From Somewhere to Nowhere

China's Internal Migrants

Trucks thunder along a wide expressway in Anhui Province, sending the dust swirling. A man can be seen at the side of the road, still a long way away, a traveler. Slowly he comes closer. He is carrying a bag on his right shoulder and a bundle on his back.

"Where have you come from?" I ask. "From somewhere." he says. "And where are you going?" "Nowhere." He laughs at me, obviously quite content with his reply. Then he leaves me at the side of the road with my book title.

I have been a traveler myself in recent years, a traveler in China. I was looking for migrant workers, wanting to find out something about their lives and understand a little better the historical change China is going through at present. I traveled from the modern cities that are growing incredibly quickly, China's urban centers of gravity, to poor, underdeveloped provinces.

The income differential between the rich cities and the poor rural regions makes people into " migrant rural workers," as they are called, effectively sluicing them into the country's urban centers. The power of money — that's something you can experience tangibly in China. It is not just a release from poverty, it also subverts social structures, tears families apart and shows no consideration for children.

I met a lot of migrant workers, met them when they were working, stopped them in the street. They took time to tell me about their lives and answer my questions, invited me to visit them where they were living. And they took me home to their native villages. They let me take a little part of their lives away with me and pass it on as a few photos, a few stories. They took me with them on one stage of their journey.