China’s migrant workers on long trek home
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.