Asylum seekers being separated from their children at the US border has been a lot of the news lately. It is wrong and inhumane. But there are a whole other category of children separated from their parents as well who have been on my mind lately. These are the 61 million children left in rural China with grandparents, family, in institutions or simply left on their own while their parents work all year in factories in the city. In the largest annual human migration on the planet, at the Lunar New Year millions of people travel back to their villages to see family. For millions of parents this is the only week of the year they will see their children.
This documentary follows one couple on their 40 hour train journey from the city of Shenzen back to the little village where the couple's two children are taken care of by their grandfather. This couple work in clothing factories in Shenzen. They send money back to the village to support their family. They can earn three times as much in the city as in the country. They can't bring their children to the city because they have no residency papers for the city and their children would not be able to go to school there.
The family's farm back at the village is worked only by the old grandfather, who of course cannot keep the farm going by himself. The fields are falling into disrepair. This is farmland which has been farmed continuously for three thousand years in one of the most successful agricultural societies the world has ever known.
This is the reality of the Chinese economy as far I can see - and I would appreciate any thoughts others have on the subject. It is more profitable for China to have its people working in factories than on the land, so workers are lured into the cities with the promise of higher wages, but without any of the privileges of city residency, such as being able to send children to school. When they can't work any more these workers will have to go back to their villages - maybe to take care of the next generation of grandchildren. Where does China's food come from then? Certainly not from family farms any more. China now imports more food than it exports and little villages are no longer self-reliant in food.
In the world's wealthy countries we are implicated in this system because we profit from it greatly. We get lots of cheap stuff from China. Cheap clothes. Lots of them. Cheap cars and toasters. And solar panels. And, well, the list goes on. Again, it is the poor and especially the children of the poor who are being exploited by the wealthy and powerful of the world in a callously unfair system.
And we have bought into it to the extent that even if we want to buy clothes or toasters that are made locally by unexploited workers.. we just can't. The products have ceased to exist.
This is the reason I don't buy new clothes any more. Because they have sadness sewn into the seams.