A Floating City of Peasants

The Great Migration in Contemporary China

A journalist’s riveting, eyewitness account of the unprecedented movement of 120 million peasants from rural China to its cities, told from the migrants’ point of view

“Floris-Jan van Luyn brings China to life by listening to the people, whose voices would otherwise have gone unheard. Here are stories, not of high politics, but of life as it is led by most Chinese. This is reportage at its best.” —Ian Buruma, author of Bad Elements: Chinese Rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing

The largest human migration in history is taking place in China today—incredibly, off the radar of the world’s major media. Since the 1990s, at least 120 million Chinese peasants have left the countryside for big cities to work in factories, on construction sites, in catering and prostitution—typically without even the most basic rights or protections.

In A Floating City of Peasants, Floris-Jan van Luyn—who spent six years reporting from China for a daily newspaper—relates the remarkable tales of migrant workers who have helped fuel the explosive growth of the People’s Republic. In a series of a dozen remarkably intimate portraits illuminated by wide-ranging reporting, we meet Xiao Li, a prostitute, who sends her little girl to the best school in Chongqing; Chunming who stole money from his parents to pay for the long trip to Beijing and found work on a garbage dump; Lüsong, who campaigned for a village school and against corrupt government employees and, as a result, was tortured almost to death; and others with equally gripping stories.

Revealing the dark side of the Chinese economic miracle in words and striking pictures, this book documents an historic turning point in the life of the modern world.


“A great book and a fine piece of investigative journalism which gets behind China’s economic boom and brings to life the people who make it possible. Anyone who wants to understand what is happening in China or to the world economy should read this book.”
—Jasper Becker, author of The Chinese and Dragon Rising

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