China's great migration wrenched back by crisis

Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:53pm EST
 
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By Simon Rabinovitch

CHENGDU, China (Reuters) - The biggest migration in human history has gone into reverse.

China's ocean of blue-collar workers is streaming back to the country's farming hinterland, bringing thwarted aspirations and rising discontent in tow as their city jobs, their paths out of poverty, fall victim to the global economic crisis.

Train K192 is a daily conduit of the reversing flow.

Every afternoon it pulls into Chengdu, capital of populous Sichuan province, after a 31-hour trip from Guangzhou, center of China's once-thriving export heartland.

Hundreds of weary passengers, some of whom stand through the entire journey because seats are sold out, straggle into the grey light of the Chengdu winter and an uncertain future.

"Lots of factories have closed. Mine shut about three months ago. There was nothing to do, so I came home," said Wu Hao, 21, sporting a stylish striped sweater and a sleek metal suitcase.

After a year spent making circuit boards in Guangzhou, he was heading back to his family's patch of farmland, a full month before the Chinese new year when he would usually visit home.

Officials estimate that more than 10 million migrant laborers have already returned to the countryside as thousands of companies have been dragged under by weak global demand for everything from clothes to cars.   Continued...

 
<p>A migrant worker carries his belongings at a railway station in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in this November 6, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Sean Yong/Files</p>