Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

Eating Bitterness

Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration

Michelle Loyalka (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 280 pages
ISBN: 9780520266506
March 2012
$28.95, £23.00
Other Formats Available:
Every year over 200 million peasants flock to China’s urban centers, providing a profusion of cheap labor that helps fuel the country’s staggering economic growth. Award-winning journalist Michelle Dammon Loyalka follows the trials and triumphs of eight such migrants—including a vegetable vendor, an itinerant knife sharpener, a free-spirited recycler, and a cash-strapped mother—offering an inside look at the pain, self-sacrifice, and uncertainty underlying China’s dramatic national transformation. At the heart of the book lies each person’s ability to “eat bitterness”—a term that roughly means to endure hardships, overcome difficulties, and forge ahead. These stories illustrate why China continues to advance, even as the rest of the world remains embroiled in financial turmoil. At the same time, Eating Bitterness demonstrates how dealing with the issues facing this class of people constitutes China’s most pressing domestic challenge.
1. The Veggie Vendors
2. The Impenetrable Knife Sharpener
3. The Teenage Beauty Queens
4. The Ever- Floating Floater
5. The Landless Landlords
6. The Nowhere Nanny
7. The Opportunity Spotter
8. The Big Boss

Research Notes
Michelle Dammon Loyalka has lived in China for 13 years, during which time she has written a language-learning textbook, launched a business consulting company, co-hosted a radio talk show in Mandarin, and headed the educational products division of a Chinese software company. A freelance journalist and editor, Loyalka holds a master’s degree from the Missouri School of Journalism and currently lives in Beijing.
“What Loyalka finds is fascinating. . . . Details . . . make the book read like an ethnography, with a lot of first-hand discovery, and give it lasting power as a historical record of the biggest, fastest urbanization in human history.”—April Rabkin San Francisco Chronicle
“A vivid portrait of the migrant experience in the burgeoning western Chinese city of Xi'an. . . . An insightful look at the hard lives of real people caught in a cultural transition.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A thorough and insightful examination of the gritty, arduous side of the Chinese economic miracle.”—Publishers Weekly
“One of the first books to examine the complexities of rural-to-urban migration through the life stories of individuals.”—Maura Elizabeth Cunningham Pacific Standard
“Loyalka is first and foremost a storyteller and her stories put a human face to the migrant workers without romanticizing their lives. The result is a gritty, blunt and dignified portrayal without excessive sentimentality or patronizing overtones. Eating Bitterness sheds light on another dimension of the vast spectrum of Chinese society and is a valuable addition to the nonfiction literature on China.”—Hilton Yip Asian Review Of Books
"Extremely readable, with each portrait of a migrant’s life qualifying as a literary short story."—Kimiko Suda China Perspectives
“The book is a welcome complement to the many monographs and economic studies that have charted China's economic progress. . . . Highly recommended.”—F. Ng Choice
"Loyalka's intimate portraits are able to provide new insight into the daily lives of the workers whose stories might otherwise seem too small and too humble to represent the Chinese economic juggernaut."—May-Lee Chai Asian Affairs 41, no. 3
"Eating Bitterness is filled with carefully researched and deeply empathetic profiles of individual Chinese workers. It's also a meticulously crafted book, which shows through even in details such as the titles given to chapters. Who wouldn't want to read about 'The Nowhere Nanny,' 'The Landless Landlords,' and 'The Big Boss'? These titles suggest a work of fiction. And even though the tales found here come straight from the author's interviews, reading them proved the same sort of pleasure as making my way through a collection of short stories by a master of that genre."—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.

"Michelle Dammon Loyalka’s Eating Bitterness tells the story of those who are at the bottom of Chinese society, their hopes, struggles, and above all, their perseverance in enduring hardship in life. It’s an untold story and a must-read for anyone who wants to know the real China."—Helen H. Wang, author of The Chinese Dream.

"The great migration in rural China could be the most significant population shift today, influencing business practices, consumer habits, and cultural expectations around the world. Michelle Loyalka takes us behind the stunning demographics into the hearts and minds of the urban pioneers with unforgettable portraits of courage and despair. Her remarkable insight and candor make an indelible impression, erasing any distance between readers and subjects."—Mary Kay Blakely, author of American Mom: Motherhood, Politics, and Humble Pie.

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more