Photo essay: 150 million workers

Seibert’s photographs capture realities of migrant life

Photo essay: 150 million workers

Coal miner Mr Liang, 42, on his way to the shower

Readers will recall that in WiC6 we cited the old axiom that you should never judge a book by its cover.

We were reviewing Factory Girls; an impressively researched book by Leslie Chang, which tells the stories of the young migrants who flock to factories from the countryside to sew together your running shoes and assemble your mobile phone.

Factory Girls only shortcoming was a rather bland cover image that did little to entice anyone to pick it up.

But where Chang provided the words, now (finally) Andreas Seibert has provided a worthy set of images to accompany them.

The Swiss photographer has just published From Somewhere to Nowhere: China’s Internal Migrants. For the last six years he has been visiting China’s big cities and taking photