2016 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Earlham College

The Interrelationship between Family Planning and Migrant Labor in China

Mentors: Rajaram Krishnan, Professor of Economics, and Peng Yu, Assistant Professor of Politics
Students: Jacob Breen, Jacob Ebbs, Truman McGee, Hao Mai Hoan Nguyen, Dante Petti, and Elizabeth Swomley


The students – Hao, Dante, Elizabeth, Jacob, Truman, Jake in Suzhou.

Project Abstract

Two distinguishing aspects of China’s economic growth and development since 1978 has been the mass rural-urban migration and the one-child family planning policy. Our ASIANetwork SFF program project undertook a study of the interrelationship between demographics, migration, and development – on the interrelationship between the one-child policy and migration decisions. Specifically we attempted to understand the interrelationship between how family size and structure are influenced by migration opportunities, and how decisions to migrate are influenced by family size, structure and individual circumstances. We undertook a series of interviews with workers from different socio-economic categories ranging from white collar workers in the financial sector to factory and construction workers. In addition we had had the opportunity to engage with faculty and university students in Shanghai. Our surveys were conducted in three cities – Shanghai, Changzhou, and Kunshan. Even before we arrived in China for our summer fieldwork the team undertook a detailed study of the issues involved and prepared a working questionnaire which formed the foundation of our interviews. 

            Our time in China had a profound impact on the participating students in three ways—their understanding of current issues in the Chinese context, their interaction with the local people and their skill development and career preparation. The students gained a much better understanding of the connection between the one-child policy and the family structure of the migrant workers in China. Through a combination of jumping into the academic literature as well as doing field work in China the students got to grapple with the complexities in the lives of Chinese workers. The program also had substantial impact on the students’ interaction with local people. The students engaged the local individuals directly through face-to-face interviews. The interviews were conducted in both formal and informal settings. The processes were structured and non-structured by design with the former being capable of generating guided conversations while the latter being able to facilitate more open and free discussions. The students also had a number of opportunities to sharpen their career development skills including exploring graduate school and job opportunities. Presently we are analyzing the data putting together the final report and presentations we hope to make to different groups including at the ASIANetwork conference next April. We will continue to work on the project and look forward to its final completion.

The entire team with folks at Asiatech Source, Kunshan.

Dante Petti
For me travelling to China with the ASIANetwork program was a multifaceted experience. I learned a lot about myself and who I am from simply being abroad while at the same time learning how to conduct research and work with a team to complete a job. After all of the work was done, when analyzing the data, I found that the several main issues when it comes to the migrant labor phenomena and the child planning policy are that children today feel pressured to take care of their parents, children without Hukous have unequal access to education, and some children are left behind by their parents. An important aspect of being in China was working with local groups and organizations to complete the project. All of these people were so welcoming and were more than happy to share their lives with us in order to help further the pursuit of knowledge. With these partners we attended many dinners, which to me was valuable because of the cultural exchange that took place. We discussed and learned about each other, and after every meal was over people left the table with a full belly and a full mind. While on the trip I grew professionally in several ways. Firstly when working on the team I learned the importance of flexibility and how one must make sure to see the needs of others. Outside of working with the team, simply being in China and learning to communicate without language was also very important for me. Now that we are all back in school there is still more work to do. We are going to deeply analyze the data gathered and look at it from a wide perspective in order to see the patterns and trends at work in modern China. After we analyze the data, the observations made are going to be described in more detail. China overall was an amazing experience and could not have happened without the help from ASIANetwork.

Shanghai is Cool! Dante, Jacob, Truman, Jake.

Hao Nguyen
We studied the One-Child Policy (OCP) and internal migration problems in China. I had certain knowledge of these two issues prior to my trip to China. However, it was only when I went to China and conducted research that I understand these two issues in a clearer way. During the five-week research in China, my team had a wonderful opportunity to have conversations as well as conduct interviews and surveys with academics, students, blue-collar and white-collar workers in Shanghai, Kunshan, and Changzhou. We gained more in-depth understanding of the lives and thoughts of Chinese people, their hopes as well as tribulations, and their views on the two issues we wanted to investigate. We also learned how to communicate with people effectively in a language different from our own and how to manage the flow of the conversation. Moreover, ASIANetwork experience helps me a great deal when I plan my future and career development. What I learned about the interrelationship between migrant labor and family planning policy enabled me to widen my horizons on these economics topics. I want to apply to graduate programs in Economics, and the ASIANetwork experience will be an important part included in my application. I realized that there are a lot of job opportunities related to my Economics major in the financial sector or data analysis field in an international and dynamic city like Shanghai. When we return to Earlham, my team plans to analyze the notes and data we collected and complete the group report in the best manner. We will design the research poster and present it in several undergraduate conferences. We also plan to share our wonderful experience with high school students in Richmond and around Indiana as well as encourage other Earlham students and faculty members to apply for an ASIANetwork grant.

The Forbidden City – Dante, Hao, Elizabeth, Rajaram, Peng.

