rural factory girls never dream of---they do not even have time to write home or to visit hometown friends who work in nearby factories because of the usual 12 hour work days. It never occurs to most of them that they have rights--to a regular paycheck, to resign, and to minimum wage and standard working hours (Link, chapter 7). They are grateful to have a chance to work. For many of them, this may be the first time they come to a city, and the first time to use electricity and even running water instead of kerosene lamps and water drawn from a well. The hard life in the countryside has prepared them to be very tough and not complain. The bad working conditions are true also for the male workers. In some factories, workers routinely have their fingers chopped off in machine accidents because the factories refuse to add security measures to their machines, because it would increase the cost of the machinery. The workers then are usually dismissed either with minimal medical compensation or with no compensation at all. Occasionally, their cases get reported in the local newspapers and international papers like the New York Times. But most of the time, their stories go unheard. Local governments are under pressure to check on the factories more closely, but the results are very slow in coming. Corruption is an important element: bribes have shut the mouths of many officials. Of course some rural laborers fare somewhat better. Among those with lighter jobs, such as domestic nannies, many of them acquire a taste for urban life through interactions with the households they serve (Link, chapter 2).
Li Zhang argues that one of the reasons for the prejudice against rural migrant workers in the cities is the lingering hukou (household registration) system (see Link, pages 279-80). Although the development of market economy means the rural migrants can survive in the city (buy their own food and clothing without need for the coupons, as the rationing system has ended), the household registration system defines the migrant workers as peasants and, as such, their children need to pay extra to attend schools in the cities because they are not "residents of the district" because they don't have household registration in that district. Because of the highly unstable nature of their work (construction work, nannies) and the absence of medical insurance associated with their jobs, illness often means the end of their work, if not death. I personally witnessed a construction worker on a stretcher in 1989. He was possibly paralyzed because he fell from a construction site. But the doctors were in no hurry to rush him into the emergency operation room because he had no money to pay for it. So he was left on the stretcher before the doctors could reach a decision on what to do about him. The migrant workers also lack legal protection against sexual harassment and other abuses (see Link, pages 282-83). Although some migrant entrepreneurs are able to "make it" (286-87), they are not the majority of the migrant workers. Zhang emphasizes that the household registration system continues to be a main hindrance to the rural migrants in the cities, preventing them from enjoying urban privileges such as education and perhaps some medical benefits that urban residents are entitled to. If this is the case, with the growth of the market economy, the gap created by the household registration system should diminish, though the status of the rural migrant workers may improve more slowly.
25. Economic reform and the prospect of democracy in China
After the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping steered China onto the stage of pragmatic reform. The forces unleashed by the reforms have challenged not only China's planned