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Next-generation migrant workers need love too

Xu Qian and Guo Zhijun, from If You Are the One's first migrant worker special

China’s matchmaking reality TV shows are a much more harmonious place following an early June overhaul meant to root out materialism, fakery, and vulgarity.

The shows, such as Jiangsu TV’s If You Are the One (非诚勿扰, a personals-ad line meaning “sincere inquiries only”), pitted sharp-tongued women against eager suitors and featured sharp-tongued banter from both sides, but their methods drew criticism even as they brought high ratings: some contestants were called gold-diggers, others became embroiled in unrelated scandals involving risqué photos and sex tapes, and shows were accused of deliberately fomenting class unrest. For example, the mother of one bachelor described her ideal daughter-in-law in this way: “She can’t be a rural girl. If her family isn’t well off, then sometimes it would her mom coming in from the countryside, and other times it will be her older brother….then our home would be a hotel!”

After SARFT stepped in, vulgarity was eliminated by the ejection of controversial contestants, materialism was countered by a the addition of a professor from a Party school, who represented the moderating voice of the establishment, and then on July 18, the rural population was placated with a special episode of If You Are the One devoted to migrant workers.

In the piece translated below, Liu Yuan, publicity director for the editorial department of Jiangsu TV, which produces the program, explained why the station decided to focus on migrants. It’s interesting to note the term translated “migrant workers” in the piece is 外来人员务工, literally “staff from outside,” rather than the more traditional 农民工, or “peasant laborers.” Huang Han, the Party school professor, went even further and advocated calling these post-80s migrants “new urbanites” (新市民). A second migrant worker special was broadcast the following week, to mixed reviews.

Why Jiangsu TV held a special migrant worker episode of If You Are the One

by Liu Yuan

Last Sunday night, If You Are the One began the first special episode of its half-year of broadcast: a special episode titled “Migrant Workers.”

For half a year, over a hundred thousand single men and women have applied to take part in If You Are the One, and among this group, we discovered a special population – migrant workers born in the 1980s. Coming from the countryside, they are pursuing careers in the city, and they believe that through self-reliance and hard work they can create a place for themselves in there. They are young and have their own dreams and desires for love, and they hope that they can find a partner with whom they can weather the storms and build a happy life. Our producers discovered that many of these migrant workers filled out two application forms when applying to the program: one for the production team, and the other to keep as a memento….

Our idea was further solidified after we gathered background material. According to figures from the 2009 Report on Next-Generation Migrant Workers released by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, there are currently 100 million post-80s migrant workers, nearly 80 million of them single. This is an immense social group, a group that is right by our side as we take advantage of the so-called “happy life” brought to us by rapid economic development. They may be humble wait staff in a restaurant, stylists in a salon, sales clerks at a shop, or maybe they are screws on a production line, the core members of an enterprise, or perhaps they have just opened a shop at the gate to your neighborhood and have begun their own urban dream…

And unlike their parents’ generation, during the course of producing the program and interacting with these post-80s migrant workers, we discovered that we can learn from the many outstanding characteristics of these “new urbanites.”

First, their ideas and they way they express them are guileless and imbued with traditional Chinese values. Although their expression may be somewhat simplistic because of their fairly low level of education, both content and style are simple and honest. For example, Li Dafeng said forthrightly, “my partner’s parents are my parents”, “if the man has a problem, I will take care of him my entire life”, and Chen Xiangdong was willing to contribute two-thirds of his income to finance his older brother’s life at college. These are impressive words and actions.

Second, they have escaped their parents’ reliance on physical labor and desire instead to find wealth through mastery of technical skills. In the first episode, we saw five men who studied skills ranging from hair styling and product testing to cooking and electrical equipment and who became outstanding professionals in various fields. These next-generation migrant workers have realized that technology is important for personal growth and thus have begun to enter the ranks of the “technologically rich.” This is admirable.

Third, they have entrepreneurial aspirations. Next-generation migrant workers are no longer satisfied with simply working for other people. As they work hard, they dream of going into business for themselves. Take Wang Shaojie, bachelor #1, for example: he wants to open a chain of hair salons. Guo Zhijun, bachelor #4, wants to open a restaurant, and Cai Naiji, bachelor #5, wants to run his own laundry. Although their dreams are not identical, they do share one common element: practicality. These next-generation migrant workers have demonstrated through practical thinking their increased awareness and broadened horizons.

Fourth, they have realized the importance of knowledge. Although they might not be well-educated, next-generation migrant workers attach great importance to increasing their own knowledge outside of their jobs. For example, after Chen Xiangdong, bachelor #3, shuts off his machine at 8 every night, he reads books to deepen his knowledge.

And it is this simple language and these plain values that have brought a breath of fresh air to the program. Their language may not be flowery, but it has an extra measure of straightforwardness and tolerance. Their aspirations may not be grand, but they are honest and sincere….

There was a warm response to the broadcast of this episode. Media outlets across the country did publicity and reporting, and the Southern Daily in particular had a headline that moved me: “The female guests on this episode If You Are the One are the most beautiful!” Once again I thank our friends in the media for their support! In addition, many enthusiastic viewers actively discussed the program on the official website and in forums; the official website received more than 100 posts. One comment on Sina said that despite the sheer numbers of single post-80s migrant workers – 80 million – the media had previously paid scant attention to their feelings. But their goals for life and love both brought a breath of fresh air to the program. And another netizen summed up a few characteristics of the special episode: first, the performance of the migrant workers was sufficiently sincere, despite their somewhat reticent speech and shy behavior, their speech could be summed up in a single word – honesty – and from their questions for the female guests we could get a sense that they were looking for people to share their lives with. Their questions were pragmatic – were the women concerned about the man’s age or aspirations and so forth. Finally, the migrant workers gave us a sense of inspiration and ambition: each of them had a goal toward which they were struggling, and they were more aware than others of their age of what they needed and what practical efforts to take to obtain it.

Staging the special migrant worker episode of If You Are the One, we believe, is not only an endeavor in the public interest but is also one that has implications for society at large. Using the public media platform of the program, we were able to show off the attitudes of a group of next-generation migrant workers, enabling more urban residents to understand their brothers and sisters who have made such great contributions to the cities, and promoting communication and interaction between all sectors of society. It is our small contribution toward building a harmonious society. In addition, for Jiangsu TU, a member of the mass media, it is also an important manifestation of our sense of social responsibility.

Links and Sources

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