Year of the Ox also the year of the axe

Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
January 29, 2009

AS MANY as 40 million Chinese are expected to lose their jobs this week as the Lunar New Year celebrations come to a close.

Instead of returning to workplaces, many of the millions from rural areas who had jobs in the cities will remain in their home regions - where they have been celebrating the new year - having been told those jobs are gone.

Others will return to China's economic heartlands only to find their source of income has evaporated.

The gloomy prediction came from an official at the Central Communist Party School, who estimated that between 20 and 30 per cent of the 130 million provincial Chinese who rely on the cities for employment would find themselves redundant.

To make matters worse, they will find no guarantee of work in their home regions, because sophisticated farming methods have reduced the need for labourers and agricultural hands.

In Shanghai, the new year was ushered in with an impressive pyrotechnic display as the population let off steam. Firework sales rose by a third from last year, and it took more than 30,000 street sweepers to clear the 1200 tonnes of debris from the streets.

But even in China's financial capital, a sober mood emerged amid fears that the economy may have ground to a halt entirely in the December quarter of last year.

Fen Yi, a software developer, said: "The unemployment rate is rising and the economy is falling - 2009 will be a dangerous year for China, and a sensitive year with all the anniversaries coming up, like the one for the riots in Tiananmen Square."

Telegraph, London

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