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Asia

Modern migrant workers living in cyber space

China’s migrant workers are no longer poor farmers lost in the modernity of the big cities. The men and women who try their luck in the big cities are young and modern - they spend most of their time on the internet.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Fuyang in central China's Anhui province

Many migrant workers go to internet cafes because they cannot afford their own computer

The new generation of migrant laborers has changed. The men and women who try their luck in the big cities work in factories or restaurants and are young and modern. And they spend most of their free time on the internet. As most cannot afford their own computer, they go to internet cafes, where they play computer games, meet friends in chat rooms and in social networking communities.  

The internet café Hao Xinqing or "Good Mood" in Beijing has around 200 computers and at peak time, around 10:30 pm, nearly all of them are taken. They are set up in long rows. Lights are dim and cigarette smoke hangs in the air.

A computer user is silhouetted with a row of computer monitors at an Internet cafe in Shenyang, northern China's Liaoning province

The peak time in many internet cafes is around 10 pm

"Social networking improves my life"

Du Jun is a 19-year-old who frequently comes to the café. He sits in the last row chatting with friends. "When I get off work around 10 pm I usually come here to the internet cafe. I usually stay until midnight and then I go home and go to bed. When I get here, I go first thing to my QQ chat room to see if friends or family are online. If they are, we chat and if not, I listen to music or play a game."

Du Jun waits tables in a restaurant. He says his quality of life would be worse were it not for QQ, China’s most popular instant messaging network with almost one billion registered users. There people can meet friends, exchange photos or phone each other.

Like Du Jun, most of QQ’s users are young migrant workers aged around 20, who have come to the capital city from poor provinces looking for work. They have trendy clothes and hair styles and are constantly fumbling around with their mobiles. For this new generation of migrant workers, the internet has become the foundation of their social lives; the lives of their parents seem worlds apart.

A farmer works reaping a rice harvest in Loudi, southern China's Hunan Province

A farmer reaping a rice harvest in Loudi in southern China's Hunan Province

Two worlds connected

Du Jun is from Gansu, a poor province in the northwest of China. He says his life in the city is nothing like it was back home."My parents are farmers. My mother works the fields and my father is constantly on the go, looking for work. That is how it has always been at home. My village is very poor. I am always sad to see my parents working so hard and I feel bad that I don’t earn much either."

Du Jun earns around 150 euros per month. That is not enough for him to buy his own computer but it is enough for him to pay the bill at the internet café – 30 cents per hour. The only disadvantage is that he is not allowed to upload pictures there.

But he can at the shop next door, where Mr. Wang helps people connect. "Some people are looking for relationships over the internet. They come to me and have their picture taken, which I send to them by email. Then they have a picture they can use to find a boyfriend or girlfriend online. Young soldiers also come here. This one wanted his picture with Tiananmen Square in the background."

A woman uses the internet at a computer store in Beijing

A woman uses the internet at a computer store in Beijing

Real life vs. cyber space

Migrant workers and soldiers send these photographs back home via internet, so that their parents can see their children in the big city. Most villages have at least one computer somewhere.

But with all its advantages, the internet also has disadvantages. Du Jun says he would like to find a girlfriend, preferably in the real world rather than in cyber space.

Author: Markus Rimmele (sb)
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein

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