Each year, 200 million workers from China's vast rural interior travel between cities and regions in search of employment: the largest human migration in history. This indispensable army of labor contributes half of China's GDP, but is an unorganized workforce - "scattered sand" - and the most marginalized and impoverished group of workers in the country. For two years, the award-winning journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai traveled across China to uncover the exploitation of workers at locations as diverse as Olympic construction sites and brick kilns in the Yellow River region, the factories of the Pearl River Delta and the suicide-ridden Foxconn complex. She witnessed AIDS-afflicted families and towns; recorded acts of labor militancy; and was reunited with long-lost relatives, estranged since her mother's family fled for Taiwan during the Civil War. What she finds is a peasantry expected to sacrifice itself for the sake of national glory - just as it was under Mao.
HSIAO-HUNG PAI is a freelance journalist, whose report on the Morecambe Bay tragedy for the Guardian was made into the film Ghosts. Her book on undocumented Chinese immigrants in Britain, Chinese Whispers, was shortlisted for the Orwell Book Prize in 2009. She lives in London.