Kev’s Thoughts On… Migrant workers vs. Lower-class urbanites

Posted: March 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Thoughts On... | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »


This is more of a question rather than an observation; something I hope some of you may be able to shed some light on. I myself have done little research on the subject, but hope to learn more in the near future.

What is the dynamics of the relationship between the class of migrant workers and the class of lower-income urbanites in China?

Economically, they are not very far apart (I actually don’t know the numerical difference, if someone knows, please tell me!) but what interests me more is each class’ perception of the other and their interaction with each other.

Their lifestyles are different, their spending habits are different, their experience and perception of the large, urban metropolises are different. And yet they share somewhat the same economic space in society.

If any one needs clarification of what I mean by Migrant Worker and Lower-Class Urbanite, I broadly define them as this:

Migrant workers are those whose families and ‘home’ is in a rural or extra-urban environment. This group comes into the city mainly to work, with holidays or time off usually used by travelling back ‘home’. The majority of their salary is saved for the purpose of sending back to the remainder of their family members who reside in rural villages/towns. As migrants, they are technically illegal citizens of the city, and therefore work at their own risk with no governmental or legal benefits.

Lower-class urbanites I describe as those whose ‘home’ is in the city, who’s spending stays within the city, with no transfer of funds going out of the city. Employment is highly competitive with migrant workers, and many depend on government welfare subsidies.

I am most interested in how each class views advancement opportunities; expectations about the future for their children. I also think its interesting to observe whether there is animosity between these classes, or apathy. Does one look down on the other?

These questions are important because they give us insight into the next generation of urban Chinese, the foundations to a new fabric of Chinese society. We have learned from North America’s own history that many migrant workers eventually become urbanized, becoming the fresh blood in the regenerative ecosystem of an urban center. But China’s urbanization may take a different developmental path because of the “migrant” worker, something North America had less experience with. (Because early North America’s supply of low-wage workers came from overseas, permanent relocation or immigration was the only economical option, thus solidifying immigrant workers as the new lower-class urbanite). Even within North America’s urban development, lower-class immigrants have had factional conflicts (some that carry on today). China may not have the extreme racial differences in the lower-class, but it has the dichotomy between permanent lower-class urbanites and true migrant workers.

Understanding these two class’ interactions, and even helping to smooth the integration, will draw a clearer picture of China’s emerging modern society. Understanding this experience between these two classes is imperative, because today’s lower-class children, urbanite or migrant, is tomorrow’s middle or upper-middle class consumer. And the lessons they learn from watching their parent’s struggling experience will have great influence on their decision-making behaviour.