"Injustices and indignities scream out of every page" Scattered Sand reviewed in The Observer

Immigration is not an unfamiliar topic in contemporary European media. Regular reports detail the increasing figures of immigration from countries hit by economic recession. Countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal document and account for outward migration of those who are worst effected by weak economies. But elsewhere, in a country that is undergoing enormous waves of prosperity, China has a yearly migration, within provinces and internationally, of over 200 million people. Scattered Sand is a first-hand account by Hsiao-Hung Pai of her two-year journey through China and its mines, construction sites and alleyways. 

Writing in the Observer, Sukhdev Sandhu believes that the extent of the movement in China makes "the demographic debates about modern-day Europe seem parochial and hysterical." The difference being, of course, that while European figures are turned into statistics,  the 200 million Chinese are invisible: the "scattered sand" of the title is a derisive term used to describe the millions who are lost along the way during China's economic transformation.

[W]hat makes this book so important is that Pai rejects the all too common and deeply sinophobic assumption that China can only be described in quantum terms. It's commonly portrayed as too big, its recent transformations too vast to grasp, its population a muted and faceless army of drone labour. Pai, by contrast, treks to building sites few outsiders visit, wanders down side alleys to talk to the poor and the crooked, keeps in touch with her confidantes by letter and by phone over a number of years.

Similar to Barbera Demick's Nothing to Envy, a book which told the stories of defectors from North Korea, Pai gives a voice to to those who stand among the silence of millions of others. The book is both a portrait and personal account, as Pai's journey documents the lives those of China's nongmin (peasants) as they scatter from the provinces to the cities and beyond to Russia and Morcambe Bay.

Visit The Observer to read the review in full.

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