A Taiwanese-born investigative journalist reports on the conditions facing migrant workers in China’s rural interior.
Hsiao-Hung Pai (Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour, 2008) brings her knowledge of China’s history to this detailed examination of the plight of the millions of peasants searching for work in China’s booming cities and, failing that, in other countries. She recounts her interviews with individual peasants, during which she urged them to describe their experiences in their own words. The author traveled from Russia, where the closing of a large outdoor market in Moscow sent thousands of Chinese migrant workers back home, to China’s industrial northeast, to the province of Sichuan, the site of a devastating earthquake, and to its southern manufacturing centers. She also spent time in Guangdong province, where a special economic zone with thousands of new factories has brought great prosperity to the upper-middle class but for migrant workers has meant exploitation, homelessness and suicide. At one point, the author accompanied her mother on a trip to her home province of Shandong, a trip that provides her with the opportunity to fill in readers on family history as it entwined with Chinese history. In Fujian province, where tens of thousands of peasants have sought jobs overseas, many going to Japan, the United States and Europe, she introduces readers to Xiao Lin, whose misadventures in trying to escape to the West are material for a book of its own. Her final stop was the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China’s northwest, where the Uighur ethnic minority are considered security risks and endure harsh discrimination and grinding poverty. Unlike Michelle Dammon Loyalka’s Eating Bitterness (2012), which concentrates on a few rural migrants in one city, Hsiao-Hung Pai's examination ranges across the whole country and provides background information on factory conditions, political corruption and worker unrest.
A grim but keen view of the dark underside of China’s prosperity.