Young migrant workers take centre stage

16 February 2011
A migrant worker singing duo 旭日阳刚 (A New Dawn), who became an internet sensation last year after they uploaded their cover of Wang Feng’s popular anthem 春天里 (In Spring), were accorded the ultimate media accolade last week, a performance on the biggest show on television, CCTV’s New Year Gala.

A New Dawn’s version of In Spring has been hailed as an inspiration to migrant workers in China, and their performance on the New Year Gala was well received by viewers and critics alike. It was voted by Sina microbloggers as their favorite Gala performance, beating even the sketch by famous comedian Zhao Benshan.

“I was impressed by A New Dawn’s interpretation of In Spring. As migrant workers, they showed great singing skills. You can tell the voice is from their hearts, simple yet very touching,” Sun Haiying, a Chinese movie star best known for his portrayals of ordinary workers and soldiers, told The Beijing News.

Wang Xu, one of the duo’s members, said in an after-show interview that he never imagined he would be on the stage of the New Year Gala. “You know,” he said, “the New Year Gala sets a very high standard, but I was there two or three months after our band became a hit on the internet.”

Before their video went viral, Wang did odd jobs, including working as a fruit vendor. But he does not need to worry about making ends meet now.

A New Dawn’s rise to stardom reflects the emergence of China’s new generation migrant workers as the driving force of Chinese labour. The number of migrant workers born in the 1980s and 1990s already comprise some 60 percent of the entire migrant worker workforce, according to a report by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions issued last year. Unlike their parents, younger migrant workers are considered less fearful, better educated and more individualistic.

But despite their higher social profile, migrant workers are still a disadvantaged section of society that has to endure widespread and institutionalized discrimination. As one Sina blogger noted even the name “migrant worker” suggests discrimination and inequality. For as long as they are labeled as such, migrant workers will continue to be second class citizens.
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