‘Sit, Eat, Wait for Death’: Life in the Shenzhen Sticks

The migrant workers at the Sanhe job markets have a motto: “Work for a day, party for three.” As romantic as it sounds, the reality is many would rather be almost anywhere else.

Around 5 a.m. each day, the quiet streets of Sanhe burst to life as the young migrants sleeping outside the labor market awaken to a quick calculation: Do they have enough cash to make it through the day? If they do, they’ll roll over and slip back into sleep.

The lives of young migrants to Sanhe, located in the southern megacity of Shenzhen, first attracted public attention around three years ago. Contrary to the conventional image of migrant workers as dreary automatons trapped on factory lines, the so-called Sanhe youth have little interest in formal work. Accustomed to low-quality and low-cost living, their mantra is simple: “Work for a day, party for three.” The most extreme among them, known for their abilities to tolerate near-absolute poverty, are referred as “Sanhe legends.”