The millions of migrant workers in China have a tough life. Leaving their homes to find work and separated from their families almost all year round, they toil in the cities for little pay and reside in ramshackle lodgings. Yet this much we know about migrant workers, what we know less about is how these migrant workers deal with the loneliness and isolation of their long and difficult sojourns. After more than a month of research and interviews with migrant workers in the city of Ningbo, the Contemporary Gold (现代金报) newspaper from Zhejiang province today published a front page story on the phenomenon of migrant workers forming “temporary couples” (临时夫妻) in the cities.
The newspaper recounts the stories of a few individual migrant workers in Ningbo that have formed temporary bonds of love and support in the cities to help shoulder the difficult burden of urban life. The newspaper quotes statistics from the Ministry of Health that around 80% of migrant workers in China are in a sex-starved state. And not only this, they are alone in an unfamiliar location, with little money, and no-one to comfort them. So perhaps it’s not at all surprising that migrant workers are seeking to make temporary arrangements.
One of the stories that Contemporary Gold relates today is that of Old Shen and Xiaoyan, both married migrant workers, who found each other in Ningbo. Their tale illustrates just how some migrant workers are dealing with the difficult circumstances they face in the cities, and how they have to face the consequences of their decisions.
At this year’s Two Sessions in Beijing, Anhui NPC delegate Liu Li (刘丽) made mention of the phenomenon of “temporary couples” that migrant workers are forming in China’s cities. The Contemporary Gold (现代金报) newspaper from Zhejiang province today has a special investigative report on this phenomenon, the result of more than a month’s investigation among the migrant workers in the city of Ningbo. The newspaper cites data from 2011 that put the number of migrant workers in the city at 4.3 million, accounting for 43% of the city’s total registered population of 5.7 million.
Old Shen from Jiangsu province has been working as an electrician in Ningbo since 2000. He works alone in an office with no computer, only a desk. His wife and child originally came with him to Ningbo, but they eventually returned home because it was too expensive to keep them in the city. He used to visit once every year during Spring Festival, but that ceased as well when Old Shen opted to stay in Ningbo and work overtime.
Then one day Old Shen met Xiaoyan, a quiet fellow worker in the factory whose husband was working in Yunnan, when she asked him to go and fix the broken lamp in her rented room. They gradually became better acquainted and eventually were chatting every night. But Lao Shen was wary of falling in love with her.
Then during August last year, Xiaoyan caught a bad cold, and Old Shen took her to the hospital and stayed with her there for a day, and next day accompanies her back to her room. But then Xiaoyan would not let him leave. That night, they had sex for the first time. “It was like eating of the sweetest honey”, Old Shen was later to tell the journalist from Contemporary Gold. From then on, Old Shen spent three or four nights a week with Xiaoyan.
Yet Old Shen was deeply vexed by his infidelity. So during this year’s Spring Festival he decided to return home and tell his wife. The news was not at all well received by his family, and Old Shen and his wife eventually divorced.
Xiaoyan and her husband also divorced, and she and Old Shen are now living together in Ningbo. Yet they don’t want to get married, as they are not sure how long their relationship is fated to last.