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离开也是爱——留守儿童寄语

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小编摘要:中国农村有数百万留守儿童,他们的父母外出打工时把他们留在家里。这些孩子中有些由他们的爷爷奶奶或外公外婆照顾,还有些就被送进寄养中心。这已经成了一种社会现象。

Wang Tingting last saw her parents nearly two years ago, but now that they are reunited, no one knows what to say to one another. Finally, Su Taoying, Tingting’s mother, clasps her 12-year-old daughter’s hand and says, ruefully, “Next time I see you, you will be taller than me.” As they smile, the family resemblance is striking. And yet for the past five years they have not really been a family.

 Wang Tingting is one of tens of millions of ­children in rural China growing up without their parents – parents who have decamped to the cities in order to earn a better living. Some of these children are cared for by their grandparents, but others are handed over to foster centres. Three years ago, as she was about to enter junior high school, Tingting’s parents moved her from her grandparents’ home to a foster centre in Gufeng, their remote village in the eastern province of Anhui. Nobody here found that strange: fewer than half of the children in Gufeng live with their parents, a situation repeated across several provinces in the heavily populated southern half of China.

The Chinese government estimates that there are 58 million “left-behind children”, which accounts for almost 20 per cent of all the children in China, and close to half of all children in the countryside. Their lives illustrate the price China is paying for president Hu Jintao’s goal of building a “moderately well-off society”.

Under Mao Zedong, countless families were ripped apart. Mao sent millions of parents into labour camps and their children to the countryside; he forced families to abandon the stoves in their homes and to use communal kitchens and dorms. Even so, Mao failed, ultimately, to destroy the family as the basic cell of Chinese society.

Today, what the dictator was unable to accomplish with force is being realised instead by the lure of money. It is 33 years since the Communist party embarked on a course of economic reform, under “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping, and increasing numbers of Chinese are choosing to live permanently separated from their children as they search for a better life.

This is a social experiment on an unprecedented scale. Professor Ye Jingzhong, a sociologist at China Agricultural University, has conducted extensive research into the issues raised. “The migrant worker phenomenon has led to separation of families in other countries, most notably the Philippines, but that’s on a much smaller scale, and mostly cross-border,” he says. “We have to acknowledge that our development model is too much focused on GDP growth, and this is the fallout.”

Last week, China celebrated lunar New Year, its biggest festival, during which families are expected to gather. Across the country, towns and villages such as Gufeng (or “Lonely Peak”), where Tingting was born, were filling up with returning migrant workers. For most of the year, 80 per cent of Gufeng’s working-age population is absent, the majority 230 miles (and six hours) away in Shanghai, or in Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province further south. Others are in Hefei, the provincial capital, a three-hour bus ride away.

Gufeng sits among lush hills covered with dense fir and bamboo forests. The quiet, narrow valleys in between are sprinkled with ancient mud farmhouses and newer, two-storey brick and cement dwellings, paid for by remittances sent from ­villagers working in the cities. Now, despite the freezing temperatures and a constant drizzle of snow, the market on the village’s main street was thronging with shoppers, umbrellas in one hand and ­vegetable baskets in the other, preparing for the biggest dinner of the calendar, and catching up on a year’s worth of village gossip.

Tingting’s parents were in Gufeng, too, but their visit was inspired not by New Year but by her paternal grandmother’s funeral. “Normally we don’t come back much,” says Su Taoying. “It’s so far, and we are so busy.” The 40-year-old works as a cleaning lady in Shanghai, where Wang Jiacai, her 42-year-old husband, is a construction worker. Both say they will lose their jobs if they take ­holidays without good reason.

When I first meet Tingting at the foster centre, I ask her what she likes best about her mum and what they talk about when they are together. She gives a blank stare. The girl feels her parents have little time for her, even during this short visit. “They are over at my uncle’s and keep talking to the relatives and the neighbours,” she says. “I sit next to them and listen.” Tingting seems nervous. When she frowns, the slight dimples on her smooth forehead remind one of the tired and shy expression on her mother’s face. That afternoon, when Tingting takes me to meet her parents, at the house where she was born, mother and daughter stand as close together as they can, clasping each other’s hands. When her mother looks at her, Tingting ­suddenly bursts into tears.

