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SOCIETY & CULTURE

City Lights: Are Yi Ethnic Minority Youth Marginalized in Factory Towns?

A group of Yi factory workers sit in front of a grocery store near their dorm in Dongguan, a manufacturing hub in Guangdong province. Since the early 1990’s, thousands of Yi workers have left their isolated mountain villages to work in big cities. But language difficulties and their adherence to their own customs have led to discrimination, with many only being employed as temporary workers without health insurance or other benefits. Photo: Liang Yingfei/ Caixin
A group of Yi factory workers sit in front of a grocery store near their dorm in Dongguan, a manufacturing hub in Guangdong province. Since the early 1990’s, thousands of Yi workers have left their isolated mountain villages to work in big cities. But language difficulties and their adherence to their own customs have led to discrimination, with many only being employed as temporary workers without health insurance or other benefits. Photo: Liang Yingfei/ Caixin

When Shazigu, from the Yi ethnic minority, failed his high-school entrance exam, he decided to follow in the footsteps of dozens of other teenagers from his poverty-stricken village and find work in the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan.

The 18-year-old is among the army of teenage workers that trickle out of mountainous villages in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which straddles the southern border of Sichuan province in southwest China. These teens power assembly lines during the Lunar New Year, when workers of the country’s majority Han ethnicity return home for weeks on end. Yi people hold their New Year celebrations months earlier.

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