Rural laborers who come to China’s cities find a household registration system that denies them many of the benefits that established city residents enjoy – and often widespread discrimination against bumpkin outsiders. To address the latter problem, some cities in China, such as Wuxi, Changchun and Xi’an, have chosen to replace the common name for migrant workers, nongmingong (“peasant laborer”) withxinshimin, or “new urban citizen.”
But a name change alone is not enough, says a commentator in the Huashang Morning Post:
It must be said that under a system whose policies do not provide them with urban residency, describing the migrant worker population as “new urban citizens” is a step forward, the first step toward including migrant workers among the ranks of a city’s residents.
But the entrenched gulf between the “security” of the city and the “insecure” countryside cannot be erased by merely issuing a few documents and changing a few names. Only by truly giving the “new urban citizens” some security, letting them feel the sincerity and warmth of the city, can these practices truly be something more than just a makeover.
In September, Shenyang introduced a more comprehensive package; in addition to the name change, migrant workers were promised free legal services, clinic and cinema admission. Ma Qiao, a poster on the Rednet portal, argues that these measures are both too much and not enough:
While these are things that “new urban citizens” may need or enjoy, there is a bit too much utopianism here in my opinion. More than just a handful of poor Shenyang families rely on the bare minimum to eke out their existence, and they too need these free services from the government. Otherwise, the treatment is inequitable and the government is intentionally caring for one group while losing sight of another.
Can this be done? Unlikely, I think, or at least it can’t last long … Shenyang has over one million laborers; at an average of just five yuan per month in free care, the government has to lay out more than 60 million yuan [per year], and at times possibly more than 100 million. Adding free legal services, free movies and investment in schools for laborers’ children, the figure becomes frighteningly high. We won’t argue for the moment whether the government has the ability to finance this immense handout; even assuming it does, won’t it be loath to fork over the money when the time comes?
No word yet on how migrants, er, new urban citizens have taken to their christening. Perhaps they’re too busy going to the movies to be blogging? Joel Martinsen