Thursday, May 24, 2012

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed (Separation of Families)

There was another family highlighted in the film that I wanted to mention.  A male window washer in Shanghai was chronicled.  He is a migrant from the provinces who had come to seek better wages in the big city.  He risked his life on a daily basis doing a very dangerous job.  He washed high rise office buildings at night to avoid disrupting elite professional workers during business hours. 

Sadly, he lived in Shanghai alone.  He moved to Shanghai for economic opportunities, but due to the limited freedoms people have to relocate within the PRC, his wife and child had to stay in their home village.  That is such a sad situation, but not uncommon in the PRC in the twenty-first century. 

Tragically, this pattern in the PRC is not new in the world.  It is not uncommon for couples and parents/children to be split apart for long periods because of dire economic conditions that prompt adults (usually but not always males) to go elsewhere to earn money to support the family. For example, the current situation in the PRC is not unlike the plight of Mexican and Central American migrants in the United States who are separated from their families for months or years at a time.  And it is reminiscent of the separation of families in South Africa during the apartheid era when men would go work in mines or other locations far away from the “homelands” where their wives and children were legally confined.

Discovery Atlas: China Revealed focused on the window washer as he traveled home to see his wife and child at Lunar New Year.  This is a very common practice.  Many adults in the PRC have had to leave their families in the provinces to seek jobs in large urban settings.  They typically are poor and don’t have the resources to travel home very often.  The Lunar New Year is a huge holiday in Chinese culture, perhaps analogous to Christmas in the United States.  It is the time when many such families reunite. 

I felt so sad in watching the documentary that when the window washer arrived in his village, his little daughter did not recognize him or show any excitement over his presence.  She seems stunned and weary of him.  Understandably, he is heartbroken to be a stranger to his only child.  What parent wouldn’t be?  He has had to make huge sacrifices to provide financially for his family, and his daughter does not even know him.

Psalm 2:7

I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”