More on the complexities of the situation of Chinese migrant labor and its similarities to the situation of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Hope takes work in the moment and grows through deep time. It is not over until all of us (including the screamers) are free from suffering; just as there is not one America, there is not one Hell, and certainly there is not just one apocalypse. If we look attentively we see how many lives in how many places are destroyed time and time again. The question facing each of us is: where can I work? What relationships, what changes allow me to help end suffering? And then we work, trusting that other bodhisattvas are also doing their hard practice in fields where we cannot, because (and this I believe) just as there is not one world, there is not one Paradise, and certainly there is not only one savior. Continue reading
How many people actually live in Shenzhen? The numbers vary. Current Shenzhen Party Secretary Ma Xingrui says 20 million. However, the administrative population supposedly hovers at 18 million, while the city itself has never admitted to more than 15 million. Rough estimates suggest only 4 million people have Shenzhen hukou, another 8 million have permanent residency, and another 5-8 million “float” unofficially within the city
These statistics obscure how Shenzhen’s urban villages spatially organize these three administrative classes. For example, Shi’ao (石凹) Villagehas a local population of 4 to 500 people and a renter population of 20,000, making the ratio of local to renters residents 1:40. The ratio of local to renter populations in Baishizhou is an astonishing 1:77. Moreover, it is clear that renters–even floaters–aren’t actually leaving the city. Instead, they are finding newer (and often) narrower niches within the village.
Much like US American suburbs which manage inequality through distance, Shenzhen’s urban villages do the hard (and socially productive) work of managing inequality within the city. The majority of floaters and a large percentage of permanent residents live in the villages and tend to work in service and the semi- and informal economies, while hukou residents and wealthier permanent residents occupy “official” housing estates and tend to work in the formal economy.
It’s official, at least 20 million people live in Shenzhen. According to Shenzhen Secreatary, Ma Xingrui, the city’s population (as of December 2015) stats were: population with Shenzhen hukou =3.67 million; population with long-term residency = 10.77 million, and; administrative population = 20 million.
Handshake 302’s latest project is moving along. This past weekend we met with middle school students (on Saturday) and Guangdong Xin’an Polytechnic students (on Sunday) to think about how their experiences and acquired knowledge about Baishizhou might be put to the interesting work of making art. Continue reading
So hukou remains an ongoing problem. According to Dec 2012 Sanitation Bureau statistics, Shenzhen has a long term resident population of over 10 million and resident (hukou) population of 3.05 million. In order to bring some balance to the demographic, a 2014 regulation has dropped the education requirement from college graduate to associate’s degree. Apparently, they’ve also simplified the process.
The measures come about as both the rates of population growth AND turnover has slowed. It used to be that every Chinese New Year millions left, while after New Year a different batch of more millions returned. Now more and more temporary residents are making Shenzhen their primary home. These new migrants are different from earlier migrants in that they tend to be better educated, and have come to participate in Shenzhen’s new core industries–finance, logistics, culture, and high-tech, as well as the city’s strategic industries–bio-tech, internet, and alternative energy. So they are settling in and raising families without hukou.
In addition, the City’s second generation is starting to participate in Shenzhen society, and many are not actually legal residents. Along with new migrants, they are giving birth to the City’s third generation. In fact, there are so many children in the SEZ, the ongoing Shenzhen baby boom has become something of a marketing niche, despite the fact that young parents must return to their legal residence in order to receive subsidized neonatal care. In fact, Shenzhen has the highest birth rate in the country. The biggest economic beneficiaries of the boom are owners of homes with seats (学位) in the top schools. And real estate websites happily speculate (all puns intended) on the price of those houses over the next decade.
Inquiring minds want to know–what about the illegal floating population? And this is one of the interesting aspects of Shenzhen’s shifting demographic. As factory jobs have been moved elsewhere, we see a corresponding social restructuring–more white collar technocrats, fewer blue collar workers. At the same time, the City seems willing to formally claim these new migrants, even as requirements continue to exclude manual laborers, sanitation workers, and other low-end migrants from transferring their hukou to Shenzhen. Importantly, the social eugenics of this process dovetail with and reinforce the gentrification that the demolition of centrally located urban villages has brought about (Laying Siege to the Villages).
Dongguan is passing similar laws to manage its disproportionately large floating population, and one assumes its highly visible sex industry.
In Xintang, Baishizhou, this 60-year old gentleman has been protesting for a month. His demand? He wants the right to depend on his son for his old age care.
In Shenzhen, parents can transfer their hukou from hometowns to the SEZ based on their children’s hukou status. Once they have this hukou, they can take advantage of subsidized medical care from their 65th birthday. The problem? This gentleman’s son does not have a Shenzhen hukou. In addition, he does not own a house and is facing eviction upon the completion of negotiations to raze Baishizhou (admittedly at least two or three years in the future). At such time, he will loose his shop, and without equity in the building, will not receive compensation. So he is facing a perilous retirement.
