Skip to content

Migrant Labour series:House Demolition Workers

Hu Jie

Release year: 1997-1998

Run time: 20 mins

Film type: Documentary


After Reform and Opening, farmers can finally leave the poor rural areas to find jobs in cities. However, the only jobs they can find are those dirty, tiring, dangerous and low-paid jobs that the people in the city don't want to do. From 1997 to 1998, in Nanjing, I filmed migrant workers engaged in different professions for this series of short films: "Scaffolders", "House Demolition Workers", "Cleaners", "Farmer-run Factory", and so on.

On the streets of the city, you can see the word "demolition" everywhere. Superficially, demolishing the old and building the new is about modernization, but underneath this facade it is a dirty power and money transaction. The demolition work is continually subcontracted out, until finally migrant workers who come to the city to find work will do it.

The family of Xiao Li, from Suqian, Jiangsu Province, has been working on house demolitions for many years. Finally, they have become small contractors. This film documents their experiences. Xiao Li was responsible for contracting the demolition of a factory building. He temporarily recruited a group of migrant workers, and his wife cooked three meals a day for these 20 people. Xiao Li took them to demolish the house. After the house was demolished, they sold the bricks and iron that were left over. This is the entire income of the contractor.

Every day, the workers used sledgehammers to dismantle the house, smash the beams, and remove the steel bars. But on this job they met with a problem. Unlucky Xiao Li encountered a rainy day, and the project was due soon. Party A, who had taken out the contract, said that for every day of delay, Xiao Li would be fined 10,000 yuan; as a result, the two sides had a fierce conflict.


Director biography

Hu Jie is an independent historian, artist, and filmmaker. Born in Jinan, Shandong in 1958, he graduated from the Art College of the People’s Liberation Army. He works in oils and woodcuts from his lakeside studio in Nanjing. His films are among the most important documents of China’s unacknowledged “unoffcial history”, and include Looking for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2005), about a martyr-poet critic of Mao; and Though I Am Gone (2007), about an elite Beijing girls’ high school whose students murdered their headmaster at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.