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Migrant Worker Popstar Has Cause for New Year Celebration

Eight years ago 31-year-old migrant worker Sun Heng boarded a train bound for Beijing from Anyang City in central China's Henan Province with a guitar and not a lot else.


His life became governed by 1.5 yuan (19 US cents) a day busking on the streets. When he did find work, it was carrying heavy loads, riding rickshaws and singing for pittance in grotty nightclubs.


The turning point came in May, 2002. He founded a band of migrant workers and began to put on mini concerts exclusively for other migrant workers.


"We need songs about our lives, not hollow ditties or sweet melodies about urban vanity," said Sun.


The band has now stages over 200 performances for over 60,000 migrant workers and they have distributed over 100,000 cassettes and CDs. There are no exotic settings, no grand stages, no roadies and no big trucks. But the "Young Migrants Band" has a guaranteed fan base.


They began touring the country last December, performing their first gig in Sun's hometown of Anyang.


"It was so cold that even our voices were frozen, but none of the audience left until the last minute," said the young singer, who will continue his trip to Shenyang, Xi'an, Guangzhou and many other cities across China after the Spring Festival holiday.


Sung has spent the run-up to the Chinese New Year recording a new album, which includes a song called "Five Jiao (meaning six cents)".


The song was written about the real experience of a worker in Shenzhen. The man worked for several employers but not one of them paid him. When the New Year drew near, he had only five jiao in his pocket and had to lie to his mother about his life in the metropolis.


"There are always so many stories behind the people far away from home," said Sun, who has also been making a digital video newsreel as the Spring Festival approaches.


The heroine of the video is a woman from east China's Shandong Province. She operates a Shandong snack stall in suburban Beijing. Her husband is a truck driver who longs to buy his own truck for 20,000 yuan (about US$2,577). They have been working hard in Beijing for seven years but their ambitions are still distant dreams.


"I want to record the real life of migrant workers and create our own culture," Sun said.


As the New Year approaches, the band has been drawing more attention.


A week ahead of the Spring Festival, Sun attended the first celebration gala for 120 million migrant workers nationwide put on by CCTV.


"Work is glorious! Work is glorious!" he sang with more than a trace of irony. The performance will be broadcast to the whole country.


This year, Sun will spend New Year in Beijing with his family.


"It is the first time I have been able to spend New Year's Eve with my family in Beijing since I left my hometown," he said.


They have invited six friends who are migrant workers in Beijing but whose hometowns are all over China.


"They would rather spend the New Year's holiday in Beijing although it is the biggest time of family reunion for the whole nation," Sun said,


"Their annual income is about 5,000 yuan (about US$644), half of which would be used up for traveling expenses and gifts for family members if they went home," Sun said.


(Xinhua News Agency February 17, 2007)

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