Labour Research October 2012


Scattered sand

The story of China’s rural migrants

Hsiao-Hung Pai, Verso, 320 pages, hardback, £16.99

Each year, 200 million workers from China’s vast rural interior travel between cities and regions in search of employment, the largest human migration in history.

This indispensable army of labour accounts for half of China’s GDP, but is unorganised. Scattered sand is the dismissive name given to these unorganised rural migrants who are the most marginalised and impoverished group of workers in the country.

For two years Hsiao-Hung Pai traveled across China.

She uncovered the exploitation of workers at locations as diverse as Olympic construction sites and brick kilns in the Yellow River region, the factories of the Pearl River delta and the suicide-ridden Foxconn complex.

It was here in 2010 that 14 migrant workers took their own lives due to grim working conditions and low pay.

In Fujian province, Pai learns of men who toil in unsafe mines for the equivalent of 18 pence a day, risking lung diseases for which they can’t be compensated because they lack even basic work contracts.

Scattered sand presents a finely wrought portrait of those left behind by China’s dramatic social and economic advances.

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