The Wang family’s two-storey house looks unfinished, with gaping window holes on the second floor. The rooms there can’t be reached because the staircase has not been built yet. Tingting’s father tore down part of the ancestral home’s mud walls and added this building 15 years ago, before he married Su. “But then the money was used up, and I went to Shanghai to work, so I have never lived in this house,” he says. As he talks, he recognises the irony of the story and his melancholic face breaks into a quick laugh.

Jiacai apologises for the fact that the house is not presently much of a home at all. The main room is empty, save for a square wooden dining table with four narrow benches. In the huge, dark kitchen, Jiacai’s 77-year-old father squats next to the oven for warmth. Now that his wife has died, he will live here alone.

After Tingting’s mother left for the city, five years ago, her grandparents raised her in this home. But when the time came for her to attend junior high school, Tingting’s parents sent her to the foster centre set up 10 years ago by Wang Zhi, a retired local government official who had become concerned about the number of neglected children roaming the streets at night. The centre has since housed more than 1,000 children; at the moment, 80 children live here, sleeping six or eight to a dorm room and eating together in one big dining hall. They walk to and from school together, singing, in rows of two, led by old Mr Wang.

For many parents, transferring their children to a place that undeniably resembles an orphanage was not a decision born of neglect; it was the best choice available.

Zhang Zhongtao, 47, has left her home in Gufeng to work in Shanghai. Her 15-year-old son, Li Guangyao, has joined her there for Chinese New Year. Like Wang Tingting, Guangyao lives at Wang Zhi’s foster centre. “We had to do that, because otherwise the children turn bad,” says Zhongtao. “They hang out on the street and go to the internet café.”

“Not everything is negative about left-behind children – they learn earlier to be independent, which is a good thing,” says Deng Li, director of the Children’s Work Department of the All-China Women’s Federation, which leads a government working group on left-behind children. “But you can’t deny that they suffer. These children tend to have difficulty in opening up emotionally. They run a higher risk of getting hurt due to lack of supervision. We also find that they run a higher risk of getting involved in illegal activities as teenagers.”

And yet the government estimates that the number of children left behind by their parents will grow before it starts to decrease. “This is a stage in China’s development,” says Li.

The largest numbers live in the populous provinces of the central and southern half of the country: Sichuan, Anhui, Henan, Hunan and Jiangxi. The government expects that migration patterns will change as economic development trickles down from the coast and some inland regions see more industrialisation and urbanisation. “There will be more jobs at home in some of these five provinces, so people will start migrating from even poorer and more remote provinces,” says Li. The result, she says, will be that “there may be fewer left-behind children in some places, but there will be more in others”.

Charitable projects aimed at supporting the children are mushrooming in many parts of the ­country. Wang Zhi’s foster centre in Gufeng has attracted donations from local government and business leaders. “These children need not just material goods, they also need to learn,” says Zhi. “And they need to learn not just knowledge from books, but also how to be a decent human being.”

But while such support as Wang Zhi’s is vital, it is a drop in the ocean. “Caring is good, but it treats the symptoms without addressing the root cause of the problem,” says Ye Jingzhong. He struggles to conceal his anger as he accuses Beijing of having few policies to target the problem. He also bemoans the lack of consensus about its importance. “Do we really have to discuss the significance of family in the upbringing of a human being?” he asks.

Academics, as well as local government officials, agree that the reason so many migrant workers leave their children behind is that it is almost impossible to raise them in the city. Other than the financial imperative to seek work, there are complex restrictions in China’s household registration, education and health systems that ultimately affect where it is best to bring up a child.

