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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lunar New Year Reflections

Happy Lunar New Year everyone! The Chinese New Year is a great time for China to conduct its internal ponderance - the cost, trials and tribulations of its growth.

Was watching the Phoenix Channel (a great source of news for all things China from an overseas-Chinese perspective (Hong Kong-based) as it is 'quite' not state-owned), and there has been a wave of reflective stories on the travels of China's internal migrant workers, the secret formula for China's success story.

They travel thousands of miles away from their village homes to major cities in a bid to improve their lives and unwittingly contribute to the world's fastest growing economy. The hard figures? There are almost 200 million of them. The lunar new year period is really the only time for most of them to return home to see their families, though many don't return for many years. 200 million people! It is not uncommon for many, if not all of them to take journeys that are 10 hours or more, without ever sitting down. Seriously, can any other transport network in this universe accommodate and move 200 million during a short period (the lunar new year festivities)? What a logistical feat.

Here's a good article from the International Herald Tribune that paid special attention to the personal plights of these workers, and the macro effects the recent financial turmoil is going to heap on these hapless workers.


Chill winds cool Chinese New Year migrant spirits

By Ben Blanchard and James Pomfret
for the International Herald Tribune
15 Jan 2009

It's supposed to be a period of happy reunions, fireworks, feasting with family and gifts of cash stuffed into auspicious red envelopes.

But the chill winds blowing through the global economy are putting a damper on this Chinese Lunar New Year, especially for the millions of migrant workers who toil in factories and building sites, and who only get to go home this time each year.

Some 188 million people are expected to flock home by rail during China's annual "spring rush" this year, an average of 4.7 million trips made daily, mainly from developed coastal regions to villages and cities in the poorer heartland.

Now, with factories closing and consumer spending shrivelling, what should be a joyful occasion has soured as the world's most populous nation's economy starts to slow, hit by falling demand in major markets in Europe and North America.

A lot of factories are doing badly so many people are heading back (home) early," said Li Jinli, waiting with his wife at a station in the southern city of Guangzhou for a train to their home village in Guizhou province, 15 hours away.

"We've been on holiday for a month now, business has been very bad," added Li, 39, a deeply wrinkled metal factory worker who said he was laid off twice in the past year.

"To find a good job is very troublesome," he said. "And I'm very worried about finding work when I return."

Li is one of around 200 million migrant workers in China -- greater than the population of Brazil -- who have provided the flood of cheap labour underpinning the country's formidable export engine and proliferation of China-made goods worldwide.


Yet the closure of tens of thousands of export firms on China's seaboard has cost an estimated 10 million migrant workers their jobs in recent months, worrying Communist Party leaders who depend on strong growth to underpin their political legitimacy.

After decades of solid economic growth, China is facing falling demand for its products which has triggered factory closures, sparked protests and raised fears of popular unrest...

Click here for full article