Beijing migrant worker’s search for son sparks outrage and sympathy

The hardships faced by 44-year-old Mr Yue have been widely discussed on social media in China

Albee Zhang
Thursday 20 January 2022 15:01
<p>File photo: A migrant worker stands with signs advertising his work skills on a street as he waits to get hired in Shenyang, China, 25 February 2021</p>

File photo: A migrant worker stands with signs advertising his work skills on a street as he waits to get hired in Shenyang, China, 25 February 2021

The story of a migrant worker in Beijing who caught Covid while searching for his missing son has provoked shock and sympathy on social media, drawing attention to the hardships faced by the floating population in China’s big cities.

On Wednesday, city officials said that an asymptomatic case of coronavirus had been detected in a 44-year-old man they identified by his surname Yue in the affluent Chaoyang district. His frequent and wide-ranging movements around the city, at odd hours, were widely discussed online.

Social media users declared Mr Yue the “hardest-working person among the floating population” - a hashtag that amassed over 60 million views on Twitter-like Weibo, drawing attention to the deep inequality in China that last year led President Xi Jinping to call for achieving “common prosperity”.

In interviews with local media, the former fisherman from central China’s Henan province said that he had arrived in Beijing last year, knowing his son, 21-year-old Yue Yuetong, had worked as a cook in the capital.

Since then, he took odd jobs, from garbage collection to moving construction materials, and is the main breadwinner for a six-person household, including his paralysed father.

Mr Yue, who is being treated in a Beijing hospital, said that since his son’s disappearance in August 2020 he had worked in several provinces searching for him. In Beijing, Mr Yue earns around 200 to 300 yuan (£23-£35) per shift and sleeps four to five hours a day.

“I don’t think I’m pitiful, I just want to do my work well, not steal or rob, rely on my own strength, my own two hands, make some money and find my son,” he told state-run China Weekly News.

Mr Yue’s son, who turns 21 this year and is among China’s roughly 285 million migrant workers who move to cities seeking work and a better life, was last seen in a bus station in Rongcheng, Shandong province, according to an interview Mr Yue gave to the state-run Beijing News that was later deleted.

A police station in Rongcheng told local media that it was investigating.

Reuters was unable to reach Mr Yue, whose story emerged as Beijing is on high alert for the spread of the Omicron variant and as Covid outbreaks once again disrupt travel plans ahead of China’s Lunar New Year holiday when workers including migrants such as Yue typically return home for family reunions.

Some social media users drew attention to the disparity between Mr Yue’s movements and another recent Covid case in Beijing who went to a ski resort and a jewelry store before testing positive for the virus.

“I don’t know whether ‘common prosperity’ is empty words but it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure every worker can live respectably,” said another Weibo user who goes by firetrap-virtuallife.


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