Shanghai: Welcoming Yet Full of Challenges

By Zhuqing Wang

Walking through the bustling city of Shanghai, you may notice that there are many people who struggle to stick to their daily jobs. They may not sit in office cubicles, they may not hit keyboards as fast as they can, they may not wear suits or carry briefcases, but they work hard for their own family and their lives, regardless of not having a registered residence in Shanghai,  and not being able to afford to buy an apartment.

(To protect the privacy of the interviewees, we use the pseudonyms of characters and locations.)

I asked Li Changchun about interviewing him, as he intently watched the traffic and skillfully gestured incoming cars the right way. When I asked him whether I could make a record about our conversation, he answered earnestly, “Yes, but only if I can answer, if I cannot, then I will not.”I was glad that he was willing to spare a little time for me to share his experience of working and living in Shanghai.

Li Changchun, who is almost 40 years old, has been working in Shanghai for 12 years. Even though his hometown is in Guizhou province, all of his family members are in Shanghai. None of them have registered their residence in Shanghai. They live in public rental housing, which, Li explains, is provided by the government. Each city has those public rental houses, which are cheaper than normal rental houses, so the pressure on family life is reduced.  When we spoke to Li Changchun, he was wearing a security uniform, a cotton coat, and was directing traffic in and out of the W mall parking lot. He was working outside in the cold winter, and as I stood close to him for the interview, I noticed the tip of his nose was red.

Li Changchun said his first job in Shanghai was in sales. So I asked him if he liked his current job, he smiled and said, “there is nothing I don’t like. The salary is high, because I’ve been working here for a long time; it’s more than 10,000 yuan a month.” When I asked him what he expected for his future life and his children, he didn’t hesitate to say that he was under a lot of pressure in Shanghai. The answer was short and definite.

Then I asked, “Will you stay in Shanghai forever?” Li said “Not necessarily.” As I wondered why he chose to work hard in Shanghai for 12 years as he was possibly leaving again one day, Li began to talk: “My generation is very hard-working; our children here can get better education than in their hometown. I may leave Shanghai when my children go to college, it’s much less stressful to come back home and start a small business than to live in Shanghai. Because I am now in a state-owned enterprise, the salary and bonus are very good. Though the work is hard, the income is high, so I am willing to stay here to work. Moreover, because I work in a state-owned enterprise, the work is in accordance with the country’s labor law; I work 12 hours and get one day off. I have plenty of free time compared to young people.”  Between the words, I sensed that Li had planned his family’s future in great detail. In the cold winter of Shanghai, people go through the streets, sometimes in a hurry, sometimes  at ease; with life considerations always at heart, because Shanghai is both welcoming and full of challenges.