Migrant father, graduate son and their diverse dreams

By Xinhua,

Beijing : After years of scrimping and saving to send his son to college, carpenter Zhu Pijun, 54, refused to accept that his son wanted to go into business for himself.

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“I sent him to college so that he would have a secure job to raise his own family,” says Pijun. “I didn’t want him to take risks by establishing his own business.”

Pijun, a native of Sichuan province, had worked for decades in coastal cities so that his children could lead better lives. His son’s decision caused a rift in the family.

His son, Zhu Bo, an economics major, began looking online for customers for his father after graduation in 2004. A year later, he set up his own small interior decoration company.

“He is so naive. We are born farmers, and we don’t have capital or connections. How could it be so easy to start a business?” the father asks.

Bo, who started doing part-time sales while still in college, held his ground because he believed the prosperous market at that time had created a opportunities for the decoration industry.

At first he succeeded. The annual return in 2006 exceeded 170,000 yuan ($25,000).

All 13 technical personnel of his staff, including plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, carpenters and decorators, came from the rural areas, and half of them were from his home village.

They included his own father, who took up a carpenter’s post in the company in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province, and has a profile on the company website.

Rather than a monthly salary, Zhu was paid his daily expenses and his daughter’s tuition fees.

Zhu Bo has guaranteed his father’s job. He even gave his father more than 80,000 yuan ($12,000) as a bonus for his hard work over the past three years.

But the slowing economy and sluggish real estate market could bring hard times for the business.

“Business should have been good in the second half when the dry weather is suitable for decoration, but I only had one contract in the past three months,” says Zhu Bo.

Many migrant workers have returned to their rural homes as factories and building sites closed.

“Many people are upset about the current economic situation. Business always involves risks,” says Zhu Bo. “My plans have been disrupted by the downturn, but I still believe it can survive.”

His father, for the second time, has opposed his persistence. “He should give up the company, and find another job. Secure employment.”

Zhu Pijun says he can always find carpentry work in the city or return home to farm the land.

“I don’t worry about myself, because I am still strong enough to labour, but my son never did manual work before, and he should find a secure job in the city.”

Despite his father’s worries about the “adventure”, Zhu Bo is determined to remain an entrepreneur. He hopes to switch the company’s focus to office and shopping mall decoration, and plans to start a lamp exporting business in 2009.

He sees a huge gap between his generation and his father’s: “We have totally different backgrounds and we want different lives.”

The elder Zhu was born in the Ziyan Village, 30 km north of Xichong County in southeast China’s Sichuan province. Zhu wanted his children to go to college.

Zhu Pijun dropped out after five years of primary school when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966 and was apprenticed to a carpenter at 17.

Making furniture in the village, he could earn 1.2 yuan a day, but had to pay 1 yuan to his production team.

Zhu Pijun was among the first wave of millions of farmers who flocked to coastal cities in the 1980s to seek their fortunes.

China has about 130 million to 150 million migrant workers, 9 percent of the population. They have long streamed to prosperous coastal regions to work on building sites and in factories, clean streets and pursue their own dreams.

“The transient population, especially migrant workers, contributes a lot to urban development,” says Qiao Xiaochun, a professor, “and they were working hard for lives they want to have.”

Zhu Pijun arrived in Guangzhou in 1993 when the payment for manual work was 15 yuan ($2) a day, compared with 100 yuan ($15) now.

When his son was in college, Zhu had to pay 5,000 yuan ($730) a year for tuition fees, and he sent 500 yuan ($73) a month to cover his son’s living expenses in campus.

Since his daughter entered a teaching college in southwest China’s Chongqing city last year, Zhu Pijun has fulfilled his dream of sending his children to college “so they can have more opportunities”.

Zhu Pijun now lives with his wife, who does odd jobs in the city, in a 30-square-meter rented house in the suburbs because they cannot afford to buy one.

“I still work hard, but I am happy with my life now,” he says.

The son says he once had doubts, but after consideration, he decided not to give up. “I always wanted to be a successful businessman, and I believe I have found the right direction.”

They both admire late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of the reform and opening up, but for different reasons. The father is thankful for Deng’s rural reforms, while the son appreciates Deng’s insight and strong spirit in hard times.