Migrant worker’s tale of inequality grips China, then gets erased

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Many of the 1.4 billion Chinese remain poor. About 600 million people, or 40% of the country’s population, live on around $150 a month or less.

Just like Mr. Yue’s family.

Born in 1978 in the central province of Henan, Mr. Yue left his village to seek a better life in the city. He and his family moved to Weihai, a coastal city in eastern Shandong Province, and became a fisherman.

Mr. Yue and his wife had a happy family. Their first son was born in 2000. Ten years later they had a second son, paying around $1,500 for violating the one-child policy.

“As peasants, we didn’t earn much,” his wife, Li Suying, said in a phone interview. “But we were fine because we were thrifty.” She posted an online photo album on her WeChat timeline in 2016 titled “A Loving Family.” She does many odd low-paying jobs related to seafood while taking care of the family.

Then their eldest son, then 19, disappeared in August 2020. Mr. Yue and Ms. Li went to the local police station and begged the officers to help them find him by locating his cellphone and checking surveillance video footage.

The police ignored their appeal and reprimanded them when they refused to give up, according to Ms. Li and Mr. Yue’s interviews with Chinese media. An officer told Ms. Li to “shut up” and “get lost,” she said. They ignored her when she cried for days outside the police station.

“It wasn’t like I lost something I could let go of,” she said. “It’s my son.”

Mr. Yue set out to find their son on his own. He went to many cities, including Beijing, where their son once worked in a restaurant. He did all the odd jobs he could find along the way.

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