Gathering Dust

Gathering Dust is a collection of fleeting portraits of migrants in Beijing. It visits a cleaner, a migrant school teacher, street vendors, sex workers and migrant children.

These migrants come from poor rural areas, and when in Beijing, live at the fringes of urban society. Yet they perform many of the menial jobs without which, Beijing's and China's astonishing development would not be possible.

Official statistics place the number of internal migrants over 130 million: 10% of Chinas entire population. Today, they make up more than 40% of the urban workforce. Being largely unskilled labourers, they have no choice other than menial tasks such as rubbish collection and construction.

Despite their large numbers, internal migrants enjoy far less privileges compared to urban residents. China's household registration system ties government services to native place and occupation. Poor migrants are prevented from accessing social services, including subsidized housing, free education and pensions.

Living conditions are often cramped, and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis spread easily. In 2006, 80% of new HIV cases reported in Beijing were migrant workers.

Children inherit the residence status from their parents. Without government education, they have little chance on improving their social status.

Annual school fees in Beijing exceed the income of many migrant workers. Roughly half of migrant children therefore cannot attend school, and nearly 10% are forced to drop out. There are cheaper migrant schools. But teaching tends to be sub-standard, and diplomas are often unrecognized by state education authorities.

A four-minute edit appeared on Current TV, UK under the name China's Secret Workers.

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