Internal Immigration Within China
Megan K. Stack of the Los Angeles Times today reported on issues of internal immigration in China and its aftermath on Chinese villages. The Los Angeles Times today reported on how villagers left for economic opportunity and growth, not seeing the underlying story about the survival of immigrants, as the old economy fell apart in the last generation. While the Los Angeles Times had reported on the changes in the economic system in the former Soviet Union since 1989, so many newspaper reporters seemed ignorant at the time of the change in the economic system in the same time span in China. Among a people enslaved to the land to somehow survive.
In this secular age, with secular perspective, Megan K. Stack of the Los Angeles Times today reported on the fraying of the Chinese family, how in China, “routine migration is in the country’s lifestyle.” Lifestyle? Numb to what had happened to a people, in a nation where its leaders had tried to control fertility, Ms. Stack writes of “the fallout “in the rush for economic opportunity and growth.” Were Chinese peasants in these villages really ever allowed to have a “lifestyle”? The focus in the article was on stark psychological and emotional challenges to this next generation of Chinese, when Megan K. Stack herself seemed to have grown up at a time with a rapid dissolution of traditional values. In a rush for economic opportunity. (I have since discovered Ms. Stack was one of five finalists for the non-fiction prize at the National Book Awards for Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War. She is the best of the best, at her craft. Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War is a must read book that will stay within you for weeks on end. )
When the social problem of “villagers” and their lifestyles in China will have a lingering affect on the future, there was no real mention today of the stark psychological and emotional challenge of hunger that anyone over sixty had been through. There was no real mention of the stark Cultural Revolution that saw millions put to death and others imprisoned—where Mao’s physician had written of the death of ninety million Chinese. There was no real mention of China’s silent conversion to capitalism, with hopes of a job in a city. There was no real mention of the stark psychological and emotional reactions in Chinese families as a nation’s leaders tried to enforce a control of fertility. There was no real mention of the reactions in Chinese families to the missing political reforms after all the stark economic reforms.
The story on the “routine migration” starting point was how villagers on their own left their long-time homesteads in great great number, as the economics of life in the village changed. After the largest migration in human history over thirty years, something like 260 million Chinese out of a total population of 1.34 billion. A 2004 report by the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center named suicide as the leading cause of death in China among people between the ages of 15 and 34, as a result of the movement in the story. “It happens all the time,” said a European language teacher who has lived in Beijing for a decade. “Someone loses everything. They lose their job. They get divorced. They kill themselves. It happens so often here that no one notices anymore.”
And then there was the grandparents, in a nation that had tried to control fertility, locked into perpetual parenthood. In the same afterward of the Bush Campaign’s No-Child-Left Behind era, twenty-five percent of Chinese children now stay with grandparents, great-grandparents or any other relatives who can shelter and feed them, while their parents migrated over the past 20 years to big cities for work. There was the same old unrecognized theme of an underlying story on immigration, not unlike in the United States. Only legal internal immigration, with stiff penalties imposed on families who want to enroll their children in schools outside their own own.
In a book on the rapid disintegration of traditional Chinese values with intensive parenting and traditionally prized togetherness, author of Hurt Village, Nie Mao said, “Their (these separated children) safety is always compromised because they are far from their parents. And their education is always lagging behind.”
This social problem of the left-behind children developed as migration rates exploded over the last two decades. This generation of Chinese had lived, in a nation that had tried to control fertility, with dissolution of traditional Chinese values since they were born. This generation saw the imposition of the one-child policy followed by the the dissolution of Mao’s economic system. In a rush for economic opportunity. Who could, in this generation of Chinese, or any Chinese person for that matter, trust any more? Or simply, who could trust? Anyone?
Managing explosions in the economies, managing explosions in fertility, managing welfare, managing fear, politics was best defined by how we care for each other. With a recognition that some people do it badly and some people do it well. As tightknit families become unbound, there was a stated general unease, among the undefined intelligentsia, among government officials. When children never have known their parents well enough to miss them.
The alienation in this society could be seen in an underlying anti-foreigner sentiment in China. The deep-seated xenophobia that has been an integral part of China for centuries. The fear of the sinister. The left-handed. The stranger. It still exists to a certain extent. Whether after five wars of foreign aggression and five revolutionary civil wars over the past 210 years since 1800 or in ancient China, there never had been any place to go. The unique perspective on the development of the Wutong cult into a god of wealth, with the popular conception of the nexus between money and social relations. A product of all the rhetoric of China‘s humiliation at the hands of the West; and now this new humiliation. The desire for the old ways, to close down and shut off to the rest of the world. A Chinese form of acedia which Kathleen Norris writes of in Acedia & Me.
These stories in the Los Angeles Times seemed a lot like stories of descendants of nomads. Who left behind everything. Maybe not much different than in these stories of Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, when old economies fell apart. When dealing with fertility, the internal migration, after the aftermath. With post traumatic stress following war. With the great restlessness that stemmed from economic times. Restlessness developed from, was caused by, hunger and famine. The most severe forms of hunger and famine. For those just trying to survive. Or those who are in internal flight.