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Name, But Do Not Shame, Migrant Workers

"Bangbang, take this luggage from the railway station to my home two stops away; I will pay you 10 yuan (US$1.23)."

"Bangbang, would you please bring the repaired television to my office on the 10th floor. But there is no elevator in the building."

Such instructions can be heard every day on the streets of Chongqing, southwest China's largest city. "Bangbang," which literally means stick, is the nickname used for the farmers-turned porters in this hilly city who use poles to carry things about.

But does the word "bangbang" smack of prejudice against the workers? That debate has been going on in the city since Mayor Wang Hongju suggested using a more amiable and apt name for the porters last month.

They do the hardest, most tiring, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the city yet receive the lowest wages, Wang said.

Public opinion on a new name for "bangbang" is divided. Wan Hanmin, a 41-year-old taxi driver, said "bangbang" was a neutral word. He said it was not necessary to change it, as it was not discriminating against the workers.

But people who share the mayor's view have so far suggested eight names to replace "bangbang." Most of them favor "overman" or "mister" for male porters and "sister" for female porters.

Bangbang began to arrive in Chongqing after China introduced its reform and opening-up policies in the late 1970s. As the State then no longer banned farmers from leaving their villages to find jobs in the cities, they started to flock to Chongqing to earn money as porters.

Nobody knows exactly how many "bangbang" live in the city, which has a population of 30 million. But they seem to be everywhere and help make life convenient for many local people.

As most porters in the city are from the countryside and "bangbang" has become a household name, locals are used to calling all migrant rural workers in the city "bangbang."

The mayor said that on average each migrant worker from the countryside creates wealth valued at around 25,000 yuan (US$3,080) in Chongqing each year. But their per capita annual income is only 8,000 yuan (US$990). We should respect them for their contribution to the city, added Wang.

The working and living conditions of the porters are poor and their security cannot be guaranteed. Only between 10 and 15 percent have received professional training, the mayor was quoted as saying by local media.

Around 92 percent of rural migrant workers who responded to a questionnaire said they were discriminated against, said the mayor.

For example, some residents who promised to pay porters five yuan (61 US cents) to take groceries home only actually paid them two yuan (24 US cents). The porters were angry but could do nothing, Wang said.

(China Daily October 10, 2005)

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