Shenzhen: Here to Stay?

It’s the usual conflict between haves and have-nots. And as the entrepreneurial spirit in Shenzhen, the special economic zone in Guangdong Province, next to Hong Kong, is fading (or so the Economist reported in January), with the lowest rate of start-ups in decades, friction between people who earn money in Shenzhen and unemployed migrant workers seems to be only increasing.

In a meeting with the Hong Kong-Macau Political Consultative Council, Shenzhen’s Vice Mayor Li Ming, who doubles as the head of the police bureau, said if Shenzhen can get the legal basis, it will restrict migrant workers who have been unemployed for longer than three months from renting houses, in effect, asking them to leave the city.  The suggestion was met by the council’s applause,

Don Weinland, Global Voices, quotes Nanfang Daily. Consumption has replaced investment as the most powerful engine for Shenzhen’s economic growth in 2009, for the first time since 1979, People’s Daily (quoted by News Guangdong Online), on March 15 this year, added to the Economist‘s findings.

Which is exactly what economist keep preaching – that China should, to some extent, turn its back to export-led growth and seek growth from its markets within. Just as Chongqing was designated to pull growth in China’s West, Shenzhen and Guangdong in general could pull growth in neighboring provinces, creating jobs there by investing there, and consuming the products.

But while this seems to make sense, the arrangement that you either come from outside and find work in Shenzhen within a limited period, or return to your home province or home town elsewhere has been put into question more recently. Global Voices quotes several bloggers who currently defend the rights of migrants to stay in Shenzhen, with or without a job.

The media in general have become more aware of migrants from other provinces and their rights, while the right of migrant workers to choose their work in the country’s cities freely remains strictly limited by the traditional Chinese system of household registration.

7 Responses to “Shenzhen: Here to Stay?”

  1. While I agree with the idea that domestic consumption should be a bigger driver of the Chinese economy than it is now, I find something troubling about Li Ming’s suggestion.

    As you imply, his idea raises the issue of the rights of migrant workers, in particular their right to move freely within their own country and have access to the same services that their city-living citizens enjoy.

    The Hukou system itself is flawed because it creates a second class that is bound to economically depressed areas of the country. Until now, as long as migrants have been able to find accommodation in cities, they have been able to move to cities and at least enjoy higher salaries and more competitive work environments. They may not have access to all of the social services that city residents would enjoy, but they have been able to make a better living than they would have made in the countryside.

    By formalizing a rule whereby migrants are denied housing if they cannot find a job in a set period of time, Shenzhen would be, in effect, subjecting every migrant to the threat of banishment — a sword of Damocles.

    Imagine a situation in which a migrant uses all of her money to go to Guangdong to work in a garment factory, and then gets sick and is forced to stop working for a period, but is scraping by somehow. The three month period rolls around, and she wants to find work, but she has only just gotten well. She looks up factories, but most seem to offer low-pay positions with low-quality work conditions. She now has a choice: Give it all up and move home or accept an unfavorable working environment. If she moves home, she will be even poorer because she will have burned all her resources to relocate the first time and to tide her over during her illness. AND she will not find good work in the village.

    Such a rule might even be powerful enough to discourage some migration to the city, keeping farmers bound to the fields instead of making an effort to improve their lot — and thereby reinforcing the outdated Hukou system. In other words, the rule could exacerbate the income disparity in China while violating the rights of migrants.

    I wonder how the BJ bigwigs would take such a rule if Shenzhen went ahead with implementing it.

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  2. The household registration system is constantly mentioned in the press, plus the state council reportedly working on it – but without a promise or a hint that reform is in the pipeline.
    The situation reminds me of the barriers between the U.S. and Mexico, or Europe and Africa. Just that China is supposed to be one country.
    I guess Beijing bets on more development beyond the coastal provinces, rather than on free movement.

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  3. Epstein est rasoir. The adequate blatherskite for a Forbes / Fuse Capital paper. Consumo ergo sum.

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