Research Notes: The Chunjie problem

I have a Fulbrighter friend who is doing research on the return of migrant workers in Beijing back to their home rural villages. Originally, he had planned to research why certain workers decided voluntarily to leave city life for their families in the countryside, but due to the current economic crisis, he has instead switched his project so that he could focus on forced migrations back to the countryside because of unemployment. Similarly, another friend who looks at migrant education was fascinated to find out how many of the migrant children would return after Chinese New Year, since many of them, after the holiday, had no jobs to come back to.

This migration back and forth, from urban Shanghai and Beijing to the rural west, has been a concern of the party since 1949, although for different reasons. While the current concern of the movement of migrant workers is tied to the economic crisis and the threat of unrest among the population, concern in the 1950s was tied to the psychological effect of moving between city and countryside. A long document in a series from the Shanghai Communist Party branch discussed the possible effects of the chunjie (Chinese New Year) migration. It included statistics of how many migrant workers moved back and forth in the year 1955 for the holiday (their estimates are 225,000 people, about 25% of the working class population) as well as the possible risks of allowing this huge migration. Their fears included the possibility that when the migrant workers return, they may not have the same "energetic spirit" that they had before chunjie. Furthermore, when they see life in the countryside after seeing life in the city, they may have one of two reactions: one may be further faith in the revolution, but another may be disappointment. Many of these concerns are related to a possible lapse in productivity, but also echo a fear of revolt or a loss of faith in the party. Nevertheless, the documents come to the conclusion that as far as 1955, the effect of the chunjie migration was nothing but positive; productivity did not decrease at all, and it seems that there is even higher participation in party sponsored meetings and activities.

What this points to, besides a continued concern about rural/urban migration, is a Communist party concern with the private lives of Chinese people. It is considered perfectly acceptable to worry about workers going home for the holidays and to take record of possible effects a holiday family visit could have on the psyche of the entire country (imagine this in America: documents about the possible effects of Christmas breaks on the success of the government). There is also an assumed responsibility of the government to control the free time of its people. This is furthered by the fact that this document is in a larger set about the problem of laborer's "free time." The documents include research about how workers spend their free time as well as how to fill up that free time with more party activities.

A professor and I were discussing this "free time" issue, and he told me that he had come across an article in the People's Daily about the "free time" issue. The article concluded that free time was state owned, and given to the people. The concern of the government with chunjie holidays seems to point to this conclusion as well, as any free time could feasibly contribute to the failure of the revolution. And while we may attribute this to Communism itself, I'm not sure that this issue is not necessarily a universal one. We even have daylight savings time so as to increase productivity, implying government involvement in our free time (what if I wanted more time at night?). This will be an interesting problem to explore.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting indeed in this free-time phenomenom. I think this over-involvement in its subject is a socialism/communism effect because as citizens are more "solidified", their actions should be more controlled and for the greater good of China. I think this is a rather natural way to think during those time. Perhaps you will find similar documents in Russia. But they don't have such a mass transportation phenomenom (or they do??). Very interesting "free time" idea!