Migrant rural workers emerged in China in the 1980s as a by-product of two policies, the household registration system established in the late 1950s, and the economic reforms initiated in the late 1970s to liberalize and boost the economy. Estimates put the number of workers on the move today at 150–200 million. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. September 2002
In front of a huge portrait of Deng Xiaoping, a man makes money by selling photographs he takes of tourists visiting Shenzhen. It is hard to believe that the phenomenon of Chinese migrant rural workers would have been possible without Deng Xiaoping’s policy of opening China’s markets by establishing the first “special economic zones.” Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. September 2002
Shenzhen was awarded the status of “special economic zone” in 1980. At the time, Shenzhen had a population of around 20,000, most of them working in the fishing industry. Today the area produces watches, toys, microchips, CDs, shoes, designer jeans, TV sets. Shenzhen has been the fastest growing city in China for the past 30 years. Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. September 2002
Mr. Xian, 50, from Luzhou town, Sichuan Province. Together with other men from the same town, he works on one of the many construction sites in the city of Chongqing. Just as they were a hundred years ago, the houses are often demolished without the aid of machines, simply with sledgehammers and muscle power. Chongqing, Chonging Shi. March 2008
Old traditional quarters are torn down and replaced by huge modern high-rise buildings. China has plenty of hands to do the work. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. September 2002
Two migrant rural workers at night in the “special economic zone” of Shenzhen. Shenzhen, Guangdong Province. September 2002
On the southern side of Guangzhou, Party Chairman Mao Zedong meets President Zhou Enlai in an empty restaurant, while the television continues to entertain the nonexistent customers. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. December 2002
This migrant rural worker, 38, from Hunan Province, has been living and working in Guangdong Province for four years. The air in the small workshop, where she has to paint small plastic eaves, is filled with a pungent stench of paint and diluent; ventilation is nonexistent. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. May 2006
Migrant rural workers from Sichuan Province slogging away at a brick factory. In June 2007 the media reported that 31dirty and disoriented workers had been rescued from a brickwork factory where they had been held as modern slaves. Eight workers were so traumatized by their experiences that they were only able to remember their names. The brick factory was owned by the son of the local Communist Party secretary. Shanxi Province. April 2007
A father with his son outside a mosque. They have only just arrived in Guangzhou after a long journey. His wife is dead and he has lost his sight in an accident. Now he is hoping for a better future for himself and his son in the city. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
Working long hours in hazardous conditions takes a heavy toll on the health of migrant rural workers. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, about 200 million employees in sixteen million enterprises work in hazardous conditions. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
A brief glimpse out of the train window. After a few hours we are already a long way from Guangzhou, a great 21st century city and the starting point of our journey. Guangdong Province. May 2006
Mrs. Chen, 74, looks after her five-year-old grandson. The little boy’s parents are migrant rural workers in the city. Shilian, Guang’an, Sichuan Province. May 2006
Rural migrant workers from Hunan Province inside their temporary tin huts. They work on the huge Phoenix City construction site. Guangdong Province. September 2002
Inside a simple, temporary tin hut of migrant rural workers. Curtains in front of the individual sleeping places offer the only chance of a little privacy. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
These migrant rural workers from Hunan Province work in a small factory that produces electronic equipment in the city of Foshan. Now, for the Chinese New Year, they are trying to buy tickets to travel back home. They are planning to stay ten days in their hometown before returning to Guangdong Province to resume their work. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
These passengers are waiting for the train to set off, standing by the carriage door. It is quite overcrowded and not everybody has managed to find a seat. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
The vast majority of migrant rural workers are heading home in overcrowded trains in journeys that can easily last two days. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
Shortly before departure. One young man has struck it lucky: he’s sitting by one of the few windows that are not broken and so can be opened. Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. February 2005
Early morning in the streets of Datong. Datong, Shanxi Province. April 2007
Beneath a poster promoting safety, coal miners warm up in the sun prior to their shift that will take them 300 meters underground. The privatization of coal mines has put profit before safety. Datong, Shanxi Province. April 2007
Sleeping place for mineworkers. Datong, Shanxi Province. April 2007
Miners Mr. Jiang, 40, (left) and Mr. Tang, 30, after work at the Anyuan Coal Mine. Pingxiang, Jiangxi Province. March 2008