Matt and Jian’s English class 5: Let’s talk about Chinese migration (part one)

Ninmen Hao,

Welcome to class five. This is the first of two classes where we are going to use the topic [huàtí 话题] of migration [yímín 移民 ] (particularly the migration of Chinese people within China and internationally [guójì 国际]) to work on our ability [nénglì 能力] to think [sīkǎo, 思考] and express ourselves [biǎodá zìjǐ 表达自己 ] in English.

In this first class(class five) I will discuss migration and citizenship (gGuójí 国籍) briefly before talking about migration within China. In the next class  (class six) we will talk about migration from China (international migration). We may do one or both classes today, depending on how much class discussion we do.

First, let me explain that I find this topic interesting [yǒuyìsi有意思] because I come from a family of migrants (yímín 移民). I am also interested in talking about migration as a foreigner [wàiguó rén 外国人] in China, because Chinese migration has been seen as (bèi shì wéi, 被视为) an issue[wèntí 问题] in Australia, and because I have taught university students [dàxuéshēng 大学生] about migration, and have also worked on refugee research (nànmín yánjiū 难民研究).

I am a lucky (xìngyùn 幸运) migrant.  My family’s migration history (jiātíng de qiānxǐ lìshǐ 家庭的迁徙历史) is mostly one of travel between England and Australia, since the 1950s, when my maternal grandfather (wàigōng 外公) went to Sydney (XÄ«ní 悉尼)to work (gōngzuò 工作)on the Sydney Opera House (XÄ«ní gÄ“ jùyuàn 悉尼歌剧院).

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Since then my paternal grandparents (fùxì zǔfùmǔ 父系祖父母), uncles (shūshu 叔叔) and aunties (Āyí 阿姨) and parents (fùmǔ 父母)have gone to live (qù huóle去活了)in Australia. My family are lucky because we hold dual passports (shuāngchóng hùzhào 双重护照), and have citizenship rights (gōngmín quánlì 公民权利) in both (dōu 都) Australia and the UK. These countries have historically welcomed dual citizenship and migration because of the colonial ties (zhímíndì guānxì 殖民地关系) between the two countries.

However, not all former colonies (zhímíndì 殖民地) of the UK enjoy such privileges (特权 tèquán)and the UK very strictly (fēicháng yángé非常严格) controls (kòngzhì 控制) migration from the non-white (you se rén zhong彩色的人) former colonies (those in Africa, South Asia, the West Indies). So, as white people (bái zhǒng rén 白种人) free (zìyóu自由)  to migrate and enjoy (Xiǎngshòu享受)   the rights and privileges (quánlì hé tèquán权利和特权) of two countries, we are the beneficiaries (shòuyì zhě 受益者) of some of the racist (zhǒngzú zhǔyì zhě 种族主义者) legacies of English and Australian history.

Countries like Australia cannot extend (fāfàng 发放) dual citizenship to citizens of countries like China because of Chinese citizenship laws (zhōngguó gōngmín fǎ 中国公民法) which do not allow (bù yǔnxǔ) dual citizenship. Also, Australia and other English speaking countries have had a history of excluding Chinese migrants (páichì 排斥). In 1901 Australia enacted the White Australia policy, making Chinese immigration into Australia illegal (fēifǎ 非法), and US states and Canada enacted similar legislation (lìfǎ 立法)at the beginning of the Twentieth century. While those laws have been replaced (gēnghuàn 更换) with less racist legislation, the welcoming huānyíng 欢迎) that existed between England and Australia, or the UK and the European Union (Ōuzhōu liánméng 欧洲联盟) countries has not been extended to Asian countries like China. Places like Queensland, West Australia, and California might look much more Chinese these days if not for those racist immigration laws.

Pause for thought 1

Let’s continue now with an overview (gàiguān 概观) of Chinese internal (guónèi 国内) and international (guójì de国际的) migration, and think about how migration is viewed and discussed (tÇŽolùn 讨论) in China, and how we might express our views in English.

Chinese internal rural-to-urban migration and the rise of Chinese wealth and power

The wealth and power (cáifù hé quánlì) of Western states like the US, Canada and the UK were built (jiànlì 建立), in part, on the labour of rural (xiāngcūn 乡村) to urban (城市的 chéngshì de) migrants (yímín zhě  移民者)in Europe, and on colonial migrant labour (zhímíndì yímín láogōng  殖民地移民劳工) during the 17th to 20th centuries. Contemporary (xiàndài de 现代的) Chinese wealth and power are built on the rural to urban migration of the era of Chairman Mao and then the Reform Era, in what is sometimes called the third (digital) and fourth (cyber-physical) industrial revolutions (Gōngyè gémìng 工业革命).

industrial revolutions

We can see the scale of that transformation in terms of urbanisation:

urbanization migrationThe city of Shenzhen is a good example of the rapid urbanisation (kuàisù chéngshì huà 快速城市化) of China. In the pre-Reform Era (GÇŽigé zhÄ«qián改革之前) Shenzhen was a fishing village area (YúcÅ«n 渔村). It had a population of approximately .30,000 people in 1979. In the current period following Deng’s Reform Era that population has grown to 18-20 million people. That’s about 66 times its original size. 90 percent of  Shenzhen-dwellers are internal immigrants (guónèi yímín 国内 移民). The population grew so greatly and rapidly because Shenzhen became very successful as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) [JÄ«ngjì tèqÅ« 经济特区] under the Reform strategy (zhànlüè 战略).

