These migrant workers helped China prosper. Now they’re dying and not getting the help they need

China is home to an estimated six million people with pneumoconiosis and many of them are still struggling two years after government ordered action

By Alice Yan

Ningxia farmer Liu Yanping has had to breathe with the help of an oxygen generator for the past three years.

Now 56, he used to work at a small brick kiln and the coal dust he inhaled over the years scarred his lungs, severely restricting the amount of air they could take in.

Three years ago, at a hospital in Yinchuan, the regional capital, he was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, an incurable disease caused by long exposure to industrial dust.

It is the most serious and most common occupational illness in China, but the plight of migrant workers suffering from it – after helping to power China’s economic boom – only received central government attention two years ago, when 10 government departments jointly issued a circular ordering local governments to step up prevention and treatment.