The Global Financial Crisis and Migrant Workers in China: ‘There is No Future as a Labourer; Returning to the Village has No Meaning’


This essay examines the impact of the global financial crisis on rural migrant labour in China, with a focus on unemployment. It illustrates the interaction of global and China‐specific processes in the context of the worldwide recession. The essay first summarizes China’s unique socio‐economic system and the mechanisms that have created a system of ‘rural migrant labour’ and ‘super‐cheapened’ it to help make China the ‘world’s factory’. The main part of the essay examines the unemployment situation for migrants in late 2008 and the first half of 2009, and the dislocations and problems migrant labourers are facing. The China story is complex but interesting, not only for its rather complicated lexicon and statistics that often confuse outside observers, but also for its distinctive system of exploiting the rural population and internal migrant labour. This system makes the impact of the global crisis on migrant labourers, which are at the bottom of the global supply chain, all the more apparent. The last part of this essay analyses recent governmental fiscal‐stimulus policies and measures as well as their impact on rural migrant labour, making some broader observations and linking the crisis to China’s model of development.