cover image Scattered Sand: The Story 
of China’s Rural Migrants

Scattered Sand: The Story of China’s Rural Migrants

Hsiao-Hung Pai. Verso (Norton, dist.), $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-84467-886-0

The Chinese “miracle” gets a reality check in this engrossing exposé of the country’s 200 million migrant laborers set adrift since the country’s opening to international markets in the 1980s—a rural population of historically unprecedented size in constant search for work within China and abroad. U.K.-based, Taiwanese-born journalist Pai (Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour) travels widely to capture the settings, circumstances, and stories of this “new mobile proletariat,” balancing relevant statistics and modern history with voices of the mostly young, desperately insecure workers on the losing end of a widening income gap and increasing rural unemployment. Eliciting the perspectives of individual migrants—working in dangerous occupations as miners, security guards, prostitutes, black market merchants, brick makers, and cellphone assembly-line workers—gives the narrative a palpable human dimension. Pai carefully contextualizes their plight—many face further exploitation and discrimination as one of China’s 55 ethnic minorities—with reference to a strong nationalist strain in Chinese socialism, operative from 1949 on, that punishes dissent while demanding total sacrifice for the sake of the motherland. A moving contribution to the growing literature on the new China, the book will prove relevant for anyone interested in ongoing debates around migrant labor in a globalized economy. (Aug.)