Farmers enjoying tea at a local teahouse in Yongchuan district (永川区), Chongqing. Photo taken during a field trip to Chongqing in November 2013.
The dual citizenship and property system in China has forged the collective rural identity. Having a rural hukou provides some benefits, especially concerning rural land rights. However, this rural, or farmer’s, identity constitutes a barrier for many migrant workers who have been living in urban areas, some for decades. In many places, the hukou has been relaxed, but in large cities like Beijing or Shanghai restrictions are still in place. There is little doubt that the lack of a local resident permit presents an obstacle for integration and identification with the host city. Migrant workers continue to have a preference for marrying their peers from the country. Very often, one can hear them making plans to go back to their hometowns after they retired. But, what seems more peculiar to an outsider is to learn that many still call or consider themselves farmers. According to the (English) dictionary, a farmer is a person who owns or manages a farm, or cultivates land. However, in China it has a very different meaning: it is a social class. It refers equally to those who engage in the farming industry and those who work in the city but possess a rural residence permit. Actually, the (usual) Chinese name for migrant workers does not contain the word “migrant” but “farmer” (nongmin-gong – 农民工). In fact, it also includes the fellows who joyfully sip at their tea in the photo, but whose industry is alien to the writer.