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LinkAsia | Feb 26
China's farming industry is being threatened by a labor exodus as more and more people migrate from rural areas to major cities. State-run CCTV New...
Now, a report from our contributor in Hong Kong, who’s been following a story that is gaining steam in social media. Imagine that you paid a lot of tuition to attend school only to find yourself working 12 hour days assembling shoes, or iPads? Well, this is a reality in China, where companies are exploiting students for cheap labor by calling them interns. And now many of them are fed up. David Bandurski brings us the story.
Back in July, as internet users were railing against repeated failures on China’s high speed rail system, another story was quietly unfolding on social media. It was happening on this microblog account, student workers alleging exploitation by this vocational and technical school in the city of Guoyang where students were allegedly given short stints of military drilling and sub-standard academic study in exchange for months of grueling factory work below legal minimum wages. Some students say they were shipped off for six-month stints on factory assembly lines working double shifts before they had attended a single day of class.
This July 19th post reads, "We are graduates of Guoyang City National Defense School and we were used as tools of cheap labor by the school justified as long terms of hands-on study. We feel angry and we want justice. Please give your support."
The students also kept this blog, in which they introduced themselves and their cause. Alleging the school has violated regulations and trampled on our rights.
While the internet offers new possibilities to ordinary Chinese, it’s a very noisy space. And the student story went virtually unnoticed through the summer as they pressed their cause but that changed on August 24 as Caixin Media, one of China’s top professional media groups, ran this report on how graduates of the school were holding protests after school officials failed to meet their demands.
The students followed up with this video, in which they documented their protest action and tell their stories in front of the camera.
"We were used as cheap labor to make money for the school," says this graduate. "In 2007, more than 100 students from our school under the legal age of 16 were sent to factories to work."
This story is finally grabbing attention in China with another big investigative report in China Youth Daily Newspaper, and local Guoyang officals claiming the students are committing blackmail. And a top education critic, Jiang Ming, wrote this week that abuse of internships and work-study was widespread in China, and schools had become labor contractors.
It’s not clear yet how this story will end, but it plainly shows the growing engagement of young Chinese with rights issues. And it shows how social media, from video to microblogging, can help them raise their voices. In Hong Kong, I’m David Bandurski for LinkAsia.