China’s mi­grant work­ers on long trek home

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

LOOK­ING around the car­riage, Wang Xin­tong strug­gles to con­tain her ex­cite­ment. The 8-year-old is on a train head­ing back to her home town for new year cel­e­bra­tions.

Her joy soon turns to fa­tigue, and the 2 000km jour­ney be­fore her prom­ises noth­ing but monotony.

“I’m suf­fo­cat­ing in here! I don’t want to be on the train any more,” she frets to her fa­ther, Wang Xiangquan.

“Daddy used to have to stand for over 20 hours go­ing home on the train. Have a lit­tle pa­tience,” he says.

Xin­tong is one of the mil­lions of chil­dren “lucky” enough to ac­com­pany her mi­grant worker par­ents who work far from home. Many other chil­dren are left be­hind with grand­par­ents and see their par­ents only once or twice each year.

Daddy is a van driver. Mummy works at a fac­tory mak­ing wa­ter pipes. Xin­tong has been al­most con­stantly on the move with them since she was three. Cur­rently, they live in Fuzhou City 40 hours away from the rest of their fam­ily in Chongqing.

Xin­tong shares a sin­gle 20m2 room with her par­ents, dom­i­nated by an an­cient 21-inch tele­vi­sion. Two beds and a makeshift wardrobe com­prise the rest of their be­long­ings. This is Wang Xin­tong’s whole world.

“She locks the door and plays on her own af­ter school,” her mother, Yu Gaifen, told Xin­hua.

When asked how many friends she had in Fuzhou, the girl gave what ap­peared to be an okay sign. “Three?” “Zero.” Mov­ing five times in five years, it has been hard for her to make any friends. Though en­ti­tled to at­tend lo­cal schools, it can be dif­fi­cult for out­siders to fit in.

“I don’t un­der­stand the games my class­mates play at school. I don’t like be­ing with them,” Xin­tong said.

Her hap­pi­est time is now, Spring Fes­ti­val, when her par­ents take a break from work and she can see her friends at “home”.

It is a long jour­ney. First they take a bus to Fuzhou rail­way sta­tion, then they pack them­selves into a train for mi­grant work­ers. The train has a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of 1700, but will carry over 2 500 pas­sen­gers, so about a third of them will be stand­ing for the next 28 hours.

The fam­ily’s 40-hour jour­ney is noth­ing spe­cial at this time of year. Most of China’s 270 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers are head­ing home, and the Min­istry of Trans­port ex­pects peo­ple to make 3 bil­lion trips around new year this year. Wang Yip­ing be­came a mi­grant worker in 1985. At the age of 14, Xin­tong’s fa­ther quit school to join him.

Xin­tong’s par­ents are adamant that their fam­ily his­tory will not re­peat it­self.

“We want our daugh­ter to go to col­lege some day,” said Wang Xiangquan. Xiangquan plans to con­tinue this life­style for an­other five years and then start a farm, rais­ing chick­ens and sheep in Liang­ping. By then, Xin­tong will have fin­ished pri­mary school and can go to the same school as her friends at home.


Pas­sen­gers squeeze into a crowded car­riage in He­fei, An­hui prov­ince. Chi­nese rail­way au­thor­i­ties ar­range ex­tra pas­sen­ger trains ev­ery year to han­dle the mil­lions of ad­di­tional daily trips taken dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val, also known as the Chi­nese Lu­nar New Year, which be­gins on Jan­uary 28 this year.

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