Friday, June 18, 2010

Migrant Beats: Back in Beijing

I like airplane cabin weather better than Beijing weather. I felt like I was sluicing through a jelly of warm air, fighting my way through the customs gates and to the baggage claims. The terminal still hasn’t changed – unfortunately. While passing through the departure terminal in the electronic tram, I noted that the gates were still numbered in disarray, so that gate 1 is next to gate 72, 23 to 45, and so on. How many other people missed their flights because of the airport’s inefficient layout, I do not know.

This time in China, I am beginning field research for my senior thesis on literature written by internal migrants. As early as during the 1980s, rural migrants to major special economic zones like Shenzhen and Yanhai had recorded their reactions to the strange urban environments, their thoughts on migrant life and, and their witnessing of cruelty upon and discrimination of migrants. Described to “write while surviving” to accent the initiative that some have taken to jot passing thoughts and events despite the exhaustion from working long hours, the initial diaries and short stories created an entire “migrant literature” genre and the diverse physical forms of expression, from novels and poetry to expository essays and movies. During the 1990s, the genre died with a wave of younger migrants who did not care to write. At the turn of the century, literary prizes specified for migrant literature injected new interest in the genre, with award-winning works published in major domestic literary journals. Because migrant writers still lack connections with major publishing houses, some upload their works directly onto literary forums, while some print and distribute independently. With the support of the Robert Bates Fellowship at Yale University, I will interview writers and major literary critics of migrant literature in cities around China while collecting periodicals and books for my senior thesis in Chinese literature. In this blog, I will record my visits to museums and interviews of curators, migrant workers and writers.

For now though, I am still soaking in the changes in my old neighborhood. Wudaokou has changed again. Houbajia Village is completely razed, a microcosm of thousands of migrants reduced to white cement chunks and broken bricks. Northern sections of it are being turned into a park, while the rest of the area will be redeveloped into another residential zone with 20-floor apartments for Tsinghua’s professors and students. However, because the village stood on what was originally a graveyard back in the Ming dynasty (I think), the superstitious elderly of Tsinghua refuse to move out, even if the apartments there will be better. Two more 25-story buildings now stand across the west gate of Dongwangzhuang. Late at night, the shouts and gurgled vomits of Korean students complement the occasional taxi honk.

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Kelly McLaughlin said...

Looking forward to it! By the way, I'll be in Beijing with Master Pitti in a week, so let's be in touch. Perhaps we could manage to meet?

Kelly McLaughlin said...

Email me if you think we can meet for dinner or something. Thanks, Ricky.

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