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A Chinese Man's Struggle (6)
I Became A Peasant Labourer

3 February 2009

The following is an English translation of the core text of a Chinese post currently appeared on China's online forum. The author, a man from poor rural area with college education, tells his true story (as he so claims) of how he struggles with his career and marriage in a big city:

1, I Didn't Want to Give UP
2, I Took up Challenge
3, I Gave Up
4, I Was Left On My Own
5, A Poor Man's Lonely Festival


Chinese New Year festival ended, and my brother returned from the village, bringing back some preserved hams. By then I just realised I had not tasted meat in many days.

I did not inform my brother that I was going to look for a job in a construction field. No need for that. I made a phone call to my wife, telling her my situation would improve and plead her to hold out, and that if she found it was too hard to do so, she could ask for a divorce.

One day I went to a remote construction field, a short and fat man shouted at me, demanding to know what my business was there. When I told him I was looking for a job, he scanned me from the top to the toe with deep suspicion.

"You don't look like a peasant labourer," declared he.

I told him I was not a peasant labourer previously, but now I decided to be one since I could not find any other jobs.

He was not convinced, and went to the door to look around - I knew he hoped to find his staff. Pity, he found no one - most peasant workers were yet to return from their village. "Come with me," he then said to me, and led me to warehouse. "Can you move these stuff to another building?" he asked, pointing at a pile of cardboard boxes.

I immediately got on with the job, but almost sprained my back when I tried to lift a box. I didn't realise cardboard box could be that heavy.

"There are all metal stuff inside," he explained, grinning.

Through a gap in the box, I caught glimpse of set screws, and each box could weight 40 kg. All though the distance between the two buildings was just a hundred metres, I had to take several breaks in every trip.

And I got ten yuans after the job was done.

"Normally I would only pay 5 bucks for this job if it was done by an ordinary labourer," said he.

I returned five yuans to him. I only wished to be an ordinary labourer - to receive more than what one deserves may result in serious consequences. And again, I let him know that I wouldn't mind to do any kind of job that might be available.

In the course of the conversation I learned he was called Old C, a relative of a major subcontractor of the project, and responsible for purchasing building materials.

"No subcontractor would ever hire you, trust me," he stated, plainly. "You don't look tough enough to handle this kind of work."

Previously I thought anybody could be a construction worker. Not so, apparently, which made me so despondent. Just at the time I felt I had run out of options, I heard him ask me, "Do you like to help installing bridge structures?"

Of course I did. Overjoyed, I was going to give him a cigarette to express my gratitude, but when I noticed the brand of the cigarette he was smoking, I gave up my attempt.

Then he offered me a cigarette. I told him I did not smoke.


I've just been fired by a big company without any reason given, nor did they offer me redundancy payment. They didn't even bother to give me a 30-day notice. I was totally disoriented when receiving the news. Later when I asked, I was told that it is because I was not coping my job. You see that, they are not only taking my job away but also trying to take away my self-confidence. If I was that bad why they allowed me to go through the probation period? Now after nearly half a year, they suddenly discovered I was not fit for the job. Obviously they just need someone to be the scapegoat of the bad sales performance.

Now I've lost my job for almost a week, and I feel terrible. I keep turning things around in my mind, and sometimes I think I might should return to home village. But on the other hand, I don't want to bow to my fate. Maybe it is also because, just like what you said, it is in fact no longer a valid option for me.

Thanks for your story, I'll keep following up, and I believe we'll all get through this cold winter. Spring shall eventually return.


I looked forward to work on bridge projects, despite I knew it should not be my lifetime profession.

Like most construction sites in China, people in this company do not return to work until lunar January 16, the next day of the traditional Lantern festival. Old C arranged me to be in a team with Old Liu and Little Zhang. Initially the two refused to take me in, saying I did not look tough enough to cope the manual work, until I promised them that they were free to leave the toughest tasks for me to handle.

And they did. I was told to operate electronic hammer to drill holes on walls. During the entire operation, I had to hold this bulky and heavy machine over my head, while the debris produced during drilling kept hurting my eyes. It was just like hell, but I knew I had to hold on.

I drilled nearly a hundred holes on the first day, and after work, I felt my arms no longer belonged to me, and did not return to my brother's renting room but shard a rough shed with my teammates.

For the first time in years, I had a truly sweet sleep at night.


When you have nothing to lose, you're free.

(Full Chinese text can be viewed at

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