Resignation Eclipses Hope in China's Rust Belt
Hence a recent history of unrest.
In March 2002, two of the country's largest demonstrations
erupted in the Northeast, a region lauded as an industrial
utopia under Mao Zedong but long since past its glory.
Worker demands for unpaid benefits at the oil fields of
Daqing and protests in the flagging smelting town of Liaoyang
and elsewhere forced Beijing to tackle the plight of the urban
The province of Heilongjiang -- which makes up the rust
belt, together with Liaoning and Jilin -- is expecting almost 2
million more people to be out of work in the next two years, up
from about a million at the end of 2003.
And that's just the official number. Many workers are
classified not as unemployed but as "laid-off" -- they still
receive a modicum of social security from old work units and
perhaps a pittance in salary, but no longer go to work.
They are a common sight on street corners in the Northeast,
holding aloft wooden boards with roughly painted characters
advertising their expertise, hoping for day jobs as laborers.
Finding permanent jobs is difficult, despite the government
throwing money at new labor exchanges and re-training.
"It's next to impossible for someone like me to get work,"
said electrician Ning Baoquan, 50, who was laid off when the
tractor factory that employed him shut last year.
"I just don't have the skills for any of these," he said,
looking gloomily at an electronic board displaying openings at
a Shenyang jobs center, many advertising for people under 35.
Even when they find jobs, former state sector workers may
not stick them out.
"They're not used to hard work," said one Western executive
based in Shenyang. "They try it for a week and then quit,
saying they can't cope and that they can survive perfectly well
on government assistance."
It's attitudes like that the government wants to change.
The registered unemployed are allowed to walk away from
three jobs before their social security -- about 200 yuan a
month -- is suspended, said Wang Yonglan, director of
Shenyang's employment bureau.
"But for many of these workers the only skill they may have
is the ability to turn a screwdriver," she lamented.
And the Northeast is rapidly becoming a source of labor for
the rest of China -- 110,00 people left Shenyang last year to
find work elsewhere. The city even encourages richer provinces
to hold employment fairs.
So what does the future hold for Qu?
"I want to go to Taiwan. I want to become a pop star."
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