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The Age of Migration

Xin Yuan Wang13 February 2018

A rural migrant checking his smartphone while peddling steamed buns for the Spring Festival meals in Shanghai (photo by Xinyuan Wang)

One week ago, when I finally arrived in Shanghai and started flat hunting, the estate agent urged me to make a decision within a few hours as “the Spring Festival (chun jie) is coming and everything will be closed very soon”. Chances were that he exaggerated things so that he could close the deal more quickly, but he did have a point.

With the approaching Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, every day I notice more businesses closing – from restaurants to express delivery services.  The 24/7 super convenient metropolis has become less efficient and fast-paced as more migrant workers embarked upon their journeys back to their home villages for the Spring Festival reunion. Many people in Shanghai only start to notice the massive contribution of migrant workers when a whole range of services fails – just as when they appreciate their dependence upon their smartphone the moment they realise they have left it behind.

The departing migrant workers are part of the largest annual human migration in the world – the number of passenger-journeys during the Spring Festival travel season, so called chun yun,  hit 2.9 billion in 2017. Shanghai, as the major destination of migrant workers in China, all of a sudden has become “an empty city” as one of my new neighbors Mr. Zhu put it. Mr. Zhu is in his late 60s, and was also packing, flying to the USA to celebrate New Year with his son’s family. A common traveling pattern here seems to be migrant workers moving inland to their home towns while local well-off Shanghainese flying overseas to have a New Year holiday.

Compared to physical migration, the ‘digital migration’ in China, taking place from offline to online, may cause much less tension in terms of domestic transportation pressure, however it is equally massive and significant. You may ask what is digital migration and in what ways it is possible? Hopefully, today’s (13/02/2018 London time 1:32pm) BBC world service radio documentary ‘Digital Migration’ will provide one of the answers. In this documentary, I re-visit factory workers who were my key contacts in my previous project, exploring how the use of social media has allowed Chinese migrant workers to live in a modern China.

It was because of my own observations of Chinese migrant workers, with whom I lived for 15 months in a small factory town, who saw Shanghai as the symbol of modern China, that I decided to pick Shanghai as my new field site to explore the impact of smartphones. As far as the new project is concerned it is definitely too early to draw any conclusions, but the first week’s exploration has shown me the ‘digital migration’ among urban Chinese is taking a different form.

Chilean Elections and Peruvian Migrants: Between Uncertainty and Pride

Alfonso Otaegui16 December 2017

Chile is currently in the process of electing a President. The first round was inconclusive, and the second will take place tomorrow, December 17th. The two candidates are the former President Sebastian Piñera and the newcomer to politics Alejandro Guillier, who belongs to a coalition that includes the party of current President Michelle Bachelet.

This election is not irrelevant to the migrant population in Chile, who I will be studying, the Peruvian one in particular. They are the largest migrant population with over 100.000 people, roughly one third of all migrants. They are also highly visible being present in the main urban space. My fieldsite is going to be Pequeña Lima (Little Lima), as it came to be known in the last years, which is a very lively area in Santiago, full of Peruvian restaurants, Peruvian product shops with colorful advertisings and Peruvian people hanging around. As also happens in other countries in South America, migrants are usually the recipients of negative stereotypes, the most common being the accusation that they are stealing jobs from the local population. The two presidential candidates, erring on the side of caution, have only made broad statements about migration policies.

The uncertainties and concerns of Peruvian migrants in Chile can be seen in their local newspaper Contigo Perú (Peru is with you). Even though last editorial does not show any obvious support to any particular candidate, it calls for a responsible attitude: “we represent in concrete terms what it means to be a migrant. […] we must then turn ourselves into referents of what it means to be a good migrant”. The electorate expects visible changes to follow from such elections. The status of the migrant is at stake and this newspaper presents a proud Peruvian community that is up to the challenge. This will be the context for my work among migrants in Santiago de Chile.

Let’s see what happens in the next two years.