Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Street Talk: US Economic Recession Hit Chinese Village

Millions of migrant workers in China lost their jobs as a result of the US economic recession and had to return home

One thing that truly surprised me during my recent trip back to China was the big impact of the ongoing financial crisis, originated in the US and soon spread globally, on Chinese people’s life. As one local official in Henan told me, the financial crisis “affected even a brick plant in a village.”

How so? I couldn’t help but ask. “Well,” the official said, “because of the financial crisis, Americans are buying fewer goods from China, and therefore many Chinese plants closed. Many migrant workers lost their jobs and had no money to build new houses in their home village, and thus the decline of sales of bricks.”

Just by looking around, I couldn’t tell that the economic recession in the US had hit China hard. Restaurants in Beijing were full of eaters like always, while supermarkets were crowded and stuffed with plenty of products, so many that some of them piled up along the stairway. On the surface, Chinese people were living a happy and prosperous life and enjoying ever growing purchasing power. What I didn’t see, however, were the huge flow, usually in millions, of job-less migrant workers, from coastal and eastern area to their inner-land hometowns, which had become the No.1 headache for many local governments in the past couple of months.

One of my friends from Guangdong told me that one town there was practically lawless as unemployed migrant workers were robbing everyone they can in the streets. Such robberies were so common that local police no longer bother to launch any investigation or law enforcement effort. “They now only do something when people are murdered,” my friend said. In other places, local governments were trying everything they can to make sure that returning migrant workers can get a job or at least do not make trouble, people told me.

Hearing these stories made me wonder: is the US the only country in the world that had been buying products from China? Or is most stuff made in China actually made for American consumers? Maybe. The current economic crisis has been a strong testimony of the far-reaching impact of globalization, so much so that what happened in Wall Street would end up being reflected in a brick plant in a remote village half the world away.