De Profundis Clamavi, o mandarin
August 25, 2015 6:59 PM   Subscribe

In a week when China's troubled economy and plunging stock market have made headlines worldwide, the Globe and Mail probes one of hidden causes of the difficulty the country faces in transitioning to a modern consumer economy: The Ant Tribe, the middle class Chinese who are literally being driven underground. posted by Diablevert (20 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously
posted by pravit at 7:20 PM on August 25, 2015


(Lots of people in S.F. live like this.)
posted by markkraft at 7:25 PM on August 25, 2015


When they moved the last Bowery flop house you probably thought it was gone. But it's everywhere and it's bigger than everything now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:28 PM on August 25, 2015


I don't think the comparison with the SROs in San Francisco is quite apt. One of the fascinating things that the Globe and Mail piece goes into is that a lot of the Ant Tribe are making perfectly decent middle class salaries that would otherwise enable them to pay for a decent sized apartment....if 75% of the income wasn't going toward the fees and bribes they must pay to get their children educated in one of the cities' schools. To a large extent, they are choosing to live like rats/ants in order to give their kids a leg up, they're not being forced into it by rising rents.
posted by Diablevert at 7:31 PM on August 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's not just rising rents - because of how the hukou system is set up, they're not actually considered legally part of the city, leaving them unable to access infrastructure and services like public schools, which means additional stress in paying for education.

Learning about the hukou is fascinating. It is literally unbelievable that you'd need to sort out your legal citizenship status on a city-by-city basis, even though you're all technically citizens of the same country. Thank you for this.
posted by cendawanita at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


Even if you have a hukou, the fees and donations necessary to get into a decent public school are outrageous. I left Beijing after ten years precisely because of this.
posted by wobumingbai at 7:56 PM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


"donations"
posted by BinGregory at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


cendawanita, never been to Sarawak I take it?
posted by BinGregory at 8:03 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I never had to live there! Ironically I know someone who's doing work in low-cost housing around the country. How does the system in Sarawak work?
posted by cendawanita at 8:12 PM on August 25, 2015


West Malaysians require visas to enter - it used to be the limited (sky blue) passport was needed but now you can enter with your MyKad. Still, you have to clear immigration and the MyKad is scanned. You get a 30 day social visit pass. To work in Sarawak you need a work visa that is not materially different from what a non-Malaysian requires, sponsored by your employer who must justify the need for you and attempt to hire locally etc. Children of West Malaysians born in Sarawak are not entitled to Sarawakian status and must be on visas as well. Being non-Sarawakian has a few other ramifications - bumiputeras of West Malaysia are not considered bumiputeras in Sarawak, and so cannot buy native-zoned land (and thus most of the low-cost housing schemes). Most awkwardly, it appears that children of West Malaysian bumiputeras or children of West Malaysian-Sarawakian bumiputera mixed marriages born in Sarawak get their racial assignation and acquire (or fail to acquire) national bumiputera status by the laws of Sarawak which differ from the mainland. The details and edge cases that result from that get arcane so I'll leave it at that.

Certainly not on the same level as the hukou. But internal borders are a very difficult concept to get used to as an outsider.

Disclaimer: I say all the above without judgement - these are the legal rights of the state that were negotiated as a pre-condition to joining the National Federation.
posted by BinGregory at 9:06 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


Living in Hong Kong and spending a fair amount of time in China has given me a healthy respect for the challenges facing the Chinese government. On the one hand, Hukou feels unduly restrictive. On the other, it is hard for me to imagine the scale of the chaos (especially in a down market) if the rural poor started pouring into the already insanely big cities. Hukou is being used today to try to encourage resettlement in the small/medium cities and they've already reformed it substantially.

Before living here, I really couldn't get my head around the sheer scale of the numbers. It creates challenges we couldn't easily imagine in Europe or the US.
posted by frumiousb at 9:44 PM on August 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


(none of which helps people like the family in the article-- my point is that it is more complicated than it appears.)
posted by frumiousb at 9:45 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


BinGregory: Oh I see what you mean now. Yes, absolutely to all that - somehow in my mind I'd assumed you meant a more limited kind of restriction. Mind you, I speak as a West Malaysian, and as you know Sabahans and Sarawakians find no similar legal restriction if they come to the peninsula. But, I am not sure if I understand the way you've described how Bumiputera status works in the state. In any case, this is turning into its own tangent, and perhaps we can continue this elsewhere.
posted by cendawanita at 11:24 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


if the rural poor started pouring into the already insanely big cities

Isn't the problem that they pour in anyway; hukou just denies them status and makes it more of a problem?

This sort of relates to the besetting cognitive problem for the Chinese government: inability to understand that there are things you are not in control of.
posted by Segundus at 1:20 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Isn't the problem that they pour in anyway; hukou just denies them status and makes it more of a problem?

Disclaimer-- I am not Chinese. I may have this wrong. I hear a lot about it, since it is a topic of much conversation here in Hong Kong as well. As I understand it, rural workers are still coming to the big cities, but the problem is much less than it would be if the migrants were eligible for social service benefits. It's only the relatively wealthy who can afford to be part of the "Ant Tribe"-- and they would have larger aspirations for their children than the average rural worker.

I know that the big cities like Shanghai are already struggling mightily to handle the inflow as it stands. There are many many many cities which would be huge by European standards where these same workers *can* move and get benefits.
posted by frumiousb at 2:58 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


inability to understand that there are things you are not in control of.

By the way, I honestly think they understand this perfectly well. But I think understanding it doesn't always have the result the West would expect-- instead, they try to correct for the variables they can control more than we might be comfortable doing.

Again, I'm not defending it, but it really isn't simple. They're trying to move a huge population base from poverty to the middle class in a very short period of time. They're making plenty of mistakes, and there's a lot which horrifies me that I see across the border, but I also think they deserve some credit too.
posted by frumiousb at 3:02 AM on August 26, 2015


I honestly think they understand this perfectly well

Well, that understanding has not obviously been much to the fore in their handling of the stock market - unluckily for Chinese investors and indeed the rest of the world.

Yes, they deserve some slight credit for wanting people to be better off (it's not much to ask of a government but in the context of Chinese history it's progress). But what they really need to do is realise that they are now a large part of the problem. That's a thing it's difficult for anyone to get their head round - but you know, there's a limit to how far I want to go in making excuses for a bunch of officious bureaucrats (ones who seem to have given up the ideals that originally half-justified their grip on power and not really found any new ones beyond the pursuit of wealth and power).

Only fair to acknowledge that you're better acquainted with the facts than I am, and you may have good reasons to take a kinder view.
posted by Segundus at 3:38 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Learning about the hukou is fascinating. It is literally unbelievable that you'd need to sort out your legal citizenship status on a city-by-city basis, even though you're all technically citizens of the same country.

Restraining the mobility of the populace has a rather long tradition. Virtually all totalitarian states attempted to control who can live where, and the right to settle in the best places was often reserved as a reward for the right-thinking.
posted by hat_eater at 6:55 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


It just boggles my mind that people are living in tiny rooms like this underground, while there are still all of those ghost cities scattered around China.
posted by evilangela at 8:26 AM on August 26, 2015


Well, that's not really different from noting that there are people living two and three to a room in illegal apartments in NYC, while you can get a house basically for free in Detroit.

"Housing" isn't a fungible good.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


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