Supporting Article

China’s Marginalized Internal Migrants

In just 30 years, China has accomplished the urbanization process which took the Western developed countries three to four hundred years to achieve. The nation is rapidly being transformed into a modern, global community at the cost of marginalizing her internal migrants who we call the “floating population.”[1] On the road to economic and political modernization, China has come to realize that the nation is on a path of spiritual pilgrimage as well.

The Christianization of China is, in fact, part of the modernization processwhether she admits it or not. A spiritual revival and transformation has already been taking place inside this vast country. Christianity is a major cultural development in China today. The newest estimate of the number of Christians in China is over nine percent of the populationand a majority of them are migrants.[2]

China’s cities offer better paying jobs and opportunities for these internal rural migrants. A recent survey found that 140 million Chinese citizens are working and living in places other than their hometowns. That is more than one-tenth of China’s population. What is more, it is estimated that the total mobile population, of which farmers working in cities make up the vast majority, currently is between 200 million and 250 million. That is almost twenty percent of China’s population. This mass “floating population” in China is creating many social issues which the government is ill-equipped to deal with at this moment.

Urban residents and migrants live in different worlds and different communities within the city. “Urban residents and migrant workers live segregated lives in general, and the former are not much interested in the latter,” sociologists at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou said. “Less than a third of urban residents would communicate with migrant workers regularly, and more than half do not like topics about migrant workers in their daily conversation.”[3]

Near the megacity of Guangzhou, pressure from work and home has contributed to a growing suicidal rate among migrants in the southern factory township of Dongguan. Dongguan, a manufacturing powerhouse on the Pearl River Delta, is home to about six million registered migrants. In Dongguan’s 120 medical emergency centers, 552 people attempted suicide from April to September 10 of 2007. Seventy percent of them were mi-grants. A consultation hotline set up by the health officials there in May, 2007 has received nearly 10,000 calls, of which eighty percent were from migrants. Kong Yuxian, director of the emergency center, said:

Twenty percent of the people who have called the center said they wanted to commit suicide. The number of suicide cases in Dongguan has increased by twenty-five percent during the first half of 2007, compared to the same period of last year.

Some migrants who left their hometowns in search of money in this city have struggled to find relief from the pressure they face at work. Some migrants, who tend to have little knowledge of their rights, choose to commit suicide when their wages are withheld. Most of the suicide victims are young people. They do not know how to get along with others. When they have relationship troubles, they think their whole life is over.[4]

Kong also called for more psychological services for these migrants. At present, most hospitals in Dongguan do not provide psychological treatment services. In fact, China’s psychological treatment service is just at a formative stage. Kong also pleaded with employers to do more to ensure comfortable working and living conditions for migrants. “They also need to keep in contact with friends and family members to help combat loneliness while working away from home.”[5]

Migrants, as “marginalized people” whose mental anguish is being acquired and developed at this time, could result in destabilization of the urbanization process. Currently, the need for psychological care for these migrants is growing, but the number of qualified counselors in China cannot match this need. Their outcry has not been heard and their pain has not been healed. China needs to address the social-infrastructure issues rather than building the hardware of modernization. Without proper justice and human rights legislation available in the cities for these migrants, they may eventually become a destabilizing force of the modernization process.

Urbanization, industrial revolution and scientific progress are the products of social transformation. At the very core of this social transformation, the key is the transformation of people’s way of life and changes in their social status. This transformation needs to be an improvement of their quality of life. Hopefully, millions upon millions of farmers turned workers will improve themselves while they are also changing the rural areas, cities and, in turn, the country, in the great process of modernization and urbanization.[6]

Migrants, as opposed to an anthropological peoples group, are composed of various functional people groups such as factory workers, service industry workers, construction workers, young professionals and university students. They are a massive mobile, floating population. Because this population is mobile, it can be dynamic. The value system of the cities is being spread and is transforming rural areas and minority people groups. Because it is functional, it is also temporal. Migrant communities have a limited time period when they share a common function together. Due to this, a functional community is becoming more dynamic. It may include people from various people groups, and their influence and value systems may spread to the whole nation as they are dispersed in different directions.

As far as the gospel is concerned, these migrants go back home during the holidays and evangelize their entire villages. One of our staff members, Joshua, who is a Zhuang from the Guangxi Province mountainous area, goes back to his village every year to share the gospel with the Zhuang people. He can preach to them in their own language.[7]

Joyce, one of our staff members in China, is another example. She left her home town in Henan Province in 1994. At that time she was only 16 years oldthe legal age for young people to start working in China. She came to the city in order to get a job to support her family. Someone introduced her to work in a factory in Dongguan, a factory town in the southern province of Guangdong. Unfortunately, this factory has been involved in some illegal activities. The boss only provided food and a place for the workers to stay inside the factory without paying them any salary. He even locked them up inside the factory to make sure no one could run away. While Joyce was working there, someone introduced her to Jesus and she accepted Christ. She then prayed and asked God to help her to get out. One evening, in the middle of the night, she climbed up the wall to run away from the factoryand she made it! She was so joyful that she could finally leave that place. After a while, she found another factory and worked as a temporary worker. This time the factory owner did not provide any place for her to stay; however, she met someone who was working in a nearby theater. He granted her permission to sleep inside the theater at night while she worked at the factory during the day.

Though she has gone through a lot of difficulties in her life, God was preparing Joyce to become an urban evangelist. She graduated from our Mission Bible School in 2003 and in 2004, she joined our ministry team. She has one brother and one sister, and both have believed in Christ because she shared the gospel with them; however her parents are not yet believers. She continues to lead city youth groups in the city of Guangzhou up to the present.[8]


  1. ^ Carin Zissis in Wikipedia.
  2. ^ Dawn of Asia, Spring, 2008 (published by Pacific Rim Foundation, Limited).
  3. ^ China Daily, Dec. 18, 2007.
  4. ^ China Daily, Sept. 19, 2007.
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ China Daily, Oct. 1, 2007.
  7. ^ Dawn of Asia, Spring, 2007 (published by Pacific Rim Foundation, Limited).
  8. ^ Dawn of Asia, Spring, 2008 (published by Pacific Rim Foundation, Limited).
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Clarence Chan

Clarence "Chuck" Chan, a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, USA and chairperson of Pacific Rim Foundation, LTD (Hong Kong), currently lives in southern China with his wife Queenie. He is involved in China research, leadership, and theological training. In the past two decades, he and his colleagues …View Full Bio