Guangyao’s family – like Tingting’s parents – insist they had no choice but to separate from their son. “We used to be rice farmers, but the income from that is just not enough to raise a child,” says Zhang, who works in Shanghai as a cleaner at Cash Box, a large karaoke chain. Her husband, Li Xiaolong, is a parking fee collector. The couple’s salaries are just enough to cover the Rmb1,000 (£94) monthly rent for the two windowless rooms they inhabit, and the Rmb10,000 (£940) a year they need for Guangyao’s education.

When the couple felt that their own parents were losing control of their grandson, they brought Guangyao to Shanghai, where he attended elementary school for two years. But continuing at junior high school in Shanghai would have created insurmountable problems for Guangyao later in life. China requires children to take university entrance exams in the place where their household registration is, and that registration cannot easily be changed, especially from a rural to a big city address. Since the content and grading of those exams differs by region, a migrant worker child who attends senior high school in Shanghai would have almost no chance of passing the university entrance exam in his or her home province. (The same is true for senior high school entrance exams.) Most migrant worker families must therefore send their children back home when they reach junior high school age, if not before.

The practical difficulties extend beyond education. Medical insurance for rural residents is often much more limited than for those citizens with an urban registration, and it rarely covers treatment provided in the city.

And yet for many younger migrants, life in the city is a choice – one they are not ready to give up in order to have a family.

Li Xiaoming is 27 and works on an assembly line at Flextronics, the Nasdaq-listed electronics producer, in the southern manufacturing hub of Zhuhai. Xiaoming, who is from Hunan province, 560 miles away, took a few months off work in late 2009 to have a baby, but has left her one-year-old daughter in her mother’s care back home, and is back in her job. She has big plans – both for herself and her one-year-old daughter.

Would she prefer to spend more time at home with her child? “I prefer to think men and women are equal now. I think if I went back [to Hunan], it might feel good now, but I would grow dissatisfied with myself and my life after a while.”

Xiaoming hopes to take advantage of the training opportunities at Flextronics to get a better-paid job. And for her daughter? She expects to spend a lot of money on her music lessons: “I hope she will become a pop star. That requires a lot of training.”

Li Guangyao’s mother also invests her hopes in the next generation. “Of course I think, sometimes, that it’s unfortunate that we can’t be together, but we’re giving him the best we can,” says Zhang Zhongtao. “We’re giving him an education. Compared with what we had to go through, his life is paradise already.”

Her son does not dispute that. With a playful grin, he says that life is good. Back in Gufeng, Guangyao enjoys playing basketball, and at night he loves telling silly jokes with his roommates in the dark, after the lights go out in the foster ­centre’s dorm. But the teenager is thinking ahead. As he sits on a stool in his parents’ dark and chilly room in Shanghai, he says: “When I grow up, I want to be an engineer and develop materials to make better house insulation.”

Kathrin Hille is the FT’s Beijing correspondent

One child’s story

Wang Li

Wang Li (centre), with her friends Zhang Xinyuan (left) and Zhu Guli in their dormitory at the Gufeng foster home
One thing Wang Li still has in common with her mother is that they both live in a dorm. The 14-year-old shares a room with five other girls at Wang Zhi’s foster home in her native Anhui province, in the east of the country. Her mother lives in a dorm room with seven other women at the electronics factory where she works in Shanghai, more than 230 miles away.

Li moved into the foster home after she left primary school. Her mother had gone to work in Shanghai when Li was a toddler and her father followed when she entered primary school, leaving Li in the care of her illiterate grandparents. The grandparents, who work in the fields all day, gave her love and warm meals, but could supply little else. Li says that when she entered junior high school her parents felt she needed assistance with her homework, so they moved her into the foster home.

Li was desperately homesick after she moved to the foster home, but worse was to come. Two months after she arrived, her mother called during lunch break to tell her that she and her father were getting divorced. “Many children in the village had spread rumours before, that my mother was a loose woman because she had gone to the big city, but I’d always defended her,” says Li. “It felt like they’d been right all along.”

