Chill winds cool Chinese New Year migrant spirits

Wed Jan 14, 2009 8:44pm EST
 
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By Ben Blanchard and James Pomfret

BEIJING/GUANGZHOU (Reuters) - It's supposed to be a period of happy reunions, fireworks, feasting with family and gifts of cash stuffed into auspicious red envelopes.

But the chill winds blowing through the global economy are putting a damper on this Chinese Lunar New Year, especially for the millions of migrant workers who toil in factories and building sites, and who only get to go home this time each year.

Some 188 million people are expected to flock home by rail during China's annual "spring rush" this year, an average of 4.7 million trips made daily, mainly from developed coastal regions to villages and cities in the poorer heartland.

Now, with factories closing and consumer spending shriveling, what should be a joyful occasion has soured as the world's most populous nation's economy starts to slow, hit by falling demand in major markets in Europe and North America.

"A lot of factories are doing badly so many people are heading back (home) early," said Li Jinli, waiting with his wife at a station in the southern city of Guangzhou for a train to their home village in Guizhou province, 15 hours away.

"We've been on holiday for a month now, business has been very bad," added Li, 39, a deeply wrinkled metal factory worker who said he was laid off twice in the past year.

"To find a good job is very troublesome," he said. "And I'm very worried about finding work when I return."

Li is one of around 200 million migrant workers in China -- greater than the population of Brazil -- who have provided the flood of cheap labor underpinning the country's formidable export engine and proliferation of China-made goods worldwide.   Continued...

 
<p>Migrant workers eat as they wait to board a train to go home at a railway station in Nanjing, Jiangsu province January 11, 2009. It's supposed to be a period of happy reunions, fireworks, feasting with family and gifts of cash stuffed into auspicious red envelopes. But the chill winds blowing through the global economy are putting a damper on this Chinese Lunar New Year, especially for the millions of migrant workers who toil in factories and building sites, and who only get to go home this time each year. To match feature CHINA-WORKERS/ REUTERS/Sean Yong/Files</p>