2003 January 23 Thursday
China Faces Threat Of Migrant Worker Protests

Tens of millions of people from China's interior have moved to the eastern zones to work 14 hour days and live in company dormitories for jobs that pay salaries only once a year. At the end of the year some companies either do not pay or pay less than was promised. If the leaders of China had any sense they'd require that workers be paid more often. The abuses that such a system makes possible are a threat to the political stability of China.

The number of workers living with migrants' permits in the tiger economy zones of the east officially rose this year to 94 million. Millions more are thought to escape the periodic roundings-up of those with no permits at all.

Surveys have found that in some cases a third are still owed money a week before Lunar New Year, when most get their year's pay in a lump sum. Even state media have begun to report their complaints. Some feature gory cases of labourers beaten up by company henchmen for daring to complain.

What is less clear is whether threats to the political stability of China are a good thing or a bad thing. Would political protests just lead to an effective crackdown, to pressures for gradual democratization, or to chaos and civil war? Could political strife in China perhaps lead to an attempt to seize Taiwan as a way to deflect the attention of Chinese people attention elsewhere?

At a minimum corruption and the lack of legal protection for the common worker and for the consumer effectively place outer limits on the ability of China to economically develop. Living standards can still rise quite far from where they are today. But they can not approach first world standards as long as the government doesn't provide a fully developed and uncorrupt legal system that enforces contracts and protects property for all citizens.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 23 11:29 PM  China Control Internal

razib said at January 24, 2003 2:52 AM:

unfortunately-china has historic issues with *legal* systems-legalism left 'em a bad taste. unfortunately, the personal & mild corrupt system of mandarin governance that is sufficient for an agrarian society is not so kosher for post-industrial info-meritocracies.

anyone patented that? info-meritocracy? it's mine otherwise....

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