In his younger days, Wang Zhaohong was a construction worker, helping to build the Chinese city of Shenzhen into a modern metropolis. Wang was one of China's army of migrant workers who left their homes in the countryside for better pay in the country's 1990s development boom.
Now at 50, Wang has silicosis, a debilitating lung disease that comes from inhaling construction dust. His disease is acute. Wang expects to suffocate and die within months.>>
> People from rural villages like us were uneducated so we had no choice but to do this kind of hard labor in Shenzhen.
We worked with the pneumatic drill 40 or 50 meters deep underground. Our boss only gave us one mask for ten days. The protection was really bad, and now we have this disease. It was all filled with dust down there.>> This month, China celebrates 40 years. Since it's so cold, reform an opening.
That's the economic policy that transforms cities like Shenzhen from coastal villages Into glittering economic powerhouses. And it turned China into the world's second biggest economy. Millions have been pulled out of poverty in China's great boom. But workers like Wang who built the foundations of China's skyscrapers are now suffering.
Reuters' Sue-Lin Wong has been investigating their stories.>> A lot of the workers never signed employment contracts and so have really struggled to get compensation either from the companies or the government and have had to take out loans from their friends and family or bank loans with very high interest rates.
In early November, they were protesting outside the Shenzhen government when police sprayed them with pepper spray and tear gas.>> One NGO estimates around 6 million Chinese are either suffering or have already died from silicosis and similar conditions. Wang received just under $20,000 a decade ago as a once off compensation payment.
But advocacy groups say lump sums like this only go to some victims and aren't enough to cover the high cost of health care. And that's left the victims and their families saddled with debt. Reuters approached the Shenzhen government for comment but they referred questions to the police, health, and social security departments.
They also declined to comment.