Source: Wide Angle: "To Have and Have Not"
China’s laws designed to control the movement of rural citizens into urban areas have been met with limited success. Despite their second class status due to governmental and social restrictions, rural populations continue to migrate and settle in China’s major and developing cities. Migrants are faced with substandard living conditions due to laws preventing them access to urban housing and schooling. In this video from Wide Angle, visit a migrant area and meet one of the families that reside in this impoverished community.
Asia Map (Image)
China Map (Image)
Since the late 1970s, China has shifted from a centrally planned economy that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Reforms began in the agricultural, industrial, and financial sectors, and labor regulations were relaxed. The government also focused on foreign trade as a major vehicle for economic growth, and to encourage foreign investment, China created special economic zones in coastal cities.
As the result of adopting economic reforms and joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001, China's per capita income has grown at an average annual rate of more than 8% over the last three decades. While poverty has been drastically reduced, this rapid growth has been accompanied by rising income inequalities, especially between rural and urban areas.
One specific change China has been forced to embrace as a result of joining the WTO is to liberalize the movement of labor within the country. During the Maoist era of the 1950s, China instituted an inherited residency permit system that defined where its citizens could work. This system, or "hukou," made it extremely difficult for rural residents to leave their hometowns and move to cities to work. Restructuring the hukou system has been a very controversial topic even though many Community Party leaders recognize it is an impediment to economic progress. The system still exists, but enforcement of the residency permits has been relaxed in recent years. By the early 21st century an estimated 200 million Chinese lived outside their officially-registered areas. While it is easier for these migrants to work in cities than ever before, they are still unofficial residents of the cities and as a result have very limited access to education and government services. Many are forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and in several respects occupy a social and economic status similar to illegal immigrants.
The Wide Angle film "To Have and Have Not" explores the human side of China's newly liberalized market economy. In the film, the increasing income gap between rich and poor is highlighted in vivid detail. The gated communities, luxury vehicles, and seemingly boundless consumption of China's newly rich is seen in stark contrast to the plight of migrant workers, who struggle to eke out a living and to educate their children at the margins of urban society.
INTERVIEWER: What's she doing?
KRISTIN: Oh -- this is a tool used for making noodles.
INTERVIEWER: Where does the noodle lady come from originally?
KRISTIN: She's from ah, a county in Shanxi province. She's typical of migrants that live in this area. She probably didn't own a restaurant back at home, she probably worked on the land, but almost all restaurants in major cities are run by migrants.
KRISTIN: So all of these kids walking around are my students.
STUDENT: My name is Li Xiu Ying. I come from China -- the Jilin province.
KRISTIN: This is her father Mr. Li. They're taking us to their house.
NARRATOR: Mr. Li is well educated and works as an editor for a local newspaper. Because he's an illegal immigrant he's paid a fraction of the normal salary.
KRISTIN: This is an area where a lot of the kids live. The reason they live in these kinds of houses is because one story houses in Beijing are cheaper then apartment complexes or multiple storied buildings. So here we go. This one room is where they live. Ah, this is their entire house for three people. This is the bedroom, the living room, this is everything. This is Ms. Do -- she is the mother of Li Xiu Ying.
KRISTIN: This is where she cooks. Oh there's a, they stir fry vegetables here. Oh and the water is outside. There is no bathroom in this house. There's a public restroom that everybody in this neighborhood uses and then they go next door to use their neighbor's shower. Her clothes are right here in this box. She studies right here at this desk.
KRISTIN: The reason he can not send his daughter to public school in Beijing is income -- he doesn't make enough money. 125 U.S. dollars a month.
KRISTIN: She said that she would rather go to a Beijing public school because she could receive a formal education that's recognized by the state and the conditions would be better. She wants to go to Harvard to be a lawyer.
LI XIU YING: Lawyer, lawyer
KRISTIN: Her father says that she's not attending schools that are good enough to enable her to go to a university like Harvard or to leave China in the future, but she believes that with her own hard work that she may be able to make her dreams come true.
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