The Power Shift

Speaking out of turn

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 9:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 9:36am

Delegates of the 18th Communist party congress never miss an opportunity to tell reporters how President Hu Jintao’s report has lifted their spirits, touched their hearts and enlightened their souls.

None the less, it is always good to keep an open mind. Two night ago, I covered a small press conference, which I thought might prove to be different from the usual events.

The conference was given by a friendly and bubbly young woman called Yan Wenjing, a 26-year-old native of Inner Mongolia who has been residing in Zhongshan for the past six years. She is one of the delegates for the 18th party congress, representing migrant workers in Guangdong.

However, Yan wouldn’t put it like that. In her words, she’s a representative of the “new generational industrial workers”. The bloated phrase is confusing and sounds more like public relations spin.

Yan takes her role as a delegate for fellow migrant workers seriously and is committed to the Chinese Communist Party, diligently promoting party and government policies at every opportunity.

Yan spent only 10 months as a frontline worker making motor parts for electronic cars before she was promoted to middle management in a private corporation where she also holds a position as deputy party secretary.

She is already living the kind of life that millions of migrant workers in Guangdong can only dream of. Yan owns a house and drives a company car. She wouldn’t reveal how much she earns but she said “the pay is indeed not low and it’s actually more than a lot of reporters I know”.

In order to become a “responsible delegate”, Yan polled over 1,000 migrant workers all across Zhongshan; however, her understanding of migrant workers can only be described as “fragmented and shallow”.

She says the problem that bothers older migrant workers the most is the lack of equal access to public services such as education and health. She says younger migrant workers would like access to more recreational facilities.

Yan says the pay and social status of migrant workers are rising and all the workers need is more confidence and retraining.

“Some migrant workers are earning more than 5,000 yuan a month in our plant. We have to keep coming up with measures to retain our workers,” Yan says.

“They just need to believe in themselves more. Self-confidence is the key. They need to believe that every occupation is an honourable one. I wish I could share my confidence with everyone I know.”

Her jaw-dropping comments do not end there.

Yan says she is not aware that Zhongshan is one of the many hotbeds in the Pearl River Delta for industrial strikes calling for better wages, subsidies, better working conditions and better canteen food. Nor has she met any workers who have been on strike.

She also does not understand that the soaring prices of food and accommodation would leave migrant workers struggling to make ends meet.

Yan says there are canteens and staff dormitories in every factory so these costs should not be a concern. However, this is not the case. Many migrant workers in the delta rent their own accommodation and many find factory canteen food inedible, preferring to cook or buy their own food.

What’s more offensive is that Yan shows no understanding of problems faced by female migrant workers. She says female migrant workers are luckier than their male counterparts as they are looked after at work.

She seems to be unaware of the major problems facing female migrant workers such as poor access to sex education and women’s health facilities, which result in many women undergoing multiple abortions at substandard clinics.

It’s a good thing these irresponsible comments did not come from a senior official or they would be making news headlines around the world or potentially inciting another migrant worker riot.

Clearly, Yan has never seen the dark side of life as she herself admits, “To be honest, I really do feel blessed”.