Why Child Laborers Don’t Want to Go Home to Liangshan, China

Child laborers beg not to go home when rescued, while officials back home squander money excessively
January 14, 2014 Updated: January 15, 2014

A recent Radio Free Asia report has highlighted two corresponding issues in China that have drawn much public attention. 

The first news in focus is that when an illegal child labor site was discovered in an electronics factory in Shenzhen City and 41 youth were rescued, none of these teenagers wanted to be sent home. 

One girl told the reporter: “I can eat rice and meat here, at home I only have potatoes and corn. I don’t want to go home.” Their hometown is Liangshan in Sichuan Province, one of the poorest areas in the province as well as the whole nation. 

There, transportation and utilities are undeveloped, and farmers’ per capita annual income is only 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($300 to $500), roughly the same amount as these child workers earn in a month. Even the parents feel that going out to work is not a bad thing—the children can gain experience, make money, and eat meat. Even with working 12 hours a day, they have a far better life than at home. 

Meanwhile, the West China City Newspaper reported on Jan. 7 that a member of the Communist Party Standing Committee of Liangshan, who is also the Secretary of State-Owned Assets Supervision Administration Commission in Liangshan, was criticized by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission for feasting on public funds. 

While leading a work group to conduct grassroots inspections, the official spent over 15,000 yuan ($2,480) on a dinner in which cigarettes and alcohol accounted for over 8,000 yuan ($1,322). 

An article by Zhi Shang Jian Zhu (Constructing on Paper) said “Spending 15,000 yuan on a meal—such squander even humbles the affluent areas, not to mention it happened right in Liangshan, where the rescued child workers do not want to return home because they don’t have meat to eat.”

It looks like there is actually no absolute poverty, only absolute injustice. While people are hungry, the officials live in extravagance. Where did their money come from? It comes from those incredibly poor people.

This is exactly what the old saying “Yu Rou Xiang Li” describes (Treat commoners as fish and meat, kill and eat as you wish), it’s not a lifestyle issue, but a crime in the rawest form.

It might be coincidental for the two pieces of news to break out at the same time, one is about child laborers working 12 hours a day, the other is about squandering county officials. These people come from the same hometown, but they live in two totally different worlds. 

As early as 2008, it was exposed by the media that a lot of child labor was exported to Shenzhen and Dongguan in Guangdong Province from Liangshan, which is very remote and inhabited by elderly, minority nationalities, and the poor. 

So how was the squandering local official reprimanded for his 15,000 yuan work dinner? He was merely criticized in a written notice. 

Those children of poor families, even if they are “rescued” and sent back to Liangshan, will most likely return to the city in groups after the Chinese New Year at the end of January, and continue their child labor lives, eating rice and meat. 

An article by Di Guo Liang Min (Empire’s Innocent Citizen) said the situation hasn’t changed since the 2008 media exposure. But would media exposure today help people realize how bad Liangshan’s poverty really is? 

The image of local officials enjoying an extravagant dinner with a scene of child laborers being exported in large groups in the background creates a modern version of ‘Behind the vermilion gates meat and wine goes to waste, while out on the road lie the bones of those frozen to death,’ (written by the famous poet Du Fu of Tang Dynasty in 755 A.D.).”

The state of poverty in the remote, poor areas such as Liangshan is always troubling, and many feel helpless about the child labor phenomena. Some people even blame the media for exposing the existence of those child laborers, because it resulted in the children being forced to return to their hometown where they only have potatoes and corn to eat. 

Such bitterness and frustration constitutes a true portrayal of contemporary Chinese society.

Read the article in Chinese.