“There are more than 9 million left-behind children in rural China, according to the latest figure announced on Wednesday. But compared to the previous number, 52 million left-behind children have apparently disappeared.”
Migrants provide the lifeblood for many economies, and nowhere is this truer than in China.
As China’s industrial revolution took hold, millions of migrant workers flooded to the eastern cities in search of opportunity. What this brought them was work, but what it took away was time for their families. Children would remain in the central and western provinces with their grandparents, or in some cases, alone, and parents would return once or twice a year to visit. This gave rise to the term “left-behind children” used to describe the younger generation who grew up without parents present at the home.
However, according to a recent article by Sixth Tone, 52 million left-behind children have disappeared. The authors’ reasoning is simple: The definition and counting of individual people have changed over the years, resulting in a huge reduction in official numbers.
While this is certainly the case, there may also be some more fundamental trends contributing to this number including:
- Reverse migration,
- The growth of 2nd– and 3rd-tier cities, and
- The establishment of manufacturing away from the eastern provinces.
This has created a shift in population growth across many provinces, including previously unseen rises in central and western China.
Additionally, manufacturing is no longer the only option for individuals. With the growth of the middle class and service sector, work in restaurants, bars, and hotels is more available to the younger generations — reducing the need for long-distance migration to the manufacturing hubs. Because of these economic changes, migrants who previously lived hundreds of miles from home now have the option to work in cities in much closer proximity to their rural hometowns, families, and friends.
With Chinese New Year approaching, the time of year when almost all urban migrants go home, it will remain to be seen whether individuals choose to return to cities like Shanghai or look for opportunities closer to family and friends.
At Collective, we look to understand these migratory patterns, and our Hope and Opportunity Report focuses on these migrants, as well as their wants, needs, and aspirations in cities such as Shanghai. This year, we will once more be heading to the train stations to further our insights regarding the attitudes of the current migrant populations.
Are they happy? Does Shanghai feel like home? Will they be returning after the Spring Festival?
Check in after the New Year to see our findings.
Feature Image Credit: CHINA DIGITAL TIMES