Friday, April 17, 2009

On migrants returning home

I've been arguing for a while now that in this economic downturn, China's migrants will not be a source for instability - despite warnings from authorities in Beijing and fear-mongering from China-watcher friends of mine. Pieces like this one in last week's Financial Times echo my views. But I have also argued that many migrants will not be excited about returning home during this crisis because the Chinese countryside is a step back developmentally to people accustomed to life in the big cities. The second generation of Chinese migrants - the generation born in the 80s - is not in it so much for the money as for the experience. This is why a blog written by one of these young migrants and translated into English by China Labor Bulletin is so fascinating. It's important to remember that the writer, Xiao Sanlang, is the only person from his village to go to graduate school - so he's not typical. But his comments are sympathetic and fascinating. They raise an interesting question about the transformation of the China price from a coastal China price to an inland China price: Will workers who have been working in Shenzhen and Shanghai really want to live in the same basic conditions they fled to work at an export factory near their home, particularly if the conditions are no better and wages are lower than on the coasts?