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CHANGING CURRENTS
REFLECTIONS
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VIEWS FROM ABOARD THE CHINA EXPRESS:
1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
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A Century of Migration

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Haerbin station - the first sight of Haerbin for migrant workers for over a century

I watched two young lads, who had been in the same carriage as me, struggling off the train with their ubiquitous giant pink-and-blue-striped “laundry” bags.  I followed them through the tunnel that connects the platform to the outside world, at the end of which was a scrum of people jostling to squeeze through the ticket barrier.  I didn’t fancy joining the melee, and thankfully neither did they.

 

  They waited until the queue had subsided before surrendering their tickets without even glancing at the uniformed collector.  Nothing could divert their attention from what lay beyond the barrier.  But they weren’t looking for friends or relations, because no one was there to greet them.  The taller, who was also the thinner, wore a scruffy brown coat that was too small and trousers that were too long.  He took out a crumpled piece of paper from his coat pocket and read it to his friend. 

 

  I was several yards behind them, but I could at least make out some of the words, “construction site.”  After conferring, the smaller who was also the chubbier of the two pointed to the bus stop in front of them, and they hurried on as quickly as their heavy bags would allow.  They had the air as well as the travel bags of waidi ren – people from outside of the city – in search of a new job.  No one really has any idea what the number is, not even the government, but these two migrants are just two more drops in a swirling ocean of perhaps more than 150 million people working outside of their hukou area – the place of registration which is indelibly printed on everyone’s soul, as well as on their identity card. 

 

  The vast majority of the four million or so people who live in Haerbin today are first or second generation descendents of economic migrants.  Indeed most of the people who have transformed this once-small-town into the biggest city in Manchuria would have got off their trains here.  In 1908, five years after the station opened, only around thirty-six thousand people lived in the town.  

 

  In the five years that followed, an additional 32,000 people – including 17,500 Russians – arrived here.  The incredible population growth rate is brought to light by the 1913 census, which shows that only 11½ per cent of the total population were actually born in Harbin.  It also shows that a majority of the 68,500 residents were Russian, and only a third of the population were Chinese.  

 

  In the 1910s and roaring 20s Harbin was, in fact, a cultural melting pot: the Russians and Chinese combined with more than 50 other nationalities to create a place that was variously described as the “Little Paris of the Orient”, “Little Moscow”, and “The Worst of all American Chicagos”. 

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Who's going to lighten my load?