Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
During the summer recess from St. Lawrence I traveled back to China where I had studied abroad the previous year to conduct interviews and ask questions of prestigious Chinese academics, as well as ordinary rural and migrant Chinese citizens. The purpose of my trip was to try and understand how migrant workers (feel about the prospects for their own future. This population comes from rural areas to work in big cities and make up a significant portion of the urban poor. Of particular interest to me were the second generations of migrant workers who are now flocking to such cities as Shanghai and Beijing and are typically between the ages of 17-25. I hoped that if I could understand the perception migrant workers have of their own futures that it may help to gauge to legitimacy of the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party.
My trip which lasted for fifteen days was spent primarily in two rural villages, which are historically poorer, and in two of China's booming metropolises: Shanghai and Beijing. With the help of two Chinese speaking St. Lawrence professors, a native Chinese St. Lawrence student and another native Chinese friend who I traveled with, I was able to speak with many people about their current situations and their hopes for the future. The most rewarding and useful part of my trip for me was interacting with everyday migrant workers in Beijing and Shanghai. I was able to speak with taxi drivers, cooks, street cleaners, street vendors, security guards, dish washers, construction workers and others who openly shared with me their stories and hopes.
There were a few reoccurring themes in the interviews that I conducted with the young migrant workers. Firstly, when asked why they had left home to come to the cities everyone cited the opportunity for employment and to earn money which was not something they could do back in their villages. Often, the migrants also spoke affectionately about coming to these big cities which are the prized jewels of their country because of the change to explore them. As one Beijing security guard from Henan Province put it he was "chasing [his] dreams."
Another commonality shared by all of the migrants was the amount of time they worked a week. Every migrant we spoke with worked a minimum of 70 hours per week and one bathroom attendant in Beijing claimed she worked 19 hours a day. All of the migrants also shared another commonality that there pay was "hai keyi" or "ok." In some instances we were fortunate enough to be invited into the homes and workplaces of the migrants we were interviewing. The small crowded rooms filled with everything they owned were often dirty and lacked what many would consider basic commodities, such as bathrooms. However, they almost always agreed that they were doing better in the city than when they were back in the village.
The qualitative data that I collected will now be combined with additional quantitative research for my senior honors project to be completed this year.