The 66-year-old works as an interior decorator in Shanghai. It’s a physically demanding job: He typically works over 12 hours a day, shifting heavy ceramic tiles and wooden panels around dusty, unfinished apartments. To save money and time, Xia lives inside the homes that he’s decorating. Once he’s finished a day’s work, he often lies down and sleeps right on the floor. Xia knows he won’t be able to keep up this intense style of work much longer. But he plans to carry on for as long as he can. He feels he has no other choice.
Millions of Chinese migrant workers find themselves in the same situation. For decades, their labor has been the driving force of China’s economy. Yet as they reach old age, few are able to enjoy a comfortable retirement.