 Jacob Ebbs
The purpose of our research was to investigate how China’s family planning policies have affected the lives of migrant workers in China. From when we began our preliminary research to the completion of our final report we will spend over a year collecting and interpreting data from a variety of academic and first-hand sources. Most importantly we conducted interviews and surveys with Chinese citizens for whom both of these phenomena are lived realities. From these interviews I learned first and foremost that migrant labor and the family policies are the result of economic decisions, both on a governmental and individual level. Overall this project was a profound experience for me because, aside from travelling to Asia for the first time, I was touched both by the joy and kindness with which we were received by the people we worked with and by the gravity of some of the accounts we heard. In addition to the personal growth and expansion of knowledge that this opportunity allowed, I also have undoubtedly benefitted in an academic and a professional sense. As a graduate student with plans to conduct professional research and interviews this project provided me with invaluable experience. I now know what it takes to complete a long-term research project that requires a combination of academic investigation and personal interactions with people whose lives are intimately connected to the topic of research. Overall, I can’t think of a more enlightening and enriching way for me to transition from undergraduate to graduate studies.

With a group we surveyed in Shanghai who fed us.

Elizabeth Swomley
In doing this research project we hoped to learn more about China’s recently altered Family Planning Policy and the subsequent effects on migrant workers. At the start of this project I had only outsider knowledge on China’s One Child Policy, but was eager to learn more about what the real life implications of such family regulations looked like. I had little understanding, however, of the vast scale and circumstances of migration that regularly occurs in the country. Upon arriving in China we were able to conduct interviews and surveys across a wide demographic. We spoke with people working in a range of environments throughout three different cities, originating from a multitude of places across China, in positions from white to blue collar workers, men and women, and young and old. It was an incredibly valuable experience figuring out how to effectively engage and communicate with the migrant workers we interviewed both with and without the use of a translator. This is a skill I anticipate utilizing in my future endeavors as a nurse working internationally.

This research project marks the first opportunity I have had to travel to Asia. I was struck by the immense warmth and generosity of the people we met, and was tremendously humbled and honored by their willingness to tell us their stories. Many people shared with us brutal realities as well as simple pleasures, and the wide scope of conversations we had were wonderfully enriching. Overall, this experience has been the perfect transition out of my undergraduate degree. Having majored in Peace and Global Studies, this research project provided tangible connections between people globally, throughout varying political climates. The power of peaceful sharing of knowledge and mindful interactions could not have been better represented than it was in this exchange. Now that I am moving forward with a masters in nursing, I eagerly anticipate the future places I will go and interactions I will have, as I work towards providing care in areas of need around the globe.

There was as much thought for food, as there was food for thought! With AsiaTech Source people in Kunshan.

Truman McGee
During our five weeks in China, we investigated how China’s family planning policies have affected the lives of migrant workers in urban centers. Before we began preliminary research for the project I had very little knowledge on the One-Child Policy except for what I heard or read from American media. To prepare for our five weeks in the field, we spent nearly a year conducting preliminary research about China, Chinese politics, and the One-Child Policy to come up with two different research proposals. The decision to investigate the relationship between migrant labor and the One-Child Policy is the result of combing those two proposals. As we conducted interviews and had conversations with academics at various colleges, I learned that the migrant worker phenomenon in China is spurred by an individual’s desire to cultivate a better life for themselves and their family. The words within research articles became the stories that we were told as we learned about the lives of over sixty Chinese citizens. The opportunity to travel to China was a perfect way to align myself with the educational principles of Earlham College. Earlham prides itself on its opportunities for international education experiences and I feel that I grew both as an academic and as a person. Studying, traveling, and eating in a place where language and ethnic demographics are reversed was valuable as it shed light on the expansive nature of the world. As an Asian-American adoptee, this was a unique opportunity to immerse myself in a culture that is infinitely closer to my own. Furthermore, forming meaningful relationships with people from all around the world has led me to think how important one’s culture is and how we take it for granted each and every day. As a rising senior, this project gave me an invaluable opportunity to conduct professional interviews and research in an international context. I now have the skills to complete a long-term research project that involves academic research, personal conversations, and data analysis. I have enjoyed this opportunity that has made me a more confident student and a more inquisitive person.

Jacob Breen
For a month and a half, a group of eight of us ventured further than I would ever imagine, China. During the course of our visit we interviewed and surveyed 62 people – all from different walks of life and different parts of the country currently residing in and around Shanghai. We compiled the interviews and survey responses into a spreadsheet to find patterns and trends within Chinese society. From these interviews, we learned the main reason workers travel far and wide to find work was to provide for their family. The economic benefits outweigh all other benefits and disadvantages. Most don’t see their family for months at a time. – young children are left home in the villages with their grandparents as their parents work for their livelihood. Often workers face discrimination for being outsiders and lack a social network that will help them to find jobs and benefits. Hearing the first-hand accounts of the hardship and turmoil people have gone through for their families is humbling; listening to a young woman talk about atrocities befalling women she knew. To say this was a life-changing experience would not do it justice. It was a time where my heart and mind was challenged to the very core. I grew both personally and professionally on this trip. As a Public Policy major, conducting surveys and interviews is essential and a large part of future jobs and internships. The work I’ve done in China has given me a unique perspective – conducting interviews with a translator, working with strict guidelines, following both spoken and unspoken under the Chinese Government and in Chinese society, and being exposed to potential pitfalls when creating surveys and finding solutions to those problems. Across the board this project is the one of the most influential experiences I have had – it has affected my life in a profound way that other experiences have not been able to.