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Voices: Would you dine with a migrant worker?

The hard slog to the cities

In a society increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots, migrant workers who leave their homes in the countryside for jobs in China’s cities often find themselves right at the bottom of the urban social hierarchy, with limited protection from employer abuses, no right to an education for their children and, perhaps worst of all, discrimination by city-dwellers who often consider migrant workers to be uncouth, dirty or even downright dangerous.  

That’s not to say the migrant workers don’t have their advocates in the cities, but entrenched attitudes die hard even among well-meaning city folks…especially when it comes to work-a-day matters, like lunch.

A story, tweeted by Shi Shusi (@石述思), captures this mentality:

“A vocational college in Jiangxi province put this flyer on its cafeteria’s door: ‘Migrant workers are forbidden from eating here. Thank you for your cooperation!’ The reason given [for the flyer] was ridiculous: migrant workers eating in the cafeteria have a negative effect on sanitation. The result was an outcry by well-meaning types about equal rights and people’s dignity. These are big words, but I would like to ask whether you can answer this question: Are you willing to have lunch with migrant workers on a daily basis?  Eliminating discrimination results from [changes in] personal behavior and not from big words being thrown about.” {{1}}[[1]]江西现代职业技术学院食堂门口贴出一告示,上面写着:“禁止民工在此用餐,谢谢合作!”理由很荒诞:农民工在食堂用餐影响卫生。结果招致正义人士一片斥责之声,神马平等啊尊严啊,好多大词儿,但亲,你经得起这样的拷问吗:你平时愿意和农民工一起就餐吗?消除歧视,在于身体力行而非口水横飞。[[1]]

@抛物线 agrees: “We are always more talk than action, lecturing others but not fond of examining ourselves…”  {{2}}[[2]]我们总是说的多做得少,批判别人,不爱检讨自己。。。[[2]]

@嘉檀山樵 admits the flyer reflects the status of migrant workers in society: “This flyer does actually reflect China’s current reality. So what have we done to remove the concept of the migrant worker? The existence of this word itself is society’s shame [as the word itself has become a derogatory label].” {{3}}[[3]]其实这告示反映的是真实的中国现状。指责写这个告示的人的同时,我们又为消除农民工这个词做了点什么呢?这个词的存在本身就是社会的耻辱啊[[3]]

@欧阳君在翁城 sees serious social problems at the incident’s root: “This is the twisted state of the nation’s psyche: people hate being discriminated against but constantly discriminate against others; hate special privileges [for others] but worships power…” {{4}}[[4]]扭曲的国民心态,讨厌被人歧视,却时刻歧视别人,厌恶特权,却又崇尚权力…[[4]]

@meigongzi seems to wish people would stop discussing this embarrasing topic, tweeting: “China has a lot of people doing things that can’t be talked about.  Once you talk about it, then it’s all over.” {{5}}[[5]]中国很多人都在做的事却不能说,谁一旦说出来,那就玩完了[[5]]

@wangbin2526, for one, thinks this is just the way things are: “My dear, this is the reality in this country. [Even] the migrant workers who work in the factories don’t want to eat with the migrant workers who work at the construction sites.  Of course this is when they are all wearing their work clothes.” {{6}}[[6]]亲,这是国情啊,在工厂做活的农民工就是不愿与在建筑工地上做活的农民工一块吃饭,当然这是他们都穿工作服的时候。[[6]] 

But some netizens–students all–seem to have bridged the sociological divide. @黄思远Sean tweets, “I am a university student and I used to eat with them, breakfast and lunch.” {{7}}[[7]]我是大学生,我就曾经和他们一起吃过,早餐,午饭[[7]] And @失眠的树袋熊, whose handle means “Insomniac Koala Bear”: “I’m willing — the little restaurant around the corner from our school’s back door has migrant workers eating there every day after work, and we still go there every day.” {{8}}[[8]]愿意啊 == 我们学校后门转角那家小店天天都有打完工的大哥大爷们在那吃饭 我们还不是天天去>..[[8]]

It seems that perhaps, as with many things, the young may be learning to be more tolerant than their elders.  With gaping inequality and over 230 million migrant workers (not much less than the entire population of the United States), China’s future may well depend on it.

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