I would've awarded this book six stars if I could. Brilliant etnographic study of life in contemporary China that covers wide array of topics but neve...moreI would've awarded this book six stars if I could. Brilliant etnographic study of life in contemporary China that covers wide array of topics but never ends up simplifying or generalizing. Oh my, I didn't expect much and I was deeply impressed. Being in Dongguan and having visited factories myself, taking geographical courses on the development of Pearl River Delta and having read quite some articles and books about the topic, I found this book refreshing, well-balanced and extremely informative. The book is centered around the life of work migrants but goes well beyond that, touching the issues of the past and dealing with it, the sense-making strategies, changing of life patterns, demographic issues, "erosion" of customs. The economical dimension has its place here too, but more attention is paid to the cultural and social issues. It needs to be stressed again that it is an etnographic account that stems from detailed and zealous fieldwork - one should therefore not expect "big picture" nor macroeconomical issues covered here. What you get is detailed, colourful and ambiguous bricolage of everyday life of migrants and their families (and author's family history, too). There's also an issue of respondent self-selection but the author is aware of that and takes it into account. The only thing I really minded is that the book is heavily gendered. I know, it's in the title and there's probably no practical way to have male respondents and their world included in a field work of this extent. Still, it needs to be taken into account while reading. And I would love to read a similar book focused on contemporary male migrants and their life, too!
I do not aim to repeat what has been said in countless reviews above, I'd rather point out the main strengths and reasons why I think everyone interested in the topic should read the book: - it puts the migration phenomenon into wide historical context that goes beyond the typical explanation of economic development under Deng Xiaoping and the FDI issues - the longitudinal approach allows following the actual work careers of the migrants, the dynamic of the society is grasped - contrary to so many other books describing only the flat picture of status quo - the cultural issues don't serve as the main and all-explaining variable yet they are under close scrutiny - the position of the author - being ABC allows her to get along in the field, gain valuable insights while not relying on translations.. most importantly, it allows her to understand the cultural quirks and stay reflexive at the same time, being born outside China but into Chinese family. The lack of etnocentrism is so refreshing! I guess that if I knew more, I would be able to detect some sort of stereotypes and abbreviations as well.. yet still, when compared to the majority of books written on this topic, it's amazing. - probably due to her origin, the author is able to grasp, describe and sometimes even explain details that seem so bizarre to European reader/traveler. All the peculiar traits, cultural quirks and life strategies.. she points these out and comments them quick-wittedly when all we could've said would be "wtf". :-) - the author also gives space to her expectations, presuppositions and intial stances. All this contributes to "objectivity". (less)