A migrant worker cleaning the façade of a brand new designer building in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Image © Tong Lam
In recent years, China has increasingly tried to project itself as a cultural soft power. During the recent 18th Communist party congress, for example, party officials boasted about the numbers of new museums, art districts, cultural heritage sites, and other cultural infrastructures that had been created in the past decade. Yet, so far, the vast majority of Chinese migrant workers can merely participate in the country’s expanding cultural industries as unskilled service workers or physical laborers. Recommended pairings:
For reading: Michelle Dammon Loyalka’s Eating Bitterness: Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration (University of California Press, 2012), a work of reportage that profiles migrant workers in the city of Xi’an.
For viewing: Jia Zhangke’s The World (Shìjiè), a 2004 film that focuses on the lives of migrant workers in an Epcot-like Chinese theme park.
This is the first of a series of posts by photographer Tong Lam, who will be a regular contributor to this blog. The contributions by this historian, author and visual artist based in Toronto - whose work I discussed on this site before - will present viewers with an image taken in China that focuses on the kinds of places, actors and actions that often get overlooked or treated superficially in mainstream coverage of that country. - Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Asia Section Editor