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Migrant workers shape China’s future

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China’s
transformation into the “workshop of the world” just over a decade ago
was powered by rural migrant workers earning less than their
counterparts at the start of the UK’s industrial revolution in the 18th
century as they produced consumer goods for shopping malls worldwide.
Now, in a reversal set to drive China’s next big economic evolution, an
estimated 220m migrant workers are becoming potent consumers in their
own right.

推动中国在10多年前成为“世界工厂”的是农民工。他们为世界各地的商场生产消费者产品,而他们的工资比18世纪英国工业革命开始时英国工人的工资还要
低。如今,这个估计人数达2.2亿的农民工群体本身正在成为一个有实力的消费者群体。这一根本转变势必推动中国的下一场重大经济演变。


This cohort spent Rmb4.2tn ($677bn) on consumer goods and services in
2012, according to a nationwide survey of 1,500 migrants by China
Confidential, a Financial Times research service. Putting this into
context, it is equivalent to 1.5 times total consumer spending in
Indonesia last year and 23 per cent more than that of Turkey in 2011.

英国《金融时报》旗下调研机构《中国投资参考》(China
Confidential)对中国各地1500名农民工的调查显示,农民工群体2012年总共消费了4.2万亿元人民币(合6770亿美元)的商品和服
务。要更加直观地理解这个数字,不妨作一些对比:它相当于印尼去年总消费者支出的1.5倍,或者比土耳其2011年总消费者支出高出23%。


The shift is a metaphor for the country itself, deriving as much from
psychological, social and generational shifts as economic inflection
points. Migrants born into the relative plenty of the 1990s are
considerably more spendthrift than those born in the 1980s and 1970s,
spending 53 per cent of their incomes, compared with 47.2 per cent and
38.3 per cent respectively, the survey shows.

这种转变也是中国本身转变的缩影,其原因既包括经济到达拐点,也包括心理、社会以及代际的转变。前述调查显示,出生于相对富裕的90年代的“90后”,在
花钱方面比“80后”和“70后”要大手大脚得多。他们花掉53%的收入,而“80后”和“70后”的这个数字分别为47.2%和38.3%。


Much of their monthly discretionary spending goes on mass consumer
items such as instant noodles, fast food, beer, soft drinks, clothing,
footwear and mobile phones. While brand consciousness remains
rudimentary, preferences for some brands – foreign and domestic – are
rapidly emerging as the cohort climbs the income ladder. These include
Uni-President and Master Kong noodles; KFC and McDonald’s for fast food;
Nokia and Samsung for mobile phones; Anta and Li-Ning sportswear;
Shuanghui for processed meat; Snow and Tsingtao for beer; and Taobao for
online shopping.

农民工每月的可自由支配支出大部分用于购买大众消费者产品,比如方便面、快餐、啤酒、无醇饮料、服装鞋帽和手机。尽管他们的品牌意识仍处于朦胧阶段,但随
着收入的增加,他们正迅速形成对一些中外品牌的偏好,包括统一(Uni-President)和康师傅(Master
Kong)方便面,肯德基(KFC)和麦当劳(McDonald's)快餐,诺基亚(Nokia)和三星(Samsung)手机,安踏(Anta)和李宁
(Li-Ning)运动服装,双汇(Shuanghui)肉制品,雪花(Snow)和青岛(Tsingtao)啤酒,以及上淘宝(Taobao)网购物。


Such early fumbles toward brand sophistication are remarkable in a
group treated with almost universal condescension by city dwellers only a
decade ago. Leslie Chang, author of Factory Girls , a book about the
migrant phenomenon, describes how bosses – secure in the knowledge that
there were numberless millions more would-be workers than jobs – would
treat employees with ill-disguised disdain.

这些朦胧的品牌意识令人瞩目,因为这个群体仅10年前还几乎普遍被城市居民瞧不起。记述农民工现状的《工厂女孩》(Factory
Girls)一书作者张彤禾(Leslie Chang)说,在每一个工作岗位都会引来无数农民工争抢的时代,老板们对手下员工的鄙夷几乎是毫不掩饰的。


As Ms Chang notes, many of the thousands of factories in Dongguan, a
manufacturing hub in the southern province of Guangdong, had an
Orwellian aura, with slogans on the walls such as: “To die poor is a
sin”; “If you don’t work hard today, you’ll search hard for work
tomorrow”; and “Through doing something, you will learn it”. Job
advertisements were similarly brusque: “Sales specialist. Can eat
bitterness and endure hardship. No only children.”

