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The monthly expenses of a migrant worker
Updated: 2006-01-26 08:52

Yesterday noon, he finished his work in our company and squatted at the gate taking notes. Noticing his discomfort, I invited him into the office to write at a desk.

A migrant worker sheds tears lying in sick bed in a Shaanxi hospital. The young man was beaten to serious injury as he asked for back payment from a construction contractor. [huashphoto]

By chance I realized he was keeping his monthly expenses, which interested me so much that I asked him to show it to me. (I did this purely out of curiosity, and never intended to pry into his privacy.)

His notes were his very simple expenses for May. His total earning in that month was about 770 Yuan (roughly, but must be less than 800 Yuan). The list of expenses is below, with my notes based on his responses to my questions in parentheses.

-Rent: 50 Yuan (This is my share. I share the room with three other people)

-Administration Fee: 20 Yuan (charged by the street committee office, including 10 Yuan for temporary residence fee) 

-Meals: 140 Yuan (1 Yuan for a breakfast, 4 Yuan for a lunch. It’s the kind of meal that is enough to eat but hardly good.)

-Vegetables: 27 Yuan (four of us buy food in turns, and cook dinner together)

-Rice: 15 Yuan (I have rice at home, but the ticket to move it to the city will cost more than just to buy it here) 

-Daily Needs: 30 Yuan (including cooking oil, salt, paper, etc.)

-Cigarettes: 20 Yuan (2 Yuan per pack, one pack every 3 days)

-Telephone: 17 Yuan (10 Yuan is for the operator to make and receive the calls)

-Transportation: 3 Yuan (I mostly walk every day)

-Living expenses of Son: 200 Yuan (my son is studying at the county senior middle school)

- Clothes for wife: 20 Yuan (Such clothes must be bought from a street hawker. "I haven't bought her clothes for six months," he said with a twinge)

- Sending back home: 150 Yuan (Save the money for my son's future use)

- Mother's medical expense: 50 Yuan (My siblings and I shared my mother's medical expenses)

- Unexpected expenses: 60 Yuan (10 Yuan was fined because of jaywalking while trying to compete for customers. 50 Yuan was swindled by a young guy after I accidentally touched him on the street and I had to pay his laundering fee)


What the worker is most afraid of is being sick, even if it's only a cold or a fever. He most wants his son to enter the university and his mother to get better. What he most dreads is the village officials coming to his house, asking for money.

He gets up at 6:00am every day, hunting for jobs, and normally comes back home at 8:00pm. Being exhausted after one day's work, he will go to a nearby store to watch TV after dinner.

He said this is his happiest time. Being asked why he doesn't contract a fish farm or an orchard in his hometown, he said, with an honest smile, that since all the decent jobs have been reserved by people with good social networks, he will end up with nothing profitable. He has never heard of civil rights before, and even at his age has never seen a ballot.

He has heard about the WTO, which he said is often in the news. But he does not understand politics or economics. The only thing he wants is to earn 10 Yuan more every day, so he will have more money for better medicines for his mother, his son's living expenses and better clothes for his wife.

He said he fears dying, because his whole family is relying on him. His biggest dream is to establish his own small business, with his saved money, so that his financial situation can be a little more relaxed.

Those are a monthly expenses and the story of an average migrant worker in China, who is among 700 million similar Chinese.

He might be in the middle level of this group. They don't have grand ambitions, they live at the bottom of this society, but they are the cornerstone of this country.

They have never been subsidized by the state, have never been offered any welfare, and they are the most easily forgotten at a critical time.

Intellectuals are often even unwilling to include them as part of our civilization, with its thousands of years of history.

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