Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Call of the Home

(Foreword--China Business Law Blog strives to focus on matters only related to Chinese Law, but the following post is an exception due to the unique weather circumstances in China right now. This post is dedicated to all the migrant workers, either at home already or still on the road.)

The coldest winter of half a century has so far claimed at least 60 people.

It has caused billions of dollars in economic damages.

It has paralyzed much of the transportation system in southern, central, and southwestern China.

It has engendered mass blackouts in many areas, including my parents’ home.

And it has exposed the Chinese government’s weaknesses in emergency response management. At least, it is a huge blow to a government whose leadership believes that “man is sure to triumph over nature.”

Besides bringing about these unpleasant losses, damages, and revelations, the worst weather in half a century also showed something golden and precious—Chinese people’s unwavering resolve to go home for the most important holiday of the year, no matter what.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are willing to brave the cold, the pushing and shoving, the rude railway employees, the cops, the hunger and thirst, and the seemingly endless waiting while exposed to the elements. Even though they knew they would be delayed for an extended period of time, most of them still chose to wait some more so that they could catch a train or bus for home. So, many of them are still waiting in the cold as I am writing and by the time you are reading this.

Why? Why don’t they just turn around and return to their factories, warehouses, construction sites, dormitories, or wherever they were before their arrival at the Guangzhou train station? Or some other stations scattered across southern and central China? It would be such an easy, logical, and obvious thing to do, given the grave circumstances.

But they did not. Millions of them chose the counter intuitive approach. They chose to brave the difficulties on their way home. They chose to suck it all up for a New Year’s Eve meal with their family whom they have not seen for at least a year; they chose to “eat the bitterness” in order to spend a few days at home, drinking home water, eating home meals and breathing home air; they chose to go home for all that it stands for and all that it means consciously and subconsciously to them. They chose to go home at all costs. They simply choose home over a hotel room, a dormitory bunk bed, or a rented apartment where they do not belong. Because to them, the simple truth is that as far as the Chinese New Year is concerned, “North, South, East or West, Home is the best.”

They won’t do this for the Labor Day; neither will for the National Day; nor will for any other cultural or political holidays. Somehow, the return to home for the Chinese New Year is so deeply ingrained in their psyche that nothing can overcome their drive and resolve to accomplish it.

Is it worth their while to risk so much, even their lives, just to be home?

For observers outside China, the answer is not so obvious, but for them, it seems to be a simple yes.

After observing migrant workers at the Guangzhou train station, the China Blog has the following to say:

My overriding impression was that I was impressed. I was impressed by what people were willing to put up with just for the possibility of getting a seat or even a spot on the floor of a train for a 20+ hour trip home. It was a grand display of enduring hardship, or what in Chinese is vividly known as "eating bitterness" (吃苦).

Of course, that is what many of these people's lives are about, a willingness to endure hardship to get ahead. The thousands waiting outside the Guangzhou station were largely migrant workers, people who traveled to Guangdong province from China's interior seeking a better life for themselves and their families. So when I spoke with the Chinese reporter, my final thought was that I couldn't imagine many Americans going through this. I left feeling a little guilty for complaining about transpacific flights in economy class.

It definitely gives me a new perspective about the Chinese New Year and going home. The closest thing about going home during a holiday in America can be found, I think, in the comedy movie Planes, Trains & Automobiles, although the mood is totally different from the reality in China now.

Hope the migrating masses in China find their transportation and get safely back to their sweet home soon; and above all, wish all a happy Chinese New Year (starting on February 7, 2008).