However, Li survived those troubles and today she is a self-assured teenager. “We are more independent and sensible than some other children of our age,” she says. Sitting on her dorm bed with two of her roommates, she says she wouldn’t want to live any other way. “There is little to talk about with my mum when she visits,” she says. “My friends are the most important people in my life now.”

One parent’s story

Fang Yaojin

Fang Yaojin speaks to his son on Tuesdays. The 39-year-old works as a kitchen helper in an upmarket restaurant on the outskirts of Shanghai; his wife, Yu Yingmei, is a waitress in the same restaurant. Their 13-year-old son, Yu Jun, lives in a foster home in a remote valley in Anhui.

“I can call him once a week,” says Yaojin. “I ask him about progress at school; if his grades have gone down, I tell him to improve.”

Yaojin, who has lived in Shanghai since he was 21, says he and his wife have no option but to live apart from their son. “The income from farming is not enough to properly raise a child. Our level of education is too low; I hope that my son can enjoy a better education.”

Yu Jun spent the first few years of his life with his grandparents, before joining his parents in Shanghai, where he completed six years of elementary school. Last year, they sent him back to the village to attend junior high school, and he moved into the foster home.

Yaojin used to be a cook, but last year he injured his right arm and hand in a workplace accident, so now he can perform only menial odd jobs in the kitchen. He earns less money and receives fewer benefits. His broad, dark face seems out of place in the modern, steel-clad kitchen, and he is afraid to touch anything he is not supposed to. At Chinese New Year, when once he would go home to visit his son, Yaojin must stay behind because the restaurant is so busy.

“I am sad that we can’t see him this year, but this is the best we can do,” says Yaojin. “My son is a good student. I hope he can attend military school and become a soldier, so he can make a contribution to society when he grows up.”


12岁的王婷婷有近两年都没有见到父母。现在她们团聚了,面对面的一家人却都不知道该说些什么。最后,王婷婷的妈妈苏桃英抓住女儿的手,伤心地说:“下次再见面的时候,你该比我高了。”笑起来的时候,母女就像一个模子刻出来的相像。不过过去五年里,这个家庭也许并不能算是个完整的家庭。

王婷婷只是中国农村数百万留守儿童中的一个,他们的父母外出打工时把他们留在家里。这些孩子中有些由他们的爷爷奶奶或外公外婆照顾,还有些就被送进寄养中心。三年前,婷婷要上初中,她的父母就把她从爷爷奶奶家带到家乡孤峰-安徽省的一个偏远乡村。婷婷被送进这里的一家寄养中心。这里的人对此已习以为常:孤峰只有不到一半的儿童和父母生活在一起。在人口稠密的中国南部的很多省份,这种现象并不罕见。

官方估计中国留守儿童的数量有58万左右,相当于中国儿童总数的五分之一,接近农村儿童总数的一半。他们的生活说明中国正在为建设“小康社会”付出代价。

毛时代著名的上山下乡劳动改造和大锅饭运动也造成了很多的家庭分离。不过最后领袖仍然没有消灭家庭这一中国社会的基本单位。

现代社会,这样强制性的行政手段显然不再适宜,取而代之的是金钱的诱惑。邓小平领导下的CPC进行改革开放到现在已有33年的历程,越来越多的中国人选择外出谋生而离开自己的子女。

这是一项规模空前的社会试验。中国农业大学社会学家叶敬忠教授曾今对这些问题进行了广泛的调研。他说:“农民工现象在国外也是家庭分离的原因,其中菲律宾最明显。不过那都是小范围的,大多是发生在出国务工的情况下。我们不得不承认:我们国家的发展模式过于注重GDP增长,这就带来了这些社会问题。”

上周是中国的农历新年,也是中国人最隆重的节日,每个人都希望在这天全家团聚。包括孤峰在内的全国城镇乡村全是返乡的农民工。全家的大部分时间,孤峰80%的劳动年龄人口都在外地,其中大部分在230哩外、距离6个小时铁路路程的上海或在更远的南方富裕沿海省份浙江。还有一些去了省会合肥,距离3个小时的公路路程。

