The story appears on

Page A4

February 4, 2013

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Metro » Society

Ayis' separation from home can bring heartache

SHANGHAI'S estimated 500,000 domestic helpers are the backbone of what has become an essential service in the city, but the plight of these women, or ayi, is often a heartbreaking story.

They usually come from small towns in impoverished inland areas, leaving husbands and babies at home. They take low-paying jobs and endure long working hours and frequent employer scorn. They skimp and save to send money back to their families.

In many cases, what is going on back home is as painful as the life of drudgery in Shanghai. Prolonged absences can wreak havoc with hometown relationships.

Hu Guangyan, 44, left work on a farm in southwest China's Sichuan Province to come to Shanghai nine years ago. She now does household chores for three families.

She came to earn enough money to pay for the education of a son and daughter back home. Living alone here, she is a model of thrift. She rents a shabby, small apartment and eats the cheapest foods.

In the past two years, she managed to send about 40,000 yuan (US$6,451) back home. But her husband, whom she wed in a marriage arranged by her parents, is addicted to gambling and may have a mistress, she learned.

"He took every penny, and I don't know where all the money has gone," Hu said. "I have never dreamed of being rich. I just wanted a peaceful, plain life."

She cried throughout an interview with Shanghai Daily and appeared thin and worn out. She said won't seek a divorce for the sake of her children. For the coming Spring Festival, when most of the migrant workers go back to their hometowns for family reunions, Hu chooses to stay in Shanghai rather than going home, hoping to earn money to make up for what is lost.

'Nobody cares about them'

Her tale is not all that uncommon among ayis.

Another ayi surnamed Chen, who declined to give her full name, came to Shanghai in 1994 from a rural area in central China's Anhui Province. She said her family back home ekes out a living from farming but never has enough money.

"I lied to my four-year-old son when I told him I was just leaving for a short while," she said. "I cried and cried. I missed my family so much."

She used to go back to her hometown once a year during the Spring Festival, but the long separations finally took their toll, leading to divorce from her husband and estrangement from her son.

Nobody cares about them or tries to understand them, said Liu Yuxin, director of the Shunhang Domestic Helper Agency in the Minhang District, regarding ayis.

"Many sacrifice their families when they come alone to work here," Liu said.

She recounted the story of a woman from Anhui who worked as an ayi in Shanghai for nine years and used the money she managed to save to build a small house for her family in her hometown.

Soon after the house was completed, she went home to discover that her husband had a lover and wanted a divorce.

"She's in a bad way," Liu said of the woman. "Almost bordering on a nervous breakdown."

Chen Xizhu, director of the Shanghai Household Service Association, said there is no exact figure about the divorce rate among ayis working in the city, but it seems high.

"It has almost become an 'occupational disease,' " she said.

Cao Xiulan, a 43-year-old ayi from northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, was divorced last year. She now takes care of a woman in her 80s who lives alone in Shanghai. The work is quiet compared to one household she remembers. The wife of that family was always in a bad mood and treated her "like a slave," Cao said. She was always criticizing whatever Cao cooked.

Support, counseling to be offered

Salaries for ayis vary greatly. Domestic helpers with five or more years of maternal and child nursing experience can earn about 6,000 yuan (US$962) a month, compared with 2,000 yuan for those who are unskilled, according to the Shanghai Household Services Association.

Chen Xizhu said her association has received funding from the Shanghai Charity Organization for a program to help ayis. It will include legal support and psychological counseling. A hotline for domestic helpers is also contemplated.

Meanwhile, as the festive season nears, Liu is preparing an annual party for more than 60 ayis. The event, with food and music, is meant to cheer them up before the Chinese New Year, which falls on February 10.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend