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People progress

Sun Li and Hu Meidong
Updated: Sep 5,2014 4:03 PM     China Daily

Students from migrant worker families in Jinjiang take part in games designed to relieve stress on June 3 before the college entrance exam. [Photo/Xinhua]

A city in Fujian province steps up efforts to integrate valued migrant workers and balance urbanization with heart, report Sun Li and Hu Meidong in Jinjiang, Fujian.

In 2007, Zhao Xiaofang arrived in Jinjiang of Fujian province.

Zhao, who had worked in a shoe factory in Guangzhou of Guangdong province, wanted to try his luck in the small city famous for being the “footwear capital” of the country.

The 31-year-old quickly found work in a local footwear business and earned about 4,000 yuan ($650) a month, 1,000 yuan more than his monthly salary in Guangzhou.

He lived in a 20-square-meter room and was generally satisfied with his lot.

But in 2010, he suddenly felt a heavy burden on his shoulders when his wife brought their two daughters, aged 2 and 4, from his hometown of Nanyang in Henan province.

The footwear industry also experienced a slowdown following the global financial crisis, and Zhao’s income froze. He could not afford to move to a bigger home.

“When I was alone in the city, housing wasn’t a problem. But for a family of four, the tiny apartment seemed really shabby and cramped,” Zhao said.

To make matters worse, they found the neighborhood increasingly unsafe. They lived on the first floor, and the area was full of jobless people.

“Once, when I left the window open, two cellphones on the table were stolen,” Zhao said.

Bi Hongmei (left) with her family at their home on Aug 18. Jinjiang has given migrant workers the same housing benefits as local residents.[Photo/Xinhua]

The Zhao family’s problems were similarly experienced by many migrant workers nationwide.

These migrant workers usually found themselves left out of their adopted cities’ household registration, or hukou, system. The system covers a Chinese citizen’s legal residence in a city and provides access to various social services and benefits like housing, healthcare and education.

The migrant workers contributed to the growth of cities but had to settle for poor housing and inadequate benefits compared with their urban counterparts.

Recognizing the increasing need to address the issue, the country will take a series of steps to ensure the “orderly” migration of rural workers from their hometowns to cities, the State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided in July.

Latest efforts to improve migrant workers’ situations are already taking root.

Jinjiang Mayor Liu Wenru said the local government has been rolling out measures including low-rent housing programs and residence permits to help integrate the workers.

When Zhao got wind of a program offering low-rent housing and the Jinjiang authorities issuing new residence permits to migrant workers to replace their temporary passes, he immediately applied for them.

The permits gave holders access to more affordable social security and medical insurance. They are also needed to apply for low-rent housing.

With his permit, Zhao’s daughters could also get full access to local schooling.

At the end of 2013, Zhao applied for low-rent housing near his community.

He recently collected the keys to his new home - a fully furnished, well-lit two-bedroom apartment. Covering more than 60 sq m, it includes a balcony and costs just 189 yuan a month to rent.

“You cannot imagine how excited I am to bid farewell to my shabby little dwelling and enter my new home,” said Zhao, who is now self-employed and designs shoe molds for several companies.

Recognizing residents

Jinjiang has 1.09 million people covered under its household registration system and another 1.3 million migrant workers.

Migrant workers at a shoe factory in Jinjiang, Fujian province in June. Jinjiang has more than 1.3 million migrant workers. [Photo/Xinhua]

“Migrant workers are a valued part of the labor force and they make great contributions to the urban development of Jinjiang. The government must help them settle into local life,” Liu said.

Cai Yiqing, director of the Jinjiang Bureau of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said the city government has been gearing up support for the construction of low-rent housing projects.

According to Cai, the construction of 11,000 units of low-rent government-owned apartments has been completed, and 3,502 units have been offered to migrant workers.

In the residential compound where Zhao lives, there are 428 units like Zhao’s and an additional 300 units have been arranged to settle more migrant workers, Cai said.

Wang Quanhe, from Jiangxi province, who recently registered his residence in Jinjiang, said he now considered the city his second hometown.

The 35-year-old, who arrived in Jinjiang in 1999 and worked in a factory producing motorcycle accessories, said he initially thought he would live in a strange and indifferent environment, as he did not know anyone in the city.

But the friendly locals and warmhearted colleagues soon made Wang believe he was not an “outsider”.

Wang said he is grateful to his company that organizes activities such as training programs and leisure trips. It also offers counseling services to migrant workers in case they suffer from stress and anxiety.

Wang is particularly grateful for the matchmaking activities organized by the city’s federation of trade unions because he met his wife through them.

“To many migrant workers, loneliness is the biggest challenge. The matchmaking activities are a considerate move to help workers make new friends and meet potential partners,” Wang said.

Wang married his wife, who is from the same village, in 2006 at a group wedding of 100 couples organized by the local government. The couples were all migrant workers, and the event was the first of its kind in Jinjiang.

“I’ll never forget the wedding. I was surrounded by flowers and colorful ribbons, and everyone wished me happiness,” Wang said.

Wang also decided to register as a permanent resident of Jinjiang because he planned to have a baby. The registration meant he would not have to return to his hometown to prepare the paperwork.

