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William: “in my heart, I am a peasant”

This is a conversation I had with William a few months ago, when I was only¬† just getting to know him (and hadn’t started blogging about his life). I can’t remember what turned the flow of our talk in this direction, but William began telling me how lucky he considers himself – being able to work in Beijing for an environmental magazine which involves hard hours but none of the back-breaking rural labour his parents endure:

Only a few people live like me. Most people live in another side, in a factory in South East China [for example] … I don’t need to work hard like them, I read books … In 1.3 billion people, the number of people like me are very small.

I asked him if he misses the countryside he – like so many young guys and girls in China’s capital – is originally from:

William: My parents are peasants, and in my heart, I am a peasant. I have no hukou [registration document] in the city, my ID is in the countryside … I’m not a city person.

Alec: Many peasants come to the city to make more money, there is more opportunity.

William: Make money is not my aim. Having food to eat is enough.

Alec: Your aim is to make a difference?

William: Yes. There are lots of pains in China. I think I should say something [speak out] as a peasant, not a city person. I will be a peasant for my life … In China there are two people: a city person and a rural person.

Well, I think there are two kinds of young immigrants from the countryside in Beijing: those who are all too eager to cut themselves off from their roots, and those who water those roots and keep them in mind (after all, you can change your leaves but not your roots). William is one of the latter. It’s why I consider myself lucky to be his friend.

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