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China Inside Out: 10 Irreversible Trends Reshaping China and its Relationship with the World by Bill Dodson

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CHAPTER 3
A Tale of Two Countries

MIGRANT WORKERS: SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL

One temperate evening in the spring of 2007, I was sauntering through Xintiandi, a renovated cobblestone neighborhood in Shanghai that is popular with both tourists and locals who stroll through the trendy strip to see and to be seen. Just as I was about to cross the narrow lane that separates the plaza in two parts, I saw a middle-aged Chinese man in shabby blue working clothes craning his neck to look into the plaza across the lane from me. He was smaller than the average urbanite—as so many people from the countryside are—and his gnarled hands were outsized. A private security guard—a pale, young man dressed in a forest-green uniform two sizes too big for him—walked up to the workman and blocked his view. The guard gestured crossly, leaned down into the workman’s face, and shouted at the peasant. The workman became agitated and responded in kind. The security guard stepped menacingly nearer the workman, who stepped back, offered one last word in defense of his self-respect, then walked the direction from whence he had come.
As the lane opened for pedestrian crossing, I considered that the workman was clearly from the countryside—one of the “floating population 流动人口” that local governments need to build their roads and buildings and clean their streets and apartments—and that he may even have participated ...

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