“There are no barriers in household registration. As long as you lived or worked in the city for two years, you can register,” Wang said, adding that he did not have to buy a house to provide an address for the registration because he could use the company dormitory to do so.

“I’m glad to become a true Jinjiang’er,” Wang said.

Protecting homes

Residents of Xingfukangcheng neighborhood in November 2012. Jinjiang relocated residents to its prime areas in its urbanization drive. [Photo/Xinhua]

The local government is also preserving the local areas of Jinjiang amid the rapid urbanization and integration of new residents.

Zhuang Gaofeng, 75, a local resident of Jinjiang, is pleased to see familiar surroundings being maintained.

Local authorities designated the downtown area where Zhuang used to live as a traditional district, a project that has relocated and renovated more than 100 traditional Song Dynasty (960-1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) buildings.

When he got wind of the project, Zhuang worried that his house of more than 200 years would be demolished and he would be settled to a place far from downtown.

Zhuang said generations of his family have been living in their 200-square-meter house. He had even prepared to appeal to the authorities to protect his home.

But staff involved in the project met and spoke with original residents of the area. They told Zhuang the house would not be demolished. Instead, it would be added to the project’s list of protected buildings.

Zhuang said he will be resettled in a “fancy residential compound” nearby, 10 minutes’ walk from his original house.

“The new place the government arranged for my family is in the prime location of the city. It is convenient with a nice view, I have nothing more to ask for,” Zhuang said.

Chen Rongfa, Party chief of Jinjiang, said the local government has been adopting a people-oriented approach in its rebuilding and relocation projects.

Before any demolition, the government will consult residents and consider their opinions, Chen said.

“The best parts of the city were not used for ‘lucrative’ projects. They were used to resettle the people. That proves that the people’s livelihoods matter and they are put first,” Chen said.

City keeps its distinctive culture alive

Wudianshi, an ancient building area in Jinjiang, has been preserved amid the city’s urbanization drive. There are more than 100 ancient buildings in the city.[Photo/Xinhua]

Jinjiang in Fujian province is balancing the preservation of its traditional culture and old residential buildings with urbanization.

The city, which has a history of over 1,000 years, is home to many ancestral halls and traditional residential buildings. The structures are made of granite slabs mixed with red brick in a seemingly irregular pattern, a distinctive style of southern Fujian architecture.

The city is known for its traditional art such as the Jinjiang glove puppet show and Gaojia Opera, a local traditional drama featuring clown characters.

Huang Liang, director of the Jinjiang Bureau of Culture, Sports, Press and Publication, said the government is working with a group from Tsinghua University to conduct a full-scale survey of the city’s traditional buildings.

More than 6,500 traditional buildings are being planned for renovation and preservation, Huang said.

Jinjiang Mayor Liu Wenru said every old building is highly valued in the city’s push toward urbanization.

“Traditional buildings are collective memories of generations of Jinjiang people. They will not be demolished unless necessary,” Liu said.

“Even if a traditional house has to be removed, considering the infrastructure needs, it will be transferred to a proper area and well protected,” Liu said.

In addition to protecting the old buildings, the local government also spotlights the preservation of the city’s intangible cultural heritage.

Thirty primary schools and middle schools have been selected as educational bases for the younger generation to learn Gaojia Opera and the glove puppet show.

A research center of the southern Fujian dialect is also being set up to focus on protecting the regional language.

Chen Rongfa, Party chief of Jinjiang, said the city’s cultural roots have significantly contributed to its urban development.

“The cultural elements set Jinjiang apart from many other cities speeding up their urbanization,” Chen said.

As cultural roots make the city lively and unique, protecting traditional houses and culture will always be on the city government’s agenda, Chen said.

Raising standards

Local authorities of Jinjiang, a city that has played a pioneering role in pushing forward human-centered urbanization, has pledged more proactive moves in urban-rural development.

Jinjiang Mayor Liu Wenru said that despite the achievements the city has made in accelerating urbanization, the quality of development should still be improved.

“The living standards of urban residents should be raised to enhance the sense of belonging of migrant workers who have become a part of the community,” Liu said.

He added that the infrastructure and public services of some rural areas remain underdeveloped and needed to be improved.

Chen Rongfa, Party chief of Jinjiang, said the government will keep working on the policies related to residence permits to further lower the restrictions on household registration and optimize public services.

The government will improve the service functions of small towns and pursue better ecology, cleaner air and safer drinking water, Chen said.

In 2006, the Jinjiang city government became the first of its kind in the country to officially make three promises to migrant workers to improve their lives.

It promised that no migrant worker would suffer from salary arrears; no migrant worker’s children would drop out of school; and no one would have his or her rights and interests breached.

In 2011, Jinjiang also became the first city in Fujian province to issue residence permits allowing holders to access 30 aspects of welfare benefits covering education, medical care and housing.

In 2012, the city eased the restrictions on hukou or household registration. Migrant workers with residence permits who stayed in the city for two years (or stayed in rural areas for one year) could apply for the registration. Previously, only those who stayed in the city for five years and signed a minimum three-year employment contract with companies could register their households.