There’s something about being a Chinese migrant worker that is disparaging, even downright derogatory.
That’s because these lowly, itinerant rural laborers are generally looked down on by society. In big cities, they’re more likely to be talked about in harsh tones than seen because their urban cousins would prefer to simply ignore them.
So, when French photographer Benoit Cezard unveiled a series of photographs showing models, mostly Caucasians, in different menial jobs in different parts of China, he highlighted the issue and sparked lively chatter on social media.
The 29-year-old artist has lived in Wuhan, which might explain his worldview with Chinese characteristics.
In it, he fancies China as the world’s biggest economy, with a crippling labor shortage from years of relentless implementation of the one-child policy.
It’s also an advanced society disposed to easy living and a certain lifestyle. Not for this generation of Chinese are low-paying jobs or anything resembling them.
Foreigners are welcome to fill the slack. They can start from the ground up.
Cezard framed his theme in the context of the near future and aptly named his work China 2050.
It depicts foreigners as roadside tutors, hawkers, rickshaw drivers, street cleaners and domestic helpers and leaves anyone in no doubt about where all this is taking place.
Social media lit up with posts ranging from the amusing to the cynical. One said that “based on multiple factors, this scenario can’t occur”.
Another turned it into a social commentary. “It’s very philosophical, worth contemplating.”
It’s unclear whether this discussion has relevance to present-day realities but it does draw on experience.
For instance, several official think tanks including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have been pushing for liberalization of entry rules to prepare for a looming labor shortage. In addition, China is embarking on the biggest human migration in history by moving millions of villagers to cities.
For now, users of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like instant messaging service, are happy to see the photos as a reflection of expat life in China, not of life in China itself.
As someone who makes a living from art imitating life, Benoit wouldn’t mind that.
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