Guangzhou to set up migrant workers museum

Government officials in Guangdong have been in damage control mode ever since two major riots involving migrant workers rocked the province last month. Officials have pledged to better manage social conflicts and more effectively deal with the problems faced by migrant workers.

And now, apparently at the behest of Guangdong Party Secretary, Wang Yang, the province plans to honour its migrant workers by building a museum - the first official museum of its kind in China – showcasing their immeasurable contribution to the development and modernization of Guangdong.

The idea has received considerable support from the public but will probably do little to dissolve the outrage of migrant workers in Guangdong, the province which has benefited most from their labour.

On 6 June, a reported more than 1,000 protestors (Xinhua reported 200) rioted in Chaozhou after a brutal boss cut the hamstring of a Sichuan migrant worker who was asking for back pay. A little more than a week later, local security guards in Zengcheng pushed a pregnant migrant street vendor to the ground inciting thousands angry migrant workers to take to the streets. A 9 July opinion article in the Southern Metropolis Daily stated that the escalating conflict between local residents and migrant workers in Guangdong had now reached a critical point.

The idea for a migrant worker museum is not entirely new. Indeed, a small museum for migrant workers was set up in the outer suburbs of Beijing by a group of passionate youngsters three years ago. The museum located in a shabby courtyard includes the paraphernalia of daily life for migrant workers such as residence cards, staff ID cards, security guard uniforms etc. And last year, Fan Jianchuan, the curator of the Sichuan folk museum, said he was very keen on building a museum to show the development of China through the eyes of migrant workers.

When Guangzhou mayor, Wang Qingliang, announced early July plans to identify a typical “urban village” in which to build the museum, support has grown and one village has reportedly shown great interest.

Project supporters include professors, antique collectors and even famed economists, who believe the museum, will tell future generations how the hard work of millions of migrant workers promoted the social, urban and economic growth of China. They recommended the museum include migrant worker temporary residence certificates and other documents that reflect the dual structure of urban and rural life.

Fan Jianchuan argues that right now is a good time to build the museum because it will become more and more difficult to document the history and contributions of migrant workers as the first migrants retire to be replaced by their children (the new generation of migrant workers) who are unlikely to go back to their hometowns. The proportion of farmers in the overall population was over 90 percent before China’s reform and opening up, and has gone down by one percent annually since. Today, it’s estimated at between 50-60 percent, Mr. Fan added.

Conversely, there are voices against the migrant workers museum. Some regard the exhibition of migrant workers’ hardships and sufferings to be “inappropriate” right now and will make visitors feel “uncomfortable,” while others simply suspect the museum is just another local government vanity project.

Rather than build the museum, the conflicts between local residents and migrant workers in Guangdong can be better resolved if the authorities would work on how to expand public services and ensure migrant workers have fair and sufficient access to such services, said the Southern Metropolis Daily opinion piece. Only when migrant workers are endowed with equal rights to local residents can they feel a sense of belonging and truly love the city.
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