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The Journeys of Five Migrant Women

ChinaSource Quarterly’s guest editor interviewed five migrant women who moved to Beijing at various times during their lives. He asked each one nine significant questions: When did you first leave your village for the city? Where are you from? Why did you come to the city? What was your experience when you first came to the city? What was your life like at that time? During these years, what are significant challenges you have faced? As you look back, do you feel that your life has improved? How have you experienced God’s grace and faithfulness? Do you plan to return to your village one day? Following are the replies of these women. 

Sister Dong from Henan Province

In 1989, I left my village in Henan province and went to Beijing. I decided to go to the city because, at that time, there were few fields in my hometown. A family of five people only had four mu of land (less than 1 acre)—not much for that many people. Every year there was not enough food to eat, and there was no other income.

When I first arrived in Beijing, I didn’t have money to rent a house. I started to work on construction sites. Later, a fellow villager introduced me to recycling. We lived in the cheapest and most dilapidated houses. At that time, the winter in Beijing was colder than it is now—and summer is also not easy. However, rural people have suffered hardships and “clenched their teeth.” They can earn a little money and feel that the hardship is worth it.

We ate the cheapest foods, lived in the cheapest places, and wore the cheapest clothes. It was all about saving money. In the first few years, people watched our places like thieves, and we felt they wanted to steal from us. Later, we often moved as the city managers changed their policies. Landlords always increased the rent. When the children grew up, we spent money on them. Nevertheless, economically, we are better off now.

When it comes to God’s grace and faithfulness, there is too much to talk about. At that time, there was a meeting place in the recycling compound. I have been meeting at that church and serving. It has been the grace of God for so many years. However, we are getting old, so we must go back to our hometown and eventually into a home for the elderly.

Sister Wu from Anhui Province

In 2010, I came from Anhui province to Beijing. My husband’s sister’s family sold vegetables at a Beijing vegetable market, so my husband and I came to Beijing to sell vegetables with them. At that time, all the people from the countryside worked in the outdoors area. We had no income at home, so it seemed to be the only way to make money. When we first arrived in Beijing, his sister’s family helped us. We couldn’t rely on them all the time, so we needed to work hard. I felt that earning money was really not easy.

During that time, we got up early. We started selling vegetables by getting up earlier than the dogs and going to bed later than the chickens. It was very hard. There has definitely been pressure. For example, vegetable prices are low, and they are not easy to sell. We aren’t earning much but need to pay for rent and food.

Later, when we had children, the pressure became even greater. It’s better now than before, but we still have to work hard to earn money. The kids are all going to school, and they need money for everything. I believed in the Lord relatively early, but sometimes, when I was busy working, I didn’t participate in fellowships for many years. I have only begun to attend meetings in the last two or three years. I owe God very much, and I am really grateful to God for watching over me these years. We have bought our own house in a county close to Beijing, and it is very likely that we will not return to our hometown in the future. If we do go back, it would be in the last few years of our life. Don’t we Chinese return like “the leaves to their roots (叶落归根)”?

Sister Chen from Shandong Province

I came to Beijing from Shandong province 19 years ago—to earn money! Back in my hometown, I thought that the city was full of money, and then, when I arrived, I realized that it was really hard work to earn money! I didn’t have the skills; I could only rely on my strength.

When I think about it, life back then might not have been as good as being in my hometown, but there was no choice; for the sake of earning a living we need to press on. Although it is not easy to earn money—even with hard work—still, I have slowly accumulated some. However, prices have risen so fast, and I feel that I have not earned as much as I need.

Our food and clothes are better than before, and I have improved a lot, but I feel that my life is more tiring than before. Thanks to God’s grace, my children have married and now I have grandsons. That is the purpose of gaining money. God’s care has been realized, and my son now has a good job. He bought a house in the city, and I am helping him care for his children there. Later, in the future, I will return to my hometown.

Sister Chen from Henan Province

I am from Henan Province, and I came to Beijing in 1999 to do business in the tourist area of Badaling, Yanqing.1

Before we were married, my husband had worked in Beijing, and I joined him here after getting married.

In the first few years, business in the tourist sector was pretty good. In Beijing winters, we froze to death, but I was also making money, so I felt very happy. Life at that time was generally pretty good. However, there were not many people in Badaling, and we had to go a long way to buy food and daily necessities. There were also quite a few problems. The tourist business declined and did not do much business for a few years, and the booth fee we were charged was too high. So, I came to the city and worked for two years in waste recycling. Later, I opened a private kindergarten and worked for several years. However, city management was strict, and I often suffered from disease of the hands, feet, and mouth. Since I was unable to complete some procedures, I was forced by various government departments to close.

On the whole, I don’t think things have improved much. I haven’t saved the money I earned earlier, and now there are many places where it is difficult both to earn money and buy necessities; everything is expensive.

To be honest, my faith is not very good. Before, when I was not busy, I was part of a church, but attended very few gatherings. My two sons grew up in Beijing. I know that God’s protection is upon them. It’s a long story, but in general, God didn’t abandon me. I will most likely go back to my hometown when I am old.

Sister Wu, Migrated at 19

In 2007, when I was 19 years old, I came with my parents to Beijing. I was no longer in school, so my parents brought me along with them. At that time, I was young and found the city quite exciting. I depended on my parents for everything. Back then, they had opened a small supermarket which was generally better than other migrant jobs.

My personal challenge has been my marriage. After getting married, I was forced to divorce my husband because of his extramarital affairs. Now, I am working alone to support myself. Financially I am okay, but I am afraid of getting hurt again emotionally. I am living alone and asking God to prepare a way for me.

When you ask if I think my life has improved, what aspect of life do you mean? Food, clothing, shelter, and transportation are better than before, but that is not all of life. I have a daughter who lives with her dad. She was very ill when she was a few months old. The hospital issued notices of critical illness several times, but with the help and prayers of church ministers, brothers, and sisters, she recovered. She is very healthy now, and I know that this is the grace of God.

I still love my family very much. I currently have taken out a loan for a house in my hometown thinking that if there is no suitable person for me to marry, I will have a place to live in the future.


  1. Badaling is the site of the most visited section of the Great Wall of China, approximately 50 miles northwest of Beijing’s city center. It is within the Yanqing district that is within Beijing municipality.
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Reggie Reimer

Reggie Reimer (pseudonym) has served alongside migrants in China for 15 years. View Full Bio