Life of a Chinese pedicabber

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Difficult life of China’s migrants
By Daniel Griffiths
BBC News, Beijing

Hu Yijun cycles his small rickshaw through the streets of Beijing.

Rural poor often travel to Beijing in a bid to make money

He is out on the road most days – a small thin man with a paralysed right arm, weaving his way through Beijing’s gridlocked streets, struggling to make his way in China’s brave new world.

Mr Hu came to Beijing in 2004 in search of work.

“My son is a haemophiliac and we had to borrow a lot of money back home to send him to hospital,” he says.

“So I got into debt… and my wife has a heart condition… so she can’t work… so it’s up to me to make a living, cycling this pedicab.”

Mr Hu is one of more than 150 million people who have left the Chinese countryside to try to find a better life in the cities.

China’s urban population has tripled in the 30 years since economic reforms began.

But life in Beijing can be very tough.

“Sometimes the police arrest cyclists like me and take away our rickshaws, because this isn’t really legal,” he says.

“I was arrested in May – they kept me in for five days… and took away my bike.”

Bare room

Home for the Hu family is a single room with dirty whitewashed walls on the edge of Beijing.

The room is bare apart from a double bed in one corner and a television in the other. The floor is concrete and a single light hangs down from the ceiling.

Most of the young people have left – if it weren’t for my parents, I’d have gone too
Yangzhai villager

This is where Mr Hu lives with his wife and youngest son.

He tells me that because money is tight, he had to send his eldest son back to the countryside to live with his parents.

“We really couldn’t afford to keep him here,” he says. “One more kid is a lot of money.”

Mr Hu’s home village is more than 1,000km (625 miles) from Beijing.

The village of Yangzhai is a jumble of low houses built of mud bricks almost hidden among the tall fields of maize – a poor place in one of the country’s poorest provinces.

His parents’ home is a small house made out of mud bricks.

As you come in, you enter a large room, and the floor and walls are made of earth. A single lamp lights up the room.

Mr Hu’s mother, who is in her 70s, wipes away tears she describes how the family struggles to survive.

“We don’t have anything to eat, no food,” she says. “I pick up the grains of rice off the road left behind by other families… I have to clean it all by hand. This is all we can get.”

New China’s losers

Mr Hu’s father has lung disease. His medicine is paid for by the state but the Hu family have no other assistance from the government.

They are on their own, like hundreds of millions of others in this new China.

Children often find it difficult to settle into new communities

Mr Hu’s eldest son, Ming Sheng, does his homework on his knees under their only light bulb.

“I’ve just come to this school so I don’t have many friends,” he says.

“Sometimes my grandpa can understand what I’m reading… so he helps me a bit – but their eyes aren’t very good… They can’t really see to read.”

Mr Hu’s brothers also live in the area. They help out for now, but in the future they want to join those who have already left the village.

“In our village there used to be 500 people living here,” one of them says.

“But now there are only 100 left – and they’re mainly old people. Most of the young people have left. If it weren’t for my parents, I’d have gone too.”

China is full of villages like Yangzhai. The only people left are young children and their elderly grandparents – the losers in China’s booming economy.

This article is part of a week of special coverage on how China is ruled.