Looking for a Change of Scene | Hope & Opportunity

A family incident brought her to Shanghai, and she hopes to find a change of scene and some distraction that can help her out of the sadness. Back at home, she owned a small convenience store, but now in Shanghai, she’s one of the millions of migrant workers bringing prosperity to the city.

It is a change of scene that did not come easy, and may not have brought the better life she had hoped for, but through her experience and perspective we hope you will gain a deeper understanding of the hope that bring migrant workers to Shanghai, their lives in the city, and the challenges they’re facing.

Q: Why did you come to Shanghai?
A: It’s a sad story. I used to have a happy family, but my husband passed away a year ago, so I wanted to leave my hometown for a change of scene.

Q: Do you feel like Shanghai’s home?
A: I’m not sure. The only thing I can do is to work hard and take good care of my son and try not to think about those sad memories.

Q: Why are people coming to the bigger cities? What is it like working in a factory?
A: For young people, they do have more opportunities outside, but if you are older it’s not ideal to still working in the factories. I noticed many of my coworkers in the factory are not happy. The boss of those factories also prefers to have younger workers.

In the clothing manufacturing industry, in the factory I am working at, there are young people and older people. All migrant workers as well, many of which can’t find jobs in their hometown or they earn so little (2000RMB) that they are barely “living”. If they come to big cities, it will at least be around 4000, that’s almost double what they can earn at home, and on top of that, in Shanghai, most clothing factories cover workers food and accommodation. A big saving!

But I still feel like you shouldn’t still be a migrant worker if you are older. I see myself that they suffer a lot working in the factories. If I get older I wouldn’t work at a factory, I would rather go home and continue my own business.

Q: Working in a factory must be very different from running your own business back at home, do you prefer that over working here?
A: When I started the shop back in the 90s, it was so profitable at the time because most people stayed at their hometown, but I started to notice that especially in the recent few years, it’s been harder and harder to run a business.

You can only make a profit by people willing to spend, but the population willing to spend is young people and they only spend their money in other cities. Those that remain are older people and small children, and they’re not willing to spend. Which makes it hard to run a business.

Q: Have you considered starting a business in Shanghai?
A: I don’t have the energy to think about that at the moment, besides, you need a big investment to do that, it’s not like you can do it as long as you want to. I own a store at home so there’s no pressure, no need to pay rent. It’s a small supermarket. Now it’s getting harder and harder to have a business.

Q: What’s your plan for the future?

A: In the future, I’ll definitely go back to my hometown. At the end of the day, I do have a small business at home. It’s too tough of a life being away.


This story is one that starts with the need for change but is equally about personal growth. It is a story that is being told by millions of migrants every year, each of whom has a different catalyst or change, but all find themselves in the city looking for their next opportunity.

In this case of a lady from Hubei province, while it was the death of her husband that pushed her to move away, it is the welfare of her son that is pulling her back. This is another common story, as we previously spoke of in our article Shanghai’s Migrants Want to Return Home, and it should come as no surprise given the strong bonds that the Chinese have to family and their “home” communities.

They have not fully urbanized, and in many ways, moving to the city is still seen as a sacrifice, particularly for those who have left their children behind.


Over the past 40 years, China’s demographic and socio-economic landscapes have changed remarkably, shifting from a rural, agrarian society to one of the fastest urbanizing, economic powerhouses in the world.

Beginning with the call for economic reforms and creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, China saw a massive exodus of people from rural to urban areas who were motivated by 40% higher wages, better life prospects and deterrents from labor shortages in the villages.

This migration has been unmatched in both its scale and its implications, and through the Hope & Opportunity series, we take a human-centric approach to understanding this megatrend. We seek to understand what brings them to the city, what their experiences have been, and their future plans. Not solely because their stories are fascinating, but because through these stories we are able to better understand how the cities of the future need to be built, communities supported, and resources allocated.

To download the full report, please click here.

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