Migrant Worker’s Tale of Inequality Grips China, Then Is Erased

A large portion of the 1.4 billion Chinese remain poor. About 600 million people, or 40 percent of the country’s population, live on about $150 a month or less.

As does Mr. Yue’s family.

Born in 1978 in the central province of Henan, Mr. Yue left his village to seek a better life in the city. He and his family settled down in Weihai, a coastal city in eastern Shandong Province, and he became a fisherman.

Mr. Yue and his wife had a happy family. Their first son was born in 2000. Ten years later, they had a second son, paying about $1,500 for breaking the one-child policy.

“As peasants, we didn’t earn much,” his wife, Li Suying, said in a phone interview. “But we were doing fine because we were frugal.” She posted an online photo album on her WeChat timeline in 2016 that was titled “A loving family.” She does many low-paid seafood-related odd jobs while taking care of the family.

Then, their elder son, then 19, went missing in August 2020. Mr. Yue and Ms. Li went to the local police station and begged the officers for help finding him by locating his cellphone and checking surveillance video footage.

The police ignored their plea and berated them when they refused to give up, according to both Ms. Li and Mr. Yue’s interviews with Chinese media. One officer told Ms. Li to “shut up” and “get lost,” she said. They ignored her when she cried for days outside the police station.

“It wasn’t like I lost something that I could give up,” she said. “He’s my son.”

Mr. Yue set out looking for their son on his own. He went to many cities, including Beijing, where their son once worked at a restaurant. He did whatever odd jobs he could find along the way.

Leave a Reply