This article explores the relationship between two phenomena in China, the children of migrants who have moved with their parents from rural areas to cities to find work (liudong ertong) and ‘left-behind children’ whose parents have moved to cities for work but have left them in rural areas (liushou ertong). The author suggests that these two trends are closely related and that the children of migrants often fulfil both roles at different stages in their life, coming and going from rural areas to cities.
The author suggests the main reasons for this frequent movement are difficulties in obtaining residence permits and registering for schooling in cities despite children often being born and living there. Therefore a liudong ertong living with their parents in the city who has to move back to their parents’ hometown to attend school becomes a liushou ertong because their parents will stay in the city to work.
The article ends with a warning to not reduce this issue to numbers and to remember the suffering caused to families forced to live apart.