A pint of blood for a glass of milk: the other side of China’s economic ascendancy

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China has been making news due to its powerful economic growth. The other side of this story, however, is to be found in the terrible conditions and low pay that many of its workers have to suffer. Here is one example of a milkman.

On Saturday (31/7), it was officially announced that China is now the new No.2 economy in the world in terms of absolute GDP figures. The announcement comes as no surprise. In 2009 China was already close to surpassing Japan. If it were to continue at the present pace – a big if ‑ it could even take over the US sometime around 2025 according to the projections by the World Bank, Goldman Sachs, and others.

However, on the same of day of this earth-shattering announcement that has caught the attention of people around the world, some marvel and others worry. A Shanghai milkman, Jin Yousheng, has no time to follow this news as he has 300-plus bottles to deliver everyday. Earning 0.2 yuan every bottle, he takes home 2000 yuan a month to support his unemployed wife and two daughters.

So when he cut his right foot on a piece of glass during his daily milk trip, bleeding profusely, he refused to go to the hospital and insisted on completing his route. This “sense of sacrifice” was not because of any “sense of duty” to make sure that all the workers get their daily milk before going out to work and “build socialism”, or that every child doesn’t miss out on their daily nourishment. No. This simple man merely said “I can’t go to the hospital, the customers will report it to my boss.” Milk has to be delivered because a milkman stands to lose 10 yuan ($1.5) for every complaint sent to his boss.

Like a battle-weary soldier, he ripped off his underwear and used it to wrap his bleeding foot, and continued marching on to complete his mission, a bottle of milk at a time, leaving a trail of blood from one apartment to the other. He kept on until he could hardly breathe anymore due to blood loss. He was finally admitted to the hospital.

The benevolent milk company, Shanghai-based Bright Dairy, expressed their heart-felt concern, asking the residents to be nicer to the milkmen and not threaten to report them for trivial matters. “The milkmen are serving thousands of households, they may be low paid, but they are not doing an insignificant job,” said Zhang, the company’s spokesperson.

Jin, a native from Jiangsu province, might feel better knowing that he is doing an important job, a not “insignificant job”. But he is not. Mere words and phrases do not change the fact that he, with thousands of others milkmen, is low paid. Words of how important one’s job is don’t put a bowl of rice on the table.

Suddenly, the significance of China’s ascendancy to the position of second largest economy in the world, and projected to be the first by 2025, is dwarfed by this tabloid-style story of a simple worker, who will most likely be forgotten the next day. Marx said that capitalism was born “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” Jin too has spilled his share of blood in helping the advance of Chinese capitalism.

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