Lifestyle & Belief

China: No more peasant-workers?


Workers in a clothing factory in Haizhu, a textile manufacturing district in Guangzhou.


Sharron Lovell

Even though they’re still mostly relegated to second-class citizenship in their own country, China’s migrant workers are beginning to gain sympathy in official quarters.

Government leaders in two important provinces known for migration have said the popular vernacular for China’s farmers-turned-urbanites is rude and should be abolished, the Xinhua news agency reports.

The actual phrase, “nong min gong,” which means “peasant worker” is at the heart of the debate. The provincial Communist Party heads of both Hebei, known for sending millions of farmers out to work in urban areas, and Guangdong, which is home to many of the migrants, who land at factory jobs, have both called for an end to the label.

China's massive population of farmers who’ve become urban workers numbers at somewhere around 200 million, depending on the definition. An outdated household registration system from the 1950s has left most without many basic rights when they migrate, including medical care and education for their children. The government has promised reforms, but those are slow in coming as the country grapples with swelling cities and demand on urban services.