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The rural and urban sides of Shenzhen. Thirty years ago it all looked like the farms on the left side of this photo

At the height of the industrial revolution in England, rural to urban migration caused London’s population to swell (péngzhàng膨胀) to more than six times its pre-industrial size. Shenzhen’s growth —its population (rénkÇ’u人口) grew 66 times greater in thirty or so years — shows that China’s recent (zuìjìn 最近)     transformation (zhuÇŽnxíng 转型)  is much larger and more rapid (gèng kuài).

Another comparison (lìng yÄ«gè bǐjiào 另一个比较) can be made between contemporary China and the way English government tried to control rural to urban migration during the first Industrial Revolution. Local English governments issued registration cards (zhùcè kÇŽto 注册卡) show who was and who wasn’t permitted (zhÇ”nxÇ” 准许) to live and work (shÄ“nghuó hé gōngzuò生活和工作 ) in an urban area (town or city), and people could be sent back (qiÇŽnsòng 遣送) to their place of origin (lÇŽojiā 老家)  if found without a card. However, the large scale of rural to urban immigration overwhelmed (yādÇŽo 压倒) the capacity (cáinéng 才能) of local officials (dìfāng guānyuán 地方官员) to police (guÇŽnxiá 管辖) it, so many migrants lived and worked in cities without the necessary registration cards.

With some similarity, the modern registration system for Chinese rural to urban migrants can be seen to be limited in its capacity to restrict (xiànzhì 限制) migration to the city. 5-8 million migrants  “float” (piāodàng 飘荡) unofficially (fēi zhèngshì de 非正式地) within the city, 8 million have permanent residence, and only about 4 million have a Shenzhen hùkǒu (registration for residence). So there is a large proportion of floating migrants in Shenzen, as there are in other major Chinese cities.

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The labour of China’s migrant workers is the engine (fādòngjÄ« 发动机) of China’s rapid urbanisation. Migrant workers are known as the ‘floating population’ because of their temporary and precarious status (Zhànshí hé bù wÄ›ndìng dì dìwèi 暂时和不稳定的地位) even if they have lived in cities for a long time.

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Migrant workers often stay in ‘urban villages’ (chéngshì cūnzhuāng 城市村庄) or factory compounds (gōngchǎng huàhéwù 工厂化合物) , many working in construction. Despite the health (jiànkāng 健康), education (jiàoyù 教育) and other benefits (bǔyì 补益) those without registration (hùkǒu)  may lack, many still choose to migrate from the farms (nóngchǎng 农场 ) to the cities and stay there.

Researcher Min Liu explains that much of the rural-to-urban migration of Chinese women relates to gender inequality (xìngbié bù píngděng 性别不平等), as the rural employment, education and lifestyle choices (jiùyè, jiàoyù hé shēnghuó fāngshì de xuǎnzé 就业,教育和生活方式的选择) for women are highly restrictive (gāodù xiànzhì 高度限制). In her interviews (wù miàn 晤面) with rural migrant women in Beijing, researcher Tamara Jacka found their motivations (dòngjī 动机) for migration included money, travel, escape, “changing one’s fate” (gǎibiàn zìjǐ de mìngyùn 改变自己的命运) and self-development (zìwǒ fāzhǎn 自我发展).

In the cities, they often experience (jīnglì 经历) inequalities of income, health and education. Even when rural migrants do well in the cities, their rural migrant (nóngmín gōng 农民工) status may still prevent (Zǔzhǐ 阻止) them from competing successfully (jìngzhēng chénggōng 竞争成功) with city residents. For example, researchers observe that many rural graduates (bìyè shēng 毕业生) from Beijing universities work in low-pay jobs (dī xīn gōngzuò 低薪工作) because they are not regarded as having good quality (sū zhi 苏哲) by professional employers (zhuānyè gùzhǔ 专业雇主), and lack good connections (Guānxì 关系man).

In fact, researchers have observed that during the 1990s, rural migrants were sometimes described by the term the term “mángliú” (literally “blind flow” or drifting) in the Reform Era in China, to refer to rural migrant workers as “blind”, and “outsiders” (júwàirén, 局外人).  The Chinese term “Mang” indicates those who are ignorant  — instead of  “xia”, which refers to the visually impaired.

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