The wording of the protest is of interest. 投靠 (tóu kào) literally means “throw oneself to depend upon”. It can also be translated as “become a retainer of”. Within the rhetoric of this protest, this gentleman is demanding the right to become his son’s retainer.
The form of his demand is similarly coached in feudal language; indeed his banners function as petitions to leaders rather than as social demands. He asks Xi Jinping, for example, if the General Secretary realizes that although in Beijing old people have welfare, the old people in Shenzhen have a different situation. He then asks Xi Jinping to visit Shenzhen and see the situation. Likewise, he asks Shenzhen Secretary Wang Rong and Shenzhen Mayor Xu Qin where the Communist Party is.
The moral economy of noblesse oblige gives these questions their oppositional force. The question put to Xi Jinping implies that if the General Secretary understood the true situation in Shenzhen, he would rectify it. The question put to Wang Rong is even more pointed: has the Communist Party abandoned its responsibility to take care of the people?
In order to make this moral claim, the gentleman also demonstrates that he has upheld his end of the moral contract between government and the future. First, he followed the one child policy and only gave birth to a son. Second, he came to Shenzhen twenty-three years ago to make a better life for himself and his family. During that time, his son was back in his hometown to go to school. Third, he never broke any other laws.
Shenzhen has been at the forefront of reforming its pension system. In practice, this has been the commodification of services. For those with Shenzhen hukou, there are still some benefits. However, as this gentleman reminds us, in the present real security comes through family ties and home ownership.
The Foreign Policy series “China’s Left Behind Children,” by freelance journalists Deborah Jian Lee and Sushma Subramanian followed the migrant worker Huang Dongyan, who left her daughter back home to work in Shenzhen. Her relationship with her daughter remains fraught and teeming with unsatisfied yearnings. In response, Huang, decided to raise her son in Shenzhen instead of leaving him in the countryside with his grandmother. The two articles are well worth reading, here and here. Of note is the continued relevance of hukou in the lives of migrant workers, especially with respect to receiving an education.
In the United States, we make an economic distinction between “needs” and “wants”. We teach children (here, here, and here, for example) to recognize and manage the difference between their needs and wants. Subsequently, we re-code these management skills in terms of individual ethics — good people recognize their needs and wants, and then make rational choices to live within their means. In contrast, bad people make irrational choices based on uncontrolled desires that lead to debt and bankruptcy.
The flip response — “one girl’s need is an aging man’s want” — to this statement merely confirms the underlying double bind of this economizing morality. In this financial literacy exercise, for example, only the social facts of suburban car culture, supermarkets, and fast food restaurants conspire to make white bread, bottled water, and a tent vacation “needs” in contrast to the “wants” of a bicycle and a pizza. What if our built environment depended on bikes for transportation? What if we were homeless and the best we could cobble together was a tent made of discarded plastic and corrugated steel? In these situations, the economizing morality is to recalibrate our personal needs and wants rather than to challenge the inequality that poses this choice as reflecting real world conditions.
All this to say: the economizing morality of individual needs and wants is the elementary school version of neoliberal ethics.
I’m thinking about individual needs and wants and neoliberal
immorality for two interrelated reasons. At the level of urban planning, given the prime location of urban villages and the lack of developable plats in Shenzhen, the villages were targeted for redevelopment (or renovation — 更新 as a verb). In turn, the need for neighborhoods for the working poor has been recoded as the need for individuals with Shenzhen hukou to find affordable housing. A shift of hand, and the debate ceases to be about communities and becomes one of individual economies. Moreover, convenience, access to schools and social infrastructure, as well as economic opportunities are concomitantly transvalued as wants to be satisfied through economizing.
On January 31, 2013 for example, the Municipality made available 13,496 units of public housing. Of that total, all are located in the outer districts (guanwai) and the majority (11,111) are located in Longgang, roughly 35 kms from the city center. To allocate these units, Shenzhen will be testing what is known as the 轮侯制 or “revolving wait system”. Basically, this system entails meeting conditions, including hukou status, time in Shenzhen, and maximum income to apply for a residence. When any of these conditions change, the family has to move out of the unit, thus opening it for another. The family also has to find another place to live.
In Shenzhen, those opposed to urban renovation projects have been reminding the Municipality out that urban villages like Baishizhou already provide low-cost housing and small scale economic opportunities for working poor families. Moreover, the given the Municipality’s demographics 13,496 housing units are sufficient to absorb displaced populations only when those with hukou may apply. Point du jour: locating public housing far from urban centers only makes moral sense (cents!) in a world in which individual economizing ideologically justifies disrupting neighborhoods for the working poor in order to pave the way for developers. And yes, this is just more evidence that China and the United States really are the same country.