By Han Han; translation by Jennifer Smith
Original Date Published: May 28th, 2010
In the latest blog post from Han Han, the popular race car driver-turned blogger-turned international celebrity takes on the subject of the hard prospects faced by many of China’s young people and the possible untold stories behind many of the recent series of Foxconn suicides.
I have this friend. Before he graduated from college, he didn¡¯t really have any lofty ideals, but his outlook was upbeat. After graduation, he searched really hard for a job and finally found one in a processing plant. He makes 1,500 RMB per month and works a lot of overtime. Sometimes he gets paid for that overtime, sometimes he doesn¡¯t. Altogether, he can earn 2,000 RMB a month. He lives about 10 KM away from his workplace, so he bought an electromobile. He leaves the house early each morning and returns late at night. He just married, but doesn¡¯t have enough money to buy an apartment. Luckily, buildings in rural areas were constructed with three floors, so he was able to rent out six rooms on the first and second floors to migrant workers for more than 200 RMB per room, giving him an extra 1,500 RMB a month.
These migrant workers often lived three to a room, with each person earning 800 RMB a month and either walking or bicycling to work every day at the nearby factory. The factory was a chemical plant, and it caused more pollution than the processing plant. It was then that most of the merchants in town went out of business, and the ones that remained open saw a slight surplus. However, if it is the case that as soon as the government tries to control pollution, the area starts to see economic losses, and if these losses mean that there is no way to pay taxes and stimulate GDP, the government can¡¯t control the situation. The pollution from this factory flows into the river that passes by my front door. In the countryside around my hometown, almost every farmer lives in dwellings housing more than 20 other migrant workers. Their landlords generally all have one child, and just about all of those children are in the same situation as the friend I mentioned above.
My friend didn¡¯t think he was doing too badly; at least he had found a wife, and he earned enough to survive, even if he wasn¡¯t able to make any large purchases. He didn¡¯t dare to change jobs or rush into something new, since, on the one hand, he didn’t have social security if something went wrong, and, on the other hand, if he missed one month of income, he would have nothing to live on. As they wanted to go to the city to buy an apartment, they tried to change their residency (hukou) from rural to urban, thinking that this would also be beneficial to their future children. However, the houses in the suburbs of Shanghai were selling for at least 500,000 RMB. They would have to work for the next 25 years, go without food and drink, and live between bare walls. And then, if they wanted to actually decorate or furnish the house, they would have to starve for yet another five years.
My friend¡¯s next door neighbor was another friend of mine. He had just graduated from college, with a salary that was a little higher than my first friend¡¯s. But his lady¡¯s bar was also set pretty high: She had to have an apartment in the city, or else she wouldn¡¯t marry him. In this area, an an old, publicly-owned apartment costs at least 2,000,000 RMB. My friend would need to work for 60 years, or he would have to rent out rooms in his house to 80 migrant worker families for 100 years, in order to have enough money to buy this house in the city. So their only hope is to be relocated. Even if the government tore down their building, gave them 500,000, and then sold the land for 5 million, he wouldn¡¯t care; at least the 500K would be enough to put a down payment on a house downtown. Everything else can wait. Whether the situation turns out to be good or bad, at least he can get married. But then after the the place is torn down, where do the parents go? That¡¯s a pesky problem. If my friend could rent out another farmhouse with slightly larger rooms and charge 300 RMB a month per room, then maybe the parents could have somewhere to live too.
In his old job, my first friend worked three shifts. The factory was too far away, and his body started having some problems. He quit and switched to his current job, looking forward to less overtime and higher pay. The boss said that next year he could get a raise of 100 RMB every month, and 100 RMB more the year after. Last week, my friend told me that his father might go abroad to find work as a mason. After three years abroad, he could make 200,000. I asked him what he planned to do. He said: That¡¯s it, there¡¯s nothing I can do. His mother earns almost nothing–800 RMB a month. In this family living on the outskirts of Shanghai,the kid is over 20 years old and can expect to see 50; the father is over 50 years old and needs to spend two years in a foreign country [just to find a job that pays decent wages]. Even though this family hates the migrant workers, who take all the jobs in the surrounding factories, depress monthly wages by several hundred RMB, and outnumber locals by 10 to 1, they are forced to rely on the migrants for rent, which brings in more than 10,000 extra in income every year.
This is what life is like for your average person living on the outskirts of Shanghai. And this family is pretty well off too. This is why Foxconn has so many building jumpers: mechanical work, a hopeless future, and a low salary. But if you go somewhere else, the salary is even lower and the prices are high. You don¡¯t have enough money to do anything but eat your fill and put clothes on your back. And yet the government spreads its propaganda throughout to world, trying to turn having enough to eat into some enormous contribution and remarkable achievement, quick to throw out some ancient statistic or picture from the Ice Age to prove that you should be thankful to the state that you have enough to eat; what more can you expect? Even though my friend is under a lot of pressure, he still has friends and family who are only 20 km away. Most of the young workers have families living several thousand kilometers away, and their families don¡¯t have enough to keep warm. The amount you can earn is often the only standard for determining a child¡¯s value in this world.
This is the group of people with whom the majority of China¡¯s netizens are least familiar. It¡¯s rare that you see current Foxconn employees visit an online message board to talk about their coworkers who jumped or recount their life stories, because they have neither the time nor the ability to tell it. The debauchery taking place outside (Translator¡¯s note: This refers perhaps to the Shanghai Expo) has absolutely nothing to do with these workers; they have no love in their lives. There is no third party in this world [that can determine one¡¯s value]; reality is the biggest third party. Maybe it was only when jumping from a building that the lives of these suicides finally revealed their worth. Everything that made up their lives has been mentioned and recorded; it¡¯s too bad that now they¡¯ve become statistics too.
Psychological counseling is useless. When I see our women with their arms wrapped around rich men, and the rich men with their arms wrapped around government officials, and the government officials with their arms around the bosses, and the bosses with their arms around [famous model and actress] Lin Zhiling, how can you offer me psychological counseling? Classmates drift along even worse. Some male classmates drift along well; that means they can rely on their families. Some female classmates also drift along well; that means they married well. Other people envy Foxconn workers for their social security, salaries that are paid on time, arranged housing, and overtime pay. The Foxconn worker says he feels like a machine; other people say they feel like bags of shit. Within a radius of several hundred kilometers,there is not one single realistic, inspirational story. This is the life of many Chinese young people.
If their salaries were increased tenfold, would there still be people jumping from buildings? As long as inflation doesn¡¯t also increase tenfold, of course they wouldn¡¯t jump. Obviously, the boss would never increase their salaries, because if he did, he would be issued a government ban. How are our politicians able to stand so tall and lift up their heads on the international stage, while still engaging in their political games and playing their political tricks? It is because of you, each and every cheap member of the labor force. You are China¡¯s bargaining chip, hostages to GDP. Whether or not socialism with Chinese characteristics is really capitalism with feudal characteristics, in the next 10 years, these young people have no solution.
Such a pitiful thing: all of this hot blood in our hearts, splattered on the ground.
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