孤峰位于在繁茂的杉树和竹林覆盖的山陵之中。宁静狭窄的小路两边坐落着古老的茅坪土砖屋,还有些更新的砖水泥结构的小楼。建造这些新房子的费用就是外出打工的乡里人寄回来的。尽管现在气温很低,还下着小雨,村里的主道集市上挤满了人。他们一手撑着伞,一手拎着菜篮,为一年中最丰盛的晚饭-年夜饭采购食材。采购的同时,他们还没忘了打听一年来村里的流言蜚语。

婷婷的父母也回到了孤峰。不过他们回家不是因为过年,而是回来参加婷婷奶奶的葬礼。苏桃英说:“正常情况下我们就不回来了。太远了,我们也太忙。”这个40岁的妇女在上海做清洁工。他的丈夫王家财42岁,也在上海做建筑工。他们都说如果没有充分理由就回家的话就会被开除。

我第一次在寄养中心见到婷婷时,我问她最喜欢妈妈的什么地方、和妈妈在一起的时候会说些什么。她的表情很茫然。这个女孩认为父母陪伴自己的时间太少太少,包括在这次短暂的返乡过程中。她说:“他们一直在叔叔家,和亲戚、邻居们说话。我坐在他们旁边听。”婷婷有些羞怯。她皱眉的时候,光洁的额头上出现浅浅的皱纹,和她母亲疲倦和害羞的表情一样。那天下午,婷婷带我回家见她的父母,婷婷就是在那里出生的。母女两人紧紧依偎在一起,紧握着对方的手。母亲看着婷婷的时候,这个女孩突然掉下了眼泪。

王家的两层小楼还没完工,二楼的窗户也没有装上。因为楼梯还没修,也无法走到二楼的房间。15年前,王家财为了和苏桃英结婚,推到了祖屋的一段泥墙,加盖了这个小楼。他说:“不过钱用完了,我就到上海打工了。所以我从来没住过这栋房子。”王家财说话的时候,可能感到自己的故事有些讽刺意味,一直阴郁着脸的他也笑了一下。

王家的房子看起来完全不像一个家,家财对此惭愧不已。客厅空荡荡的,只放了一张案板和四条长凳。宽敞但漆黑的厨房里,家财77岁的老父亲蹲在炉灶旁边取暖。家财的母亲已经去世,老父亲一个人住在这里。

婷婷的妈妈五年前进城打工的时候,爷爷奶奶在这里抚养她。不过上初中以后,婷婷就被父母送到寄养中心。当地一个退休干部王志因为担心很多缺乏照料的儿童夜里还在大街上游荡,10年前成立了这个寄养中心。直到今天,已经有1000多个孩子在这里住过。现在有80个孩子生活在这里,他们6个人或8个人住一间宿舍,在大食堂集体进餐。王老先生每天送他们到学校,再把他们接回来。路上,孩子们排成两队,边走边唱。

对很多父母来说,把孩子送到无异于孤儿院的寄养中心并非不能考虑,事实上这是最佳选择。

47岁的张忠桃从孤峰到上海打工。他的儿子李光耀今年15岁,也去上海和她过年。和王婷婷一样,李光耀平时也在寄养中心生活。张忠桃说:“我们也只能这样,不然孩子会学坏。他们在街上溜达,去网吧。”

中国妇联带头成立了农村留守流动儿童政府工作组,妇联儿童部部长邓丽说:“留守儿童的遭遇并非都是不利的,他们更早学会独立,这是件好事。但我们无法否认他们正在受到伤害。这些孩子往往会更内向、更难与人交流。因为缺乏监护他们更容易受到伤害。我们还发现,留守儿童参与青少年犯罪的比例更高。”
 不过政府预计留守儿童的数量会持续增多。邓丽说:“这是中国发展进程中的一个阶段。”

