migration in the northeast collection
migration in the southwest collection
Migration seems to affect every family in Huanglongsi, with many men and some women working outside the area. It is an illustration of how China's economic reforms and the huge growth in its cities and factories has had an impact on rural areas. Families need some cash income, and in a mountainous area such as Huanglongsi that means that at least one person from each household needs employment in cities such as Baoding and Mancheng. One woman suggests that when the man can't go, a woman might take his place: "Her husband is the accountant of the village. He can't go to other places to work. Therefore she has to work outside" (Dong'er, China 32).
Most men are employed as manual labourers on low wages with little job security. Several women describe how vulnerable male migrants are and recount stories of their own husbands working for several months and then not getting paid. Suping (China 38) explains: "It is by no means easy for those men who leave home to work in cities. Sometimes they worked for a whole year but came home empty-handed. They were cheated and dared not to ask for what they should be given."
One woman (China 30) does not think that working outside the village is the best way to improve their standard of living. "I don't think it is a solution for getting rid of poverty in the long run. That's why I would rather borrow money for cultivating the mountain than let my husband go out to earn money." But her longer-term view does not seem to be shared by the majority, who are preoccupied with more immediate survival.
Male out-migration has had considerable impact on gender roles and on women's workloads. In the absence of men, women have become responsible for all household chores and agricultural activities, as well as childcare and looking after the elderly. Fen (China 38) explains: "[My husband] works at a workshop making bricks. He doesn't earn much money. I am the only one to work in the field. It is down to me to sow seed in spring, it is me to harvest in autumn… I have to work in the field as well as at home. It is a lot of hard work." Men do try to come back to help with the agricultural labour, but fear of losing their jobs mean they don't stay for long. "It is not easy working outside. [Our husbands] are afraid the bosses will be reluctant to give them leave, and they are afraid that they will earn less money. Usually they are working at places not far from home. Every two months or so they can come back for a while, help in the fields and then hurry back" (China 38).
It is less common for women to work outside, although several narrators have done so; they tend to be young and unmarried. One woman (China 40) describes in great detail her experience of working as a nanny for various families in Beijing, which was a time of great excitement for her: "The trend of reform came to the country... Many people went to towns and cities to make money... I wanted to work as a children's nanny… Having the consent of my father, I went to find a close girl friend of mine... Her father was a cook in the army and he often looked for children's nannies… At last, I said goodbye to [my parents]… I was too excited. It was the first time that I left my remote mountain village." Other young women seem to have had tougher times, finding work mostly in factories or restaurants. Some women who come from other rural areas met their husbands while working in the cities and came to Huanglongsi when they married. One narrator (China 37) continues to work in this way: "We are still deep in debt. How could we pay [the wedding costs] back without going to work in the cities?… [I do the same job] as men on the construction site… We have to pay back the debt."
quotes about migration
"Most men leave the village to earn some money in other places. Otherwise we cannot even afford to buy fertiliser. We can hardly make a living on the little land we have. It would be really hard without trying to earn some money outside… Most men work on construction sites. They have no skills, just do manual labour. Girls usually work in restaurants and other public places. On the whole they are not able to find really good jobs."
Junrong, F/36, China 39
"We do not think there is anything improper [in young women working outside]. These mountains shut us off and there may not be much room for further development. It is good that the young people go out to see the world, finish their schooling and gain experience and knowledge. Also they can earn some money to help the families."
Junrong, F/36, China 39
"Most of the money [they earn outside] goes to the education of children and also to buy some rice or wheat flour. In fact, they earn little. Those who have skills can earn 30 to 40 yuan a day. Most of the men from the mountain area have no skills and can only do manual labour. For them the wages are very low. Also they have to come back to help at sowing and harvesting times, which means they earn less."
Fengying, F/40, China 30
"The worst is that many [men] couldn't get a penny for their three of four months of hard labour. About 20% of them were fooled by those bosses in towns…Those bosses were very foxy. They just made you work first. Whenever you ask for your money, they would always ask you to wait for few more days for they were short of cash. Take my husband for example. In 1991, he worked at a construction site as a cook for three months. Altogether they should pay him more than 1,000 yuan as his wage. But he got nothing. On the contrary, he spent about 60 yuan on train tickets to the city trying to get back his money."
Fengying, F/40, China 30
"We mainly depend on the farm work [for our livelihood]. I have some skills so I can work as a plasterer, earning 800 or 900 yuan a month. Sometimes I earn 1,000 yuan a month. But the head of contracted labour often cheats us right and left. He hasn't paid me yet… We haven't received our last year's payment. He doesn't have the money, because he can't get money from above."
Li, F/29, China 35
"I came to know my husband when I was working in the city… I had been to many places. First I worked in an embroidery factory in Wuqiao. The products were made for export. Then I went to Zhengzhou, where my aunt lives… We stayed there for about three years after we got married. It was difficult for me to adjust to life here… My hometown is on the plain while here is the mountainous area with far less people. I felt lonely."
Nan, F/31, migrant worker, China 37
"Since almost all the men have left the village with only the old and young at home, all work in the fields is left to women."
Diao'er, F/28, China 38