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Chinese Workers Grow Restless

China’s latest crop of migrant workers – young, fashionable, restless and ambitious – may want more from Beijing than they can hope to get. The FT writes:

Li Feifei, a 19-year-old migrant factory worker from China’s Hubei province, dreams of becoming a clothes designer.

Ms Li… got the idea of attending a fashion college and changing jobs from watching television. “When I saw beautiful girls in dramas, I thought of them wearing clothes I made and designed.” […]

But Ms Li is a symbol of China’s own jobs crisis. There is plenty of work for migrants in its fast-growing economy, but their ambitions and frustrations are rising even faster than their rewards.

A decade ago migrant workers fit nicely into Beijing’s five-year plans. Today, many settled city-dwelling migrants aren’t content with factory work. They expect better, more fulfilling middle class employment.

This is a familiar historical process. As rising agricultural productivity and rising population combine to force rural people into the cities, people all over the world have struggled to make the transition to urban middle class life.  The Chinese workers moving from rice paddies to factories want the same thing, but as I’ve observed before, these transitions aren’t easy.

Beijing is now facing the second stage of a classic Great Migration from country to town: the early arrivals are so poor and so bewildered that they work hard for low pay and don’t ask many questions.  As time goes by the new arrivals become more demanding; ironically, communist China could soon face the kind of industrial urban unrest that Karl Marx cut his analytical teeth writing about.

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