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Lost and Found: Ne w Workers in China


Text by Ding Ge Photographs courtesy of Beijing Worker’s Home

Social workers are relatively new in China, and Lu Tu is one of them. Lu began teaching at her university after graduating 20 years ago. In 1997, she left for the Netherlands seeking a Ph.D in sociology and since then, she has been engaged in researching poverty-relief projects in China. From May 2010 through June 2011, she and her colleagues investigated the lives of migrant workers in several metropolises, including Suzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Beijing, and Wuhan.

Such workers commonly known as “rural migrant workers” were renamed “new workers” by Lu.

A February 2012 survey by the National Bureau of Statistics of China showed that in 2011, the count of rural migrant workers reached 252.78 million, giving Lu a massive group to study. The number continues climbing as migrants continue seeking prosperity in cities, resulting in a huge urbanization movement, while their labor fuels China’s emergence as the leading manufacturer in the world.

In-Depth Experience

Lu Tu’s office is located in Picun, a suburban village between Beijing’s eastern 5th and 6th Ring Roads. Of the villagers, only 1,000 are local, and 10,000 other residents hail from elsewhere. Picun mirrors countless villages in China that have mushroomed after waves of immigration. 

July 2011 statistics published by the local community show that of the village’s 120 factories, the smallest employs only four, while the largest over 200. Together, the factories employ a total of 2,000. However, inhabitants also include those who work nearby or even downtown. The village has opened two schools that now educate some 1,000 children.

The institution currently employing Lu Tu, Beijing Worker’s Home, is stationed in the village. During her spare time, Tu teaches at the village schools along with other volunteer teachers, such as Matthijs de Bruijne, an artist from the Netherlands. In a run-down classroom, Matthijs shared a picture of an 18-year-old boy from Africa who studied in his country while Lu translated for him. The class fell quiet when he asked if the boy should be sent home - the same predicament many of the students face. The silence was quickly shattered by fierce discussions. “Where can we continue to study?” is a common question on the minds of many students when primary school graduation approaches.

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