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Profile: From migrant worker to reform pioneer

Xinhuanet, China, 31 December 2018 - Hu Xiaoyan had a quick trip to Beijing to receive her Reform Pioneer medal and then rushed back to work in south China's Guangdong Province. Chinese Spring Festival is a month away, which is the busiest time of year for her.

Hu, 44, is the deputy chairman of a labor union in Sanshui District in the city of Foshan, where 200,000 migrant workers are striving for better lives.

Most of them will travel back to their hometowns for the annual holiday.

"We need to make sure they have a safe journey back home, and we'll organize activities for those who stay here during the festival, to make them feel less homesick," Hu explained.

She must also prepare for the local factories' recruitment after the holiday, as well as working on the 2019 budget and planning for workers' training, services, and rights protection.

She hasn't returned to her home village in western China's Sichuan Province for Spring Festival since 2011.

Twenty years ago, Hu left the village when her twin daughters were only two years old. It took her three days to travel from her village to Foshan on China's southern coast, hoping to earn enough money to pay a 20,000-yuan (2,914 U.S. dollars) debt as soon as possible.

With only a middle school education, Hu started with a job on an assembly line. Due to her resilience and eagerness to learn, she was gradually promoted to a management position at New Pearl Ceramics Group, a leading company in the industry.

In 2008, Hu was managing about 1,000 workers in two plants. She was elected as a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) of China in January that year and became the country's first national-level legislator elected from migrant workers.

In China, migrant workers are striving for better lives, and their strength and ambition have been noticed not only domestically, but globally as well. In 2009, Chinese workers were named runners-up in Time Magazine's Person of the Year and described as "the people who are leading the world to economic recovery."

Hu worked tirelessly in her new role to provide a voice for migrant workers. She spent almost all her free time answering emails from workers, conducting surveys and interviews during holidays, and talking with former deputies and professors for help.

During her five-year tenure as a part-time lawmaker, Hu submitted nearly 20 proposals to China's top legislature, all related to safeguarding the interests of migrant workers, such as providing education to their children and ensuring migrant workers were paid on time.

"Almost all my proposals were accepted and turned into new policies in the following years," Hu recalled. "I was so happy, not for myself, but for the group of people I represent."

"The term of an NPC deputy is only five years, but I think the commitment is a lifetime," Hu said.

After leaving the post, Hu could have become a senior executive in her company, but she decided to join a grass-roots labor union, to further serve migrant workers.

"Because I am also a migrant worker, I know our needs and wants," Hu said. "Due to my experience working in management, I also know how to communicate with the employers."

Despite all her experiences in factories and as a representative in the Great Hall of the People, Hu still finds the job extremely challenging.

"It's hard because we're facing more and more second-generation and third-generation migrant workers, who are so different from people my age. For example, instead of just making money, the younger generation also asks for overall well-being and equal opportunities," she said.

Six years after her job as a national lawmaker ended, more farmers and workers have been elected to China's top legislature.

This December, 100 Chinese people, including Hu, were awarded Reform Pioneer medals by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, as they are "the creators of the great wonder of reform and opening-up" and "the source of power" to drive the campaign that started 40 years ago.

Hu, praised as "a representative of the outstanding migrant workers that emerged from the reform and opening-up," said the glory belongs to all of her fellow workers.


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