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Eating Bitterness

Eating Bitterness: Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration

Michelle Dammon Loyalka
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Eating Bitterness
    Book Description:

    Every year over 200 million peasants flock to China's urban centers, providing a profusion of cheap labor that helps fuel the country's staggering economic growth. Award-winning journalist Michelle Dammon Loyalka follows the trials and triumphs of eight such migrants-including a vegetable vendor, an itinerant knife sharpener, a free-spirited recycler, and a cash-strapped mother-offering an inside look at the pain, self-sacrifice, and uncertainty underlying China's dramatic national transformation. At the heart of the book lies each person's ability to "eat bitterness"-a term that roughly means to endure hardships, overcome difficulties, and forge ahead. These stories illustrate why China continues to advance, even as the rest of the world remains embroiled in financial turmoil. At the same time,Eating Bitternessdemonstrates how dealing with the issues facing this class of people constitutes China's most pressing domestic challenge.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95203-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
    (pp. 1-8)

    Little more than sixty years ago, China was an impoverished and underdeveloped nation. Though among the world’s most advanced civilizations throughout much of history, in the middle of the nineteenth century it was debilitated by opium addiction and invaded by imperial powers. In the first half of the twentieth century, the nation’s progress was stymied by the collapse of its four thousand-year-old dynastic system, hampered by eight years of conflict with the Japanese, and stalled by an outbreak of civil war. When the Communist Party came to power in 1949, the country made initial gains, but those advances were soon...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Veggie Vendors
    (pp. 9-35)

    The sun sets on the High-Tech Zone as a hazy-orange disk sinking beneath a blanket of smog. It is soon replaced by a muted moon shining down on the day’s last surge of activity. Gradually the traffic clears, the glitzy shops close, and the interminable construction work grinds to a halt. The last stragglers head home shortly after midnight and finally even the ever-present battalion of taxis camps along the empty roadways for the night.

    By 3:00 a.m., the High-Tech Zone is a dead zone.

    Suddenly, out of the silence bursts Li Donghua, reining in his three-wheeled motorcycle as it...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Impenetrable Knife Sharpener
    (pp. 36-63)

    Wang Quanxi has never read a book. He’s never used a calculator or owned a telephone, never opened a bank account or sat in a car. He’s never seen a computer. And the Internet . . . well, he’s never even heard of that.

    But if there’s one thing he knows, and knows well, it is knives. Butcher knives, carving knives, paring knives, and boning knives. New knives, crooked knives, warped knives, and rusty knives. During the past two decades he’s spent trolling the streets of Xi’an, he’s seen knives of every cast and condition, and he’s sharpened them all....

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Teenage Beauty Queens
    (pp. 64-96)

    When the girls of the High-Tech Zone branch of M. Perfumine enter the beauty chain’s corporate auditorium, it looks more like a pep rally than a quarterly sales meeting. Though they arrive nearly an hour early, the place is already bulging with over a hundred of the cutest—and certainly most made up—fifteen-to-twenty-one-year-olds in all of Xi’an. Jia Huan and a few other M. Perfumine veterans saunter to their seats with the affected nonchalance of seasoned professionals, but Zhang Jing, who just recently joined the company, squeals with delight when she spots a hip young woman across the room....

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Ever-Floating Floater
    (pp. 97-118)

    Zhang Erhua sleeps in a cardboard-lined metal box perched above a mountain of old newspaper. When he wakes up in the morning, he leaps from his bed, slides surfer-style down the towering paper mound, and his ten-second commute is finished. His boss hands him a steaming bowl of noodles, which he slurps down with loud, lip-smacking enthusiasm. Then he rakes his fingers through his wildly tousled hair, tucks a cigarette behind each ear, and pronounces himself ready for work.

    There’s not all that much to do just yet, though, so to pass the time, twenty-eight-year-old Erhua hurls himself into the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Landless Landlords
    (pp. 119-152)

    With less than two weeks before his home of twenty years was to be demolished, Wang Tao did what few other men in his position might have the nerve to do: he disappeared. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone MIA; it was a common enough occurrence that his wife and three grown children didn’t even notice at first.

    In fact, several days pass before it finally dawns on his twenty-four-year-old daughter Wang Jing that something is missing. “Hey, I haven’t seen my dad in three or four days,” she notices. “Ma, where did dad run off to?”

    “To Canton,”...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Nowhere Nanny
    (pp. 153-181)

    Xiao Shi stands in the doorway of the spare bedroom, hands on her hips, assessing the place like a general preparing for battle. Then, with a dry rag in one hand and damp cloth in the other, she sets about ridding the room of dust. She scrubs from floor to ceiling in a precise order—not because she’s compulsive about cleaning, but simply because, after years as a live-in housekeeper and nanny, she’s developed a regimen that allows her to sanitize the house on autopilot.

    While she combats the disorder downstairs, the lady of the house, Cui Yanwen, is upstairs...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Opportunity Spotter
    (pp. 182-205)

    When Hu Yazhen moved with her two young children into a Gan Jia Zhai room so dilapidated that she could count both the rats and the stars from her bed at night, she wasn’t thinking about health or hygiene; she was thinking about money. She’d recently sent her husband off to join the building frenzy in Xi’an’s newly launched High-Tech Zone while she stayed in the village with the kids. But though her husband found a decent paying job—at least for a peasant accustomed to making nearly nothing—he kept coming back to visit them, sometimes missing up to...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Big Boss
    (pp. 206-239)

    As Guo Hulin rests in a plush chair at the City Rose Beauty Salon getting his hair groomed, one thing is immediately apparent: the hairdresser put far too much oil on his long locks today. He should know: he spends at least 1,500 kuai here a month, getting his hair washed every few days and even opting for an occasional manicure or facial. Having his tresses smoothed to silky perfection once a week is an essential part of his routine. “This is my personal hobby,” he says, chuckling at his own vanity. “It’s the only fun I’ve got in my...

    (pp. 240-246)

    I finished the interviews forEating Bitternessin the summer of 2007. Soon thereafter the western side of Gan Jia Zhai fell victim to urbanization. Men with sledgehammers simply appeared one day and, without fanfare, began whacking. Within a matter of weeks, all that remained was rubble; before long, a six-lane street was laid in its stead.

    By that time, I had moved to Beijing, where I once again gravitated toward the city’s High-Tech Zone. I now live in Zhongguancun, the Silicon Valley of China, in an apartment just minutes away from Google and Microsoft. Getting to their buildings, however,...

    (pp. 247-256)
    (pp. 257-260)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 261-264)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-266)