张彤禾指出,在东莞(广东省的制造业腹地)的众多工厂里,弥漫着一种乔治?奥威尔(George
Orwell)小说中的气氛:很多墙上贴着“贫穷地死去是一种罪过”、“今天工作不努力,明天努力找工作”、“实践出真知”等标语。类似地,招聘广告也赤
裸裸地写道:“招销售专员。能吃苦耐劳。独生子女勿扰。”


The tables have turned. Since blue-collar labour moved from surplus
to shortage in 2010, bargaining power has shifted from bosses to
migrants, obliging employers to learn some charm and lure workers with
rising salaries and improved benefits. Throughout 2012, the proportion
of blue-collar openings filled each month never exceeded 75 per cent,
according to China Confidential data.

这种局面已发生逆转。从2010年开始,蓝领劳动力市场已由供给过剩转为供给短缺,新的形势迫使雇主学着取悦工人,并用加薪和改善福利吸引更多工人为自己工作。《中国投资参考》的数据显示,2012年,每月的蓝领岗位空缺填补率都没有超过75%。


The result of this fundamental labour market reversal has been to
propel migrant workers’ incomes sharply higher, a trend that is unlikely
to change for as long as blue-collar labour remains in shortage.
Indeed, such incomes are rising faster than those of any other
significant consumer cohort – climbing 12 per cent to Rmb2,995 a month
in 2012, the China Confidential survey shows. This compares with the
average annual growth rate in urban incomes of 9.3 per cent of the past
decade.

劳动力市场的这种根本性逆转,已促使农民工的收入迅速增长。只要蓝领劳动力仍然短缺,这一趋势就不太可能改变。的确,《中国投资参考》的调查显示,农民工
收入上涨速度超过了其他任何重要消费者群体——他们的月收入在2012年累计上涨12%,达到2995元。与之形成对照的是,过去10年里城市居民收入平
均每年增长9.3%。


From Beijing’s perspective, the vitality of the migrant worker cohort
could hardly be of greater importance to the twin aims of rebalancing
the growth model and spurring urbanisation. In the first endeavour,
there is no question that migrant worker spending is an increasingly
potent driver away from an over-reliance on investment-led growth and
towards more consumption. Consumer spending in the first quarter of this
year accounted for 55 per cent of gross domestic product growth,
raising expectations that 2013 may be the third consecutive year in
which consumption contributes more than investment to GDP growth.

从北京方面的视角看,农民工群体的消费实力对实现增长模式再平衡和推进城镇化这两个目标至关重要。就第一个目标而言,毫无疑问,农民工支出在促使增长模式
由过度投资依赖型转向消费拉动型方面,正发挥着越来越重要的作用。今年第一季度国内生产总值(GDP)增长的55%由消费者支出贡献,预计2013年消费
对GDP增长的贡献将连续第三年超过投资。


For urbanisation, too – which Li Keqiang, the premier, has said is
set to become the greatest source of domestic demand in the coming
decade – rural migrants are seen as crucial. Mr Li has plans to reform
the household registration (hukou) system – which classifies everyone as
either rural or urban – turning migrants into urban citizens, which
qualifies them for more generous welfare allocations. The planned surge
in welfare awards, in turn, is expected to spur consumer spending.

农民工对于推进城镇化也很关键。中国总理李克强已表示,城镇化将成为中国未来10年最大内需来源。李克强计划推进户籍制度改革(目前这一制度将所有居民划
分为城镇居民和农村居民两类),让农民工获得城镇居民身份,从而有资格在福利分配方面享受更好的待遇。而福利待遇的大幅提高,进而将促进消费支出。


While the exact methodologies for hukou reform are yet to be
announced by Beijing, signs are that many migrants are keen to embrace a
settled urban future. Of the 220m who live and work in cities but have
no urban hukou, 131m are keen to become permanent urban residents, the
survey shows. If this number – roughly equivalent to the population of
Japan – do settle permanently in cities, it will not be their sweat so
much as their spending power that shapes China’s destiny.

尽管中国政府仍未公布户籍制度改革的细则,但有迹象显示,许多农民工非常乐意在城市里定居下来。前述调查显示,在城市里生活和工作的2.2亿农民工中,有
1.31亿人渴望成为城镇永久居民。如果这么多人(大约相当于日本的总人口)真的在城市里定居下来,那么中国的命运在更大程度上将受他们的购买力、而非劳
动力影响。

2016-06-23

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