Big Country, Big Problems

February 23rd, 2009 | Sources: Washington Post


The director of China’s central leading group on rural work has outlined an approach to manage growing unrest precipitated by a sharp economic downturn that has left 26 million migrant workers jobless.

“If mass incidents happen,” said Chen Xiwen “all officials must go to the front line and try to persuade people face-to-face. They cannot…push police to the front lines. The police cannot be deployed unless there are truly unfortunate situations where people are beating, attacking, robbing or burning.”

howtoprotestinChinaAnd officials should punish the instigators, learn from the conflict and figure out how to improve what they do, he added.

In that order, we assume.

Right now 15% of China’s 130 million migrant workers are unemployed and 6 million more will enter the pool this year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

China’s ranks of migrant workers have exploded in the past 20 years, as farmers are increasingly forced to rely on supplemental income, which can account for up to 60% of their total take.

“There is a saying in the countryside that to feed the mouth depends on farming but pocket money comes from outside,” Xu Yong told the Washington Post.

But “that road is blocked this year,” said the director of the Center for Chinese Rural Studies at Central China Normal University.

So at a recent conference with the state-owned press, Chen offered more than just crisis management tips. He urged local officials to solve land disputes, resettlement issues and environmental problems for example, lest they spawn demonstrations.

So will the protests increase? Xu couldn’t say for sure. “During the Spring Festival, most migrant workers went home and had a rest,” he said.

“After this, they will hunt for jobs. If they can’t find any jobs but stay in the cities, it will be easy to generate conflict and instability.”

“April and May will be the most serious time,” Xu said.


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