Next time you buy something dirt-cheap in Primark, spare a thought for the Chinese human being who made it. I say dirt-cheap advisedly because the employer almost certainly treated the maker like dirt. Not long ago a friend said she feared that China was ‘going to take over the world’. But almost half of China’s enormous Gross National Product is generated by rural people who leave their ever-poorer villages to hunt for work – badly paid and unremitting – in the parts of cities tourists never see. Then there are the tens of thousands of migrants from rural China living in the UK illegally, who do jobs scorned by Poles and Ukrainians.
All this is laid bare by the incomparable and eloquent Hsiao-Hung Pai, a Taiwanese woman whose excellent previous book was Chinese Whispers, which begins with the story of the Chinese cockle-pickers doomed to drown in Morecambe Bay in 2004 by heartless Chinese and British gang masters, before exploring more widely