial Crisis?
By Li Tao
There is a game that help us find what is most worth doing but which is easily ignored by us: ask
yourself what is it that you value most when a catastrophe comes. The answer will be your most
critical and most vulnerable thing in your life.
Society is like life. The past decade has witnessed two nationwide catastrophes in China: one is
SARS that happened 6 years ago, and the other is today’s global financial crisis that has impacted
our economy. We all can not help thinking of the migrant workers in these two disasters.
From SARS to financial crisis, we see various social communities lending their hands, different
media agencies showing their concerns. Those words like care, better treatment and strengthen are
all colored with worries: “Will migrant workers lead to social instability?”
This is not the first time to treat migrant workers as one of the social instability factors, a group
that is likely spiral out of control.
But in reality, migrant workers are the ones who can not find jobs or get cash income in their
hometowns. They are the jobless, but they choose to leave their home to earn a decent life with
their hands. If they want to steal or rob, why not stomach such dishonors?
Not a single farmer spends the money from selling their pigs going to cities just for robbery.
Mobile population is a broad category. We must separate migrant workers from mobile criminals.
Common sense tells us that most of migrant workers are moral people. They don’t make any
trouble even if their salary has been defaulted for a whole year. However, people will make a fuss
over it if they crowd to the street for getting back their money. The investigation reveals a
common feature of migrant workers: if they cannot find a job within 3 weeks or one month, they
will go to other cities or back home. They don’t want to idle around in the street for a simple
reason: if the people from their hometown know it, they will feel humiliated after coming back
home. In a village where everybody knows each other, traditional ethics or customs are still
effective. This group of people really value their dignity and reputation.
Likewise, no farmer will commit crimes back in their hometown just because they cannot find a
job outside, which is also a common sense. In the past few years, there have been formed
traditional moral standards, which govern their words and deeds. They are not mobile population
in the countryside, but have strong sense of belonging after coming back. It is their norm that they
never harm their neighbors. By contrast, it is reported recently that a farmer chose to commit
suicide after failing to find a job and having his money stolen, rather than, as some people think,
rob or take revenge. Giving up life is the last fight. I will have nothing to say if blood still cannot
change our stereotype.
Common sense also tells us that migrant workers are the real victims of the global financial crisis,
which is really a mockery for us.
An official from a township government told us that what farmers fear is not poverty, but inequity.
In other words, what they fear is not hardship or suffering, but injustice. Influenced by the urban
culture, migrant workers put justice and morality first in dealing with and judging things and
people, so injustice is the key factor that may turn migrant worker into a cause of instability.
We must warn ourselves against some people making up a myth of an economic miracle created
by migrant workers coming back. These people also take migrant workers as economically
irrational and non-pioneering ones. More than 10 years ago, some people introduced the concept
of building a nest to attract a phoenix, or the concept of encouraging starting businesses to attract
migrant workers to come back to promote development. However, what is really in their mind is
how to prevent migrant workers from competing for jobs with urban residents and how to ensure
employment of urban laid-off workers.
Now let’s be rational. Those who are able to start their own businesses have done it, and those
who are not will not be able to make it just because there is the financial crisis.
Market economy creates desires. It is the dream of migrant workers to become a boss. After living
in the low class for so many years, no other groups can have the strong desire comparable to that
of migrant workers to improve their social status through rise in their vocational status. After
flowing to the city, all of them have a dream of starting their own business, and will decisively do
so when conditions are mature. In fact, from countryside to city, more than 60% of the small
businesses, like grocery stores and stuffed buns shops, are run by migrant workers. Early return of
migrant workers is an abnormal phenomenon, as migrant workers who are able to start a business
have done it long before, while those not equipped with conditions are still not able to do it. By
contrast, public opinions, coupled with unemployment pressure, will make some originally
indecisive people start a business too early. For those migrant workers who don’t have adequate
conditions to do so, if they start a business because it is harder to find a job, they will face higher
risks while our economy remains in recession. Once they fail, their life will plunge into bigger
We should also be cautious of the belief that starting a business is a panacea. When the financial
crisis is shown by deteriorating unemployment and we call on people to help migrant workers find
jobs, we should be more aware whether we are merely addressing the symptoms rather than root
causes or we treat migrant workers as vulnerable ones and ourselves as saviors. It is not the first
time to treat migrant workers as ones who lack initiatives. We have called for establishment of a
rule-based labor market for more than 20 years, but we can never stop the orderless flow of
For more than 2 decades, most of migrant workers find jobs on their own, or through the help of
their friends or relatives. They rely on themselves to find jobs, while migrant workers who rely on
competent departments are no more than 10%. For a very long term, we think we have helped
migrant workers find jobs, but the reality is that it is migrant workers who have innovated in our
This is all common sense. In an era stuffed with theories and information, we need to use our
common sense to find out what is wrong with our life. A man just packs his luggage, says
goodbye to his hometown, and then go to a strange place to seek employment for earning money
to raise himself and his family members. He or she has to rent a room, see a doctor, identify
various traps, and tolerate offense. Such a person is really a wise, courageous and respectable one.
The issue is that such people is not alone, but exist in hundreds of millions. They are not only
changing their own destiny, but also facilitating reforms of a nation. Their contribution is not only
shown in socio-economic development, but also in innovation of social institutions such as
changes in employment model, education of mobile children, social culture, and rural-urban
imbalance. There exists huge potential behind this so-called vulnerable group. They don’t need
sympathy or compassion, but a level playing ground. Only when we grasp this point can we
understand the dominant role played by migrant workers in China’s urbanization process.
