Migrant Workers, Theft, and Spring Festival
Spring Festival, the most important holiday of the year in China, is approaching fast. That means those of you teaching English at a Chinese university probably haven’t been working since Christmas-ish and may very well have vacation until the end of February.
The rest of us ‘migrant workers’ have to wait until China’s central government officially announces the holiday vacation dates, at which point we charge to the nearest train or bus station to get in line for tickets home. People regularly spend full days waiting to buy tickets, and often are forced to camp out in the hopes of getting a reasonable seat home. A fairly accurate depiction of this phenomenon is presented here, in the hilarious (Chinese) satire film entitled “Spring Festival Travel Evil Empire.”
I was considering bypassing the charge this year and booking a flight somewhere until I noticed an article in Shanghai Daily about a price freeze on Spring Fest train tickets.
Saaa-weeet! This means they won’t jack up the prices an extra 20% just in time for everyone to be socially, culturally, and morally obligated to go home for their single yearly visit. As one of my coworkers put it last year, “It’s not like if you charge me more I will tell my grandma, ‘Grandma? Sorry I am not coming home for Chunjie this year.’”
The article mentions the fact that China’s 150 million migrant workers make up a large part of those travelling home for the holiday. Since these workers make very little, and are often owed thousands of RMB in unpaid back wages (see previous post), many get increasingly desparate when it comes time to get in line and buy those train tickets. Which leads to:
A huge outbreak of theft every year in the month or two leading up to Spring Festival. Shanghaiist Zat Liu reported on her personal experience with this phenomenon, a missing pair of “masculine” riding boots, as well as some information on where in Shanghai theft is most rampant.
I can identify, as I have had a cell phone cut out of my purse on a public bus and mysteriously “lost” a wallet in a crowded bar in the last two months. Needless to say, I’m getting a bit paranoid.
I was able to find a collaberative map of thefts in Beijing, but it is in Chinese and there are only a few additions. This article (Chinese) also details cooperative online maps of high-theft areas, and highlights the Sanlitun, Xizhimen, and Gucheng areas, as well as major hospitals (where people often carry large amounts of cash to cover medical bills).