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Lonesome lives

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya in Fuyang, Anhui province | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-14 07:18

Lonesome lives

From left: Ni Yuting and her grandmother; Du Wenbo (middle) and his grandparents; a "left-behind" girl and her grandfather in rural and semi-urban areas of Fuyang, Anhui province. [Photos by Zhu Lixin/China Daily]

Holiday-edition parents

In the Houyuan area of Fuyang's Wuli village, Zhou Peisheng and his wife, Liu Guilan, have been raising their granddaughter since the past three years. The couple's daughter and son-in-law are respectively a waitress and a chef at a restaurant in Nanjing in Jiangsu province.

"It's no trouble taking care of her, she isn't naughty," Zhou says of his granddaughter, Ni Yuting, aged 9.

Her parents keep long working hours, which is why Ni can't live with them in the city of Nanjing, he says.

Ni wants to see her parents more often and for longer periods than just during the weekly annual holidays. She also wants to know "what gifts they will bring for me".

In Zhou's neighborhood, most working age couples have migrated to Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, where the G20 Summit was held last year.

Earlier, Zhou was a crop farmer who worked part-time at rural construction sites in Fuyang. Today, he appears among the better off people in his locality, with income coming in from growing vegetables. His daughter sends money home as well.

For Song Jinlan, a 55-year-old resident of Dongzhou area in the same Wuli village, life is slightly harder. The widow has been looking after her grandson since his birth six years ago. Her son drives trucks in Hangzhou that carry construction material and her daughter-in-law works at a textile unit in that city.

Her son sends her 1,000 yuan ($144) a month on average, Song says. In addition, she earns some money from selling corns and other crops that she grows.

In 2015, Fuyang's per capita rural dispensable income was 9,001 yuan on average a year.

Song's son and daughter-in-law come home every Chinese New Year and stay for less than two weeks.

This year the couple want to arrive ahead of the Spring Festival week to hold a ceremony to cut a few strands of long hair their son has been wearing since early childhood as a traditional symbol of good fortune. But so far, Song says, her son hasn't got the extra leave he desires.

"Without his parents around, I sometimes feel helpless, especially when the kid falls sick," she says pointing to her grandson, Zhou Junhao, aged 6.

In the town of Xihu, at some distance from Wuli village, former schoolteacher Du Fengcai and his wife have raised two grandsons in the past 20 years.

Du's son, a longtime migrant who now runs a hotel in the touristy city of Dali, in Southwest China's Yunnan province, can't take his 13-year-old younger child along because of their limited options for school education there, Du says. His older grandson, aged 22, has joined his parents' business in Dali.

Du urges a reform of the country's household registration system or hukou to increase the educational prospects of the children of migrant workers in host cities.

While the first nine years of education are compulsory in China, the existing hukou system throws some challenges at migrants.

The 2016 government survey makes a mention of the reform, too.

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