A vivid portrait of the migrant experience in the burgeoning western Chinese city of Xi'an, told through eight profiles of peasants who left their villages in search of a better life.
In 2006 and 2007, Loyalka, a freelance journalist who has lived in China for years, interviewed and closely observed men and women who have endured great hardship with spirit and determination, a situation summed up by the Chinese word chiku, meaning "eating bitterness." All live in the rapidly disappearing old village of Gan Jia Zhia, which is surrounded by the city and adjacent to the modern and expanding High-Tech Zone. Among Loyalka’s subjects are a family that spends long hours running a vegetable stand, an illiterate knife sharpener whose equipment is mounted on a bicycle that he pedals through neighborhoods in search of work, a live-in nanny who cares for a rich couple's house and children in order to make a better life for her own, teenagers entering into the beauty industry and a young man working in the recycling business who lives atop a mound of old newspapers. Two women are depicted as inventive and industrious supporters of shiftless and incompetent husbands. The final profile is of a businessman who represents for Loyalka the future direction of China, for he has achieved material success and is directing his energies toward finding spiritual satisfaction in doing social good. The author brackets her eight up-close profiles with an introduction and an epilogue that give a broader picture of the plight of migrants who no longer fit into the farm life they have left behind yet lack the education and skills valued in city life, of the contribution they are making to the booming Chinese economy, and of the efforts that the Chinese government is making to deal with the problem of millions of peasants pouring into urban centers.
An insightful look at the hard lives of real people caught in a cultural transition.