Features

Shanghai blues

"Shanghai blues" Continued...

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

But post-socialist transition has yet to erase the double standard of rural/urban citizenship in China. Without official urban residency, Shanghai migrant workers are typically denied access to education and health care in the cities where they live and work.

One migrant worker, Xiao Wang, serves as an aiyi for a Shanghai family and sends her salary home to her husband and two young sons in rural Henan province each month. She moved to Shanghai in 2005, following the path of her older sister to an unregistered maid agency that links families with migrants. But because she holds a rural hukou, Xiao Wang's options for medical care in Shanghai are slim. Asked what she would do if she got sick, she replied that her only option would be to return home for treatment.

Education for migrant children is an equally controversial topic, since migrant families are often charged discriminatory tuition at urban schools-a practice that is officially prohibited. A 2006 study published in the Pacific Economic Review suggests that only 20 percent to 30 percent of migrant children attend local schools.

Ironically, state neglect has accelerated the formation of self-sustaining migrant communities-like the one along Suzhou Creek. Because migrants are denied social services, they are now establishing private, unlicensed schools, businesses, and hospitals in their own neighborhoods. While the government often bans and closes these facilities, their creation demonstrates a new and independent dimension of Chinese society.

According to Mingzheng Shi, a Beijing native and scholar of urban history, the emergence of private migrant communities in post-communist China is truly revolutionary. The Chinese Communist Party knows all too well that its political power is linked to continued economic growth-and that economic growth crucially depends on cheap migrant labor. Should the migrant community choose to mobilize, Shi says, the migrants could become the single greatest threat to the future of the Shanghai stock market and the power of the one-party state.

-with reporting by Susannah Pratt

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