China ordered a halt Monday to the movement of hundreds of thousands of peasants who have flooded into major cities over the past month in search of work.
The State Council, China’s equivalent of a cabinet, said the influx from the countryside had turned law and order efforts into urban chaos.
It instructed local authorities to “persuade” the peasants to leave the cities and go home, but it did not specify how this was to be achieved. It also ordered local authorities to prevent more peasants from leaving their homes and told railways and bus companies to reduce service in the areas most affected by the rural exodus.
“We must collect our strength to persuade and stop the workers, so that they do not blindly go outside their own areas,” the order said. “We must persuade (those in the cities) to return to their own villages.”
Hordes of peasants have poured into Beijing, prosperous Canton in south China’s Guangdong province and other cities since the Chinese New Year festival last month.
Guangdong, bordering the British colony of Hong Kong, has been invaded by a work-hungry army of 2.5 million people and provincial authorities have warned that the peasants may have to be sent home by force.
The China Daily said Saturday that since an austerity program was started in September to bring an overheated economy under control, 81,000 rural firms had gone bankrupt and 30,000 others that are deep in debt have laid off hundreds of thousands of workers. It said many of the workers are unwilling to return to hard, poorly paid farm work.
China does not release unemployment figures but newspapers have spoken of 20 million to 30 million jobless and a similar number of “surplus workers"--people with jobs that give them salaries but nothing to do.