大多数留守儿童生活在中国中部和南方人口稠密的省份:四川、安徽、河南、湖南和江西。政府预计:在经济发展从沿海向内陆扩散、一些内陆地区也开始出现工业化和城市化趋势的时候,人口迁徙现象也会发生变化。邓丽说:“这五个省内的工作机会越来越多,农民工也就开始来自更贫穷更遥远的地方。”这种变化的结果就是“一些地方的留守儿童减少了,另外一些地方却更多了。”

全国各地也纷纷出现了众多旨在保护儿童的慈善项目。王志的孤峰寄养中心曾经收到了来自当地政府和商界领袖的捐赠。他说:“这些孩子需要的不光是财物,他们还需要学习。他们不仅要学习书本上的知识,还要学习如何为人处事。”
 尽管王志的寄养中心和类似的慈善机构解决了很多孩子的困难,但也只是杯水车薪。叶敬忠说:“关爱是好的,但治疗这种社会病一定需要找到根本病因。”在他指责政府对这些问题鲜有对策的时候,极力掩饰着自己的愤怒。他问:“家庭在个人成长中的重要性还需要讨论么?”

专家和当地政府官员都认为,农民进城打工时把孩子留在老家的原因是他们几乎没有能力在城里养大孩子。除了急切地需要工作挣钱之外,中国的户籍制度、教育和医疗体系都有种种限制,这些都决定了把孩子留在老家也许是最好的选择。

和婷婷的父母一样,光耀的父母也坚持说他们没有办法,只能和儿子分居两地。张忠桃:“我们以前靠种粮食生活,不过收入根本不够养孩子。”她现在在上海钱柜(一个大型卡拉OK连锁企业)做清洁工,她的丈夫李小龙是一个停车场的收费员。他们住的是两个连窗户都没有的房间,两个人的收入勉强能够支付每月1000元的房租和光耀每年10000元的上学费用。

这对夫妻觉得爷爷奶奶渐渐管不了光耀的时候,他们把光耀带到上海。光耀在那里上了两年小学。但是继续上初中对光耀以后的生活会带来严重的问题。中国要求考生必须在户籍所在地参加高考,而户籍是很难改变的,特别是从乡村迁到大城市。因为各省区高考内容和难度都不一样,在上海上学的农民工子女参加本省的高考几乎是不可能考上大学的。(译者:WCNMLGB)所以大多数农民工家庭必须在孩子上初中之前把他们送回老家上学。

农民工家庭面临的困难不止是教育问题。农村居民的医疗保险不仅比城镇居民有多得多的限制,而且农民工在务工所在城市看病费用一般不在保障范围。

尽管如此,对很多年轻民工来说,进城是种机遇-为了家庭也不能放弃的机遇。

李晓明27岁,现在在伟创力公司在珠海的一条装配线上工作。晓明来自900多公里外的湖南,她在2009年底的几个月没有上班,生了个孩子。不过她已经回老家把1岁大的女儿留给外婆照顾,自己回来重新工作了。她对自己和1岁的女儿都有长远的打算。

她愿意花更多的时间在家带孩子吗?“我认为女人现在和男人是平等的。我想如果我回老家湖南,可能现在感觉会很好,但过一段时间我对我自己和我的生活就不会再满意了。”
 李晓明希望利用在伟创力的培训机会寻找收入更高的工作。至于她的女儿,李晓明准备花大钱送女儿去上音乐课。“我希望她能成为歌星,这需要大量的训练。”

李光耀的母亲同样对下一代倾注了希望。她说:“当然,有时候我会想,不能在一起是不好,不过我们竭尽所能给他最好的。我们送他上学,和我们以前的生活比起来,他现在的生活算得上天堂了。”

光耀没有辩解,他顽皮地笑笑说,生活是美好的。在孤峰,光耀喜欢打篮球,宿舍熄灯后,他喜欢和寄养中心的舍友们摸黑说冷笑话。不过,这个少年有自己的理想。坐在父母在上海黑暗阴冷的出租屋里,他说:“等我长大了,我想做一名工程师。研究出的新材料能让房子更保温。”
标签:留守儿童
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2011-02-08 17:25 编辑:kuaileyingyu
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