Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Life Transformation

Women in China in the past decade have contributed to a significant social revolution. They have long been "silenced or sidelined- if they weren't smothered at birth. But now a booming economy has transformed their lives."

In 1990 three out of every four people still lived and worked on farms. Now more than 40% have moved to the cities and by 2015 half the population will be urbanized.

Education and earning power have given women independence, and "with it the self-reliance that comes from an unprecedented measure of control over their own lives."

"The past played no part with the factory girls who had migrated from their villages to operate the assembly lines that produce the clothes we wear, the computer parts we need, the shoes, hats, handbags, games and gadgets that make the Western world go round. They work up to 13 hours a day, live in cold, dirty, overcrowded dormitories and eat poor food. They have no free time, health insurance, holidays or pension provision beyond the paltry state minimum. Three years ago their average wage was between 500 and 800 yuan—roughly £50-80—a month. Today, a shortage of labour means that young women in their 20s, the elite of the migrant workforce, can earn three times as much, or more...."

Periodically they return to their villages "bearing gifts: anoraks, trainers, sweets and toys for the children, pretty jackets for their mothers. They also inject unprecedented sums of money into the rural economy. Young unmarried women now subsidize their parents, pay for the education of younger brothers and sisters, distribute handouts to elderly relatives, and command growing respect from the village as well as from their families."

As well, it is apparent that education drives China. The university boom started as a means of lifting the country from economic recession. Now it is enabling the country to progress on a much more solid social infrastructure.

An important question for the author is whether or not many of the Chinese people have been able to understand and assimilate these sweeping changes to their culture and values.

Indeed, it's a question for us all as we consider the degree to which our lives have changed from one generation to the next. What lies at the center?

Via The Economist/Intelligent Life by Hilary Spurling