We need to search our heart: for whom do we seek development? When we pursue rising wealth
indicators, do we also attach equal weight to establishment of a social security network that also
covers the people living on the lowest social ladder? We are not opposing individuals getting
unlimited wealth, but we must ensure that each disadvantaged person can be guaranteed a
minimum standard of living. We have had expectations of cross-regional shifting of social security
for so long that we are still expecting inter-provincial shifting of social security after the
commercial insurance companies have gone global.
We need to search our heart: what is wrong with our financial system? When we invest money to
help those global top 500, why do we pay no attention to impoverished people in need of money?
We are not opposing giving financial assistance to the already strong, but at least we should meet
the most basic capital needs of poor people for development. If we think poor people are not
creditworthy, then where is the credit of those who have caused huge wealth to evaporate and
finally this unprecedented financial crisis?
We need to search our heart: what is wrong with our industrial system? When we are introducing
various preferential policies to attract elite, why do we take no notice of migrant population that
have lived in cities for 10-plus years? We complained “there’s no one selling vegetables after
migrant workers go back home.” Today we finally find that “nobody come to rent our house or
buy our goods after migrant workers are all gone.” Sell and buy are only two words, but what lies
behind these two words are widely different roles of cheap labor and consumers. If we are
cautious and repulsive of our neighbors in our community, then these neighbors will not love this
community. When this community suffers from a disaster, they will flee faster than anyone else
does. Only when a city takes migrant workers as its family members, they will in turn take the city
as their home, and share the difficulty with the city. It is also the case for both countryside and the
We need to search our heart: what is wrong with our governance? While we are trying to change
the government functions to enhance the role of market, do we need to attach equal importance to
development needs of a third sector? We need a strong government and free economical market,
but we also need to fill the void between government and business. In other words, a stable nation
is just like a stool supported by three legs: first is government; second business; third social
organizations. When the stool collapses, the victims are not only the people around it, but also the
people sitting on it. In this sense, development of the third sector and social organizations is not
only the aspiration of marginal and needy people, but also the common need of social
We need to search our heart: what is wrong with our social services? While we are allocating
more resources into public services, do we value the effectiveness of services? The focus of
China’s reforms has shift from economic issues to people’s livelihood. The traditional static social
service mode can not meet the requirements of a highly mobile and stratified society. Innovation
of social services requires support from technologies, expertise, community and private sector.
The key issue is to develop social organizations to promote social work and open social services
so that government-dominated social services can be translated into specialized social services.
Besides, the services totally provided by the government should also be replaced by social
services with participation of all social communities. The top-down social service model should
also be translated into bottom-up participatory model.
We also need to search our heart: what is wrong with our policy implementation? Often, we need
the whole people to reach consensus on an issue. This is not a problem, but the problem is that we
put too much stress on all social sectors taking unified action to handle a problem in order to show
our high attention on it. Is it the fact that we still want to settle social problems through campaigns
or slogans rather than technology, methodology and concept? Faced with the financial crisis,
solving employment problem and promoting employment seem to have become the priority of all
the agencies. As a matter of fact, if all the departments and organizations want to fulfill its roles
allocated by the society, this will be the best solution to the problem. “The national policies are
quite helpful, but they are distorted at the grassroots level.” This reflects that migrant workers
have faith in policies, but they doubt whether the grassroots-level authorities can really translate
these policies into actions. Migrant workers are a rational group. They try to seek truth from facts
and practices, and use practical, measurable and achievable indicators to measure the effectiveness
of policies. This common sense-like wisdom can never be reached by the elite working in
specialized rating agencies.
We are all equal before a disaster. The measure of a social stability and harmony is not what kind
of treatment that the elite has received, but whether the basic rights of people living on the lowest
ladder are protected. Only when a disaster comes can we feel we are all equal. SARS and this
global financial crisis have turned all of us into victims, from elite in the Wall Street to workers on
the production lines. In this sense, we should not treat ourselves as saviors in face of vulnerable
groups and migrant workers. We all need to be saved. This is also a common-sense judgment.
Our task is to build a social security system that can benefit all the people, set up a fair and open
employment system, establish a more helpful financial credit system, and develop social
organizations and promote social work. The rest can be handled by migrant workers themselves. If
we don’t have a better way, then it would be better for us to adopt a laissez-faire way. We trust
that they will develop better.
To learn lessons from each crisis is the best positive attitude for us. However, forgetting the pain
after the wound has healed seems to be our attitude towards each crisis and lessons.
Policy reforms can be achieved overnight, and innovation in social service model will also take a
certain time, but the cultural and psychological difference due to rural-urban separation and
income-gap, coupled with hierarchical awareness, can never be solved without many years of
Better late than never. Now we are in an age when our society is unprecedentedly open. We all
advocate a scientific outlook on development that puts people first. We continue to take care of
the rights and interest of those people living at the lowest stratum of this society. It is our belief
that the financial crisis will go, as did SARS. The CPPCC and NPC are being held, and we will
have unprecedented development opportunities in future.
Various forms of crisis will always exist. Human progress is not achieved by how long we have
existed or how many events we have experienced, but how much we remember and how much we