The folk quartet, Jiu Ye, perform songs that explore the myriad challenges facing women. Two of its members themselves migrated to Beijing from the North East and have worked in low-skilled jobs for many years. While on tour, they seek inspiration for songs from other migrant workers.
Around 282 million Chinese people are employed in urban areas, but registered as living in the countryside. While some shuttle back and forth to families at home, others have grown up in cities but are still classed as migrants by the government.
This significant demographic is marginalized and underpaid. ‘Many factories require migrant workers because they do not make trouble, and wages are lower for female than for male workers,’ said band member Duan Yu, in an interview for WeMedia, part of China’s social networking site, Weibo.
In a distinctly apolitical music scene, their message is coming at the right time. ‘The relaxation of the one-child policy in China has sparked a wider discussion about the labour conditions of women workers,’ says Keegan Elmer of workers’ rights organization China Labour Bulletin. He explains that women are beginning to contest barriers to career advancement and are pushing back against uneven responsibilities at home.