By · 9 Nov 2013
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By ·
9 Nov 2013
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Xie cleans the public toilets in a central Beijing laneway, not far from where Xi Jinping lived as a youngster. Directly opposite her post is a boutique brewery where cashed-up locals and expats guzzle close to the equivalent of her daily wage (about 60 yuan) in a pint of craft beer.

As a migrant worker holding a non-Beijing rural hukou (household registration), Xie and her children have no access to Beijing's social security, healthcare or education. She works a 16-hour shift, and lives in a windowless basement dormitory where she shares a small room with three others. She has no days off, and has never been to Tiananmen Square.

Mooted reforms could mean villagers such as Xie and their future generations could gain more equal access to healthcare, education, and eventually better-paying jobs in the cities. Land reforms could also enable farmers to sell or mortgage their land and buy elsewhere - at present this is impossible. But giving rural folk a foothold also creates greater economic and social tension, with privileged city dwellers already bemoaning the strain on schools and hospitals this perceived underclass of rural migrants is creating.

Because of her work, Xie says some city folk look down on her. Not that she minds. Quite possibly the most cheerful person in Beijing, she says village life is too hard, with back-breaking work growing corn and barley still no guarantee of an income.
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