A rural migrant's ordeal in locked-down Shanghai

STORY: Chinese migrant worker Sun Wu recently showed Reuters his latest lodging, shared with a fellow migrant worker.

A quarantine center housing at least 80 people in disaster relief tents - the culmination of his ordeal in locked-down Shanghai.

“Inside each tent, there are plugboards, light bulbs and two beds. The staff provided a portable toilet... But it doesn't work really well, because the toilets are all placed inside the tent. If you use it inside, the whole tent will smell.

China's uncompromising "zero COVID" policies have battered the world's second-largest economy.

Many of Shanghai's 25 million residents complain about lost income, difficulties sourcing food and mental stress.

But migrant workers, unable to work from home or earn steady pay, have it much worse. And there are more than 290 million from China's vast countryside.

When the city began its strict lockdown two months ago, Sun lost his job as a waiter – and his spot in a migrant worker dormitory.

He began sorting government deliveries for locked-down residents to make ends meet, living in the warehouse where he worked.

But when he left to look after his sick girlfriend, COVID rules meant he couldn't return to either place.

With train services halted, returning home to the country’s southwest wasn't an option either.

After sleeping in his trusty little tent in parks and plazas, he says he was told by police he was on his own when he sought help.

The despondent 22-year-old took to social media in mid-May, posting on the twitter-like Weibo platform that all he wanted was a place to sleep and eat.

“I felt that I had completely run out of options. I've never felt so wronged."

The post went viral, drawing outrage at the lack of support for migrants.

Soon, the authorities reached out to him and sent him to this government site.

When asked for comment on the wider issue, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs said it "attaches great importance to the relief and assistance work for people in distress due to the epidemic" and had introduced measures including a hotline and a "one-time" unemployment subsidy for uninsured migrant workers who have not worked for three consecutive months.

Sun said he saw hundreds of other homeless migrants like him - but Valarie Tan, an analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, believes the number could be in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions.

"We just have to remember a third of China's workforce are migrant workers. And they are concentrated in these big cities which are the worst hit in this round of lockdown. So, the numbers are definitely likely to be quite substantial."

Tan says migrants are low priority for the Beijing government.

This is despite President Xi Jinping’s policy objective of "common prosperity", as he moves toward a historic third leadership term this year.

But while the country’s financial hub has flagged plans to reopen soon, Shanghai’s lockdowns have laid bare the deep veins of inequality in Chinese society.

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