I am just a poor boy /Though my story's seldom told /I have squandered my resistance /For a pocketful of mumbles /Such are promises /All lies and jests /Still a man hears what he wants to hear /And disregards the rest.
Zhou Shuheng brings these lines from Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer readily to mind. When he left his home and family, he was just 16, indeed no more than a boy /In the company of strangers /In the quiet of the railway station /Running scared /Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters /Where the ragged people go /Looking for the places only they would know.
Now, Zhou's story has been told. A Beijing publisher is bringing out his book, Chinese-style Migrant Worker. More than 500,000 netizens have already read his story on his online blog.
His has been an arduous but amazing journey. Migrant workers returning to his village used to fascinate him with their "fashionable" attire, and he dreamed of becoming one of them. As fate would have it, his mother died in an accident 15 years ago, leaving him no choice but to live his dream. He left his middle school and home in Sichuan province to become a migrant worker in Fujian province.
Shock and pain awaited him as reality. The first job he landed was in a plastic factory. And it fetched him just 20 yuan ($3) a month, though he should have got 100 yuan.
Poor wages and suffocating working conditions forced him to change jobs frequently. He used his breaks to learn how to use a computer. He bought a second-hand one and began writing his story in May 2008 when he lost his job. And thus began another, and more fruitful, journey of his and more than 200 million migrant workers' lives.
Chinese-style Migrant Worker is the first book about migrant workers written by a migrant writer. About 80 percent of the book's content is based on either his or other migrant workers' experiences.
The book, according to reports, lays bare the stark reality of migrant workers' lives. They are the architects of China's modernization yet, as Zhou has said, "feel unsafe" because they don't have a "home in which to settle down".
The book portrays the pain, suffering and humiliation they go through amid which they still find hope. That is what makes Zhou's story so special. It should be an inspiration not only to the millions of migrant workers but every one.
Zhou is a working class hero, the voice of more than 200 million workers who have left their homes and families to build modern China. As he has said: "We migrant workers don't have our own books, and I hope my endeavor would attract more social concern about us."
The social concern Zhou is talking about is not restricted to governments and their organizations. Society as a whole should create opportunities for them, treat them with more respect and ensure that they, too, get to share the fruits of economic development. They, more than anyone else, need better pay, working atmosphere, social security and medical care.
Till the 1970s, workers (and farmers) were considered the champions of society. They were the real heroes, and were treated as such. Though officially they still enjoy the same stature, in reality their lot has gone down with the country embracing market economy. The revision of hukou (household registration) will grant them some relief because they would be able to bring their families and send their children to schools in the cities where they work. But that should be just the first step toward granting the workers the rights and honor they so richly deserve.
It is every citizen's responsibility to help build an atmosphere to bring out more Zhou Shuhengs in the migrant workers, for the story of workers is the true story of life. And as a beginning, can we translate Zhou's story into as many languages as possible so that the rest of the world gets to understand the Zhou Shuhengs better.