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Boom times in China: every day, young people are moving to China's booming cities as their parents search for work.

In a dusty suburb of China's capital city of Beijing, Yuan He, 10, sits quietly in her fifth-grade class. There are 57 students in the unheated classroom, each dressed in a winter coat to keep warm. These kids are all migrants. Their parents moved to Beijing from 11 different rural provinces in search of work.

A quarter century ago, most Chinese would have spent their lives growing corn, rice, or wheat under a Communist government that made it difficult for farmers to move to cities or change jobs. Today, the Communist Party still controls China, yet the country's people are anything but locked in place. More than 150 million migrant workers have left farms and are now doing the grueling work of building modern China.

Yuan He is the daughter of a construction worker. She arrived in Beijing five years ago from the vast central province of Sichuan. One of the smartest students in her class, Yuan He is already learning English. Farming does not figure in her future plans.

"I want to be a scientist," she told JS, standing behind her wobbly, wooden desk as her classmates listened. "But my mother says I should be a lawyer or a doctor because they make more money."

The Next Superpower?

With 1.3 billion people, China has long been the world's most populous nation. Now it is also one of the world's fastest-growing economies. It is emerging as the next superpower to rival the United States.

Factories along China's coast make clothes, electronics, toys, and many other goods sold in stores in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Beijing is hurriedly building stadiums, subway lines, roads, and thousands of structures for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Although much is changing in the new China, much remains unchanged. China still has an authoritarian government under which people cannot elect their national leaders. The Communist Party tightly controls political power and religious expression. It also forbids the Chinese news media from criticizing the government and national leaders.

Stark Contrasts

The result is a society of stark contrasts. The Chinese people are fleer than ever before to choose where they live, whom they marry, and what job they will do. At one time, all Chinese wore drab suits patterned after the one worn by Communist leader Mao Zedong (mow zeh-dawng). Now, people wear what they want. In cities, teenagers dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, play basketball and video games, and listen to their favorite pop singers from China, Taiwan, or South Korea.

China has more than 100 million Internet users, a number that grows each year. But the government employs more than 30,000 censors to surf the Web and block out forbidden information.

Anyone who publicly criticizes government leaders still faces the possibility of being jailed. The Communist Party controls China's legal system. Official corruption is widespread. Quality of life in rural areas is much lower than in the cities. China has a new class of millionaires, while more than 500 million people make less than $2 a day.

China's economic growth is astounding, but it has given rise to equally astounding air and water pollution. Air quality is horrific in many big cities, including Beijing. China is rushing to reduce pollution there before the Olympics begin in August 2008.

One reason for Beijing's air pollution is the huge construction boom. The lure of so many new jobs has brought people like Yuan He's father to do hard manual labor for little pay.

"I Was Ashamed"

Zhou Jing, a sixth-grader, came to Beijing seven years ago from rural Anhui Province, one of China's poorest. Her mother is a janitor, and her father is a cook.

"They want to save money to send me to school," the 12-year-old told JS. "I was ashamed of their jobs when I was little. I thought they were doing low-class work. But I no longer think that."

Migrants are indispensable to China's progress, yet they still face discrimination. Many live in cities illegally, without the residency permits required by the government. Sometimes, bosses do not pay them.

Many parents must leave their children with relatives when they move to the cities to work. Those who take their children must send them to unofficial schools with poor facilities and supplies.

The kids who talked to JS attend such a school--a complex of dusty, gray brick buildings on the outskirts of Beijing. Most of them know little about the contradictions and uncertainties Surrounding China's rising influence. All they know is that their parents are doing difficult, dirty work in part so that their futures will be better.

"I want to have a career," said 11-year-old Wu Zhuangxuan, a fifth-grade boy whose family is also from Anhui Province. "When I grow up, I want to go back and build up my hometown. I want to help make it modern."

* Words to Know

* authoritarian favoring blind submission to government officials.

* Communist a government based on state ownership of land and businesses. The Communist Party typically allows no opposition.

* migrant a person who moves from one place to another, often in search of employment.

* Think About It

1. What are some of the biggest challenges facing China today?

2. How might China's government change as the country becomes more of an economic superpower?

* Objectives

Students should be able to:

* point out some of the ways in which China is changing.

* understand what it means for a nation to be a superpower.

* Background

For more than two decades after the Communists seized control of China in 1949, that country and the West were on opposite sides in the Cold War. The People's Republic of China began to emerge from its isolation in 1972, when U.S. President Richard M. Nixon paid a historic visit to that country. China's long progression to its current, growing economic status began with reforms by Mao Zedong's most important successor, Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s.

* Critical Thinking

MAKING INFERENCES: What are some pluses and minuses of China's economic boom? (pluses: more jobs, higher quality of life in cities; minuses: air pollution, discrimination against migrant workers; other answers acceptable)

CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why are so many Chinese moving to cities, even though many jobs are hard labor with low pay, and migrant schools are poorly supplied? (greater chance of advancement, improvement in cities; higher quality of life; other answers acceptable)

* Activity

WHO'S GOT THE POWER?: Have students discuss what it means to be a superpower. In what ways is the U.S. a superpower? What might be different in the U.S. and/or world if China were to equal or surpass the U.S. in power?

STANDARD

SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8

* Production, distribution, and consumption: China's booming economy is drawing more and more Chinese workers to the cities, which in turn contributes to economic expansion.

RESOURCES

PRINT

* Barber, Nicola, Beijing (Gareth Stevens, 2003). Grades 4-7.

* Kalman, Bobbie, China: The Culture (Erabtree, 2000). Grades 4-7.

WEB SITES

* Kids From China factmonster.com/ipka/A0930061.html

* Visions of China/CNN cnn.com/SPECIALS/1999/china

* Use a word from this list to correctly complete each sentence.

Chicago, cities, Communist Party, countryside, elected to higher office, entrepreneurs, Europe, factory workers, farmers, given a better job, Green Party, honored, jailed, Liberal Party, Summer Olympics, the U.S., Winter Olympics, World Cup, World Series

11. Mao Zedong was once leader of China's

12. China is emerging as the next superpower to rival

13. Chinese seeking economic opportunities are moving to

14. Chinese who criticize their government's leaders may be

15. Beijing, China's capital, will be host city of the 2008

ANSWERS

11. Communist Party

12. the U.S.

13. cities

14. jailed

15. Summer Olympics

1. True or False? Child labor in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased since 2000. (false; increased)

2. Which political party controls China? (Communist)

3. What is the main cause of child labor? (poverty)

4. China is trying to reduce Beijing's air pollution before hosting what? (2008 Summer Olympics)

5. China's government requires city workers to have what? (residency permits)

6. What has killed or disabled millions of parents in Africa? (AIDS)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:World
Author:Yardley, Jim
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Feb 12, 2007
Words:1353
Previous Article:Hero or celebrity: don't confuse the glitter of stardom with real heroism.
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