It’s easy to forget that in order for us to fill our lives with gadgets, real people are making real sacrifices. Many of those people are in China, toiling in factory towns hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles away from their families in the villages. This massive migration into China’s cities has given rise to a new social phenomonon — “left-behind children.”
After Huang moved away, her mother-in-law watched over the grandchildren in Hunan, as Huang’s work schedule only allowed for visits once or twice a year. Huang and her husband, Zhang Changyong, left their oldest child Juanzi in 1998, when she was only four. Over time, Juanzi grew detached. By sixth grade the moon-faced girl who once wept at the sight of her departing parents appeared to barely notice their visits. She grew bored with their attempts to catch up on her life. Answering their phone calls became a chore — except when she needed money. Her brother, little Yi, disconnected at a younger age by refusing his parents’ phone calls and crumbling into his sister’s arms when they approached for hugs. “My son didn’t like being with me,” says Huang, who, like many peasants, was allowed two children under exceptions in the one-child policy. For more than three decades, rural residents in China have relocated to industrial cities for work, comprising the largest migration in human history. Today the country has some 221 millioninternalmigrants, according to the 2010 census, of which roughlytwo–thirds move from rural to urban areas. But while this migration has fueled China’s economic growth, it has also churned up domestic turmoil and social dislocation.
In recent years, researchershaveestimated that 58 million children like Yi and Juanzi have been left to stumble through their most formative years of life without parental guidance — a difficult choice on the part of their parents, but one born out of necessity: Rural children lose their rights to subsidized education, health care, and other basic services the moment they step into the city.
As they say, read the whole thing…
If you’re interested in a visual representation of this topic, there’s also an excellent movie about the lives if migrant families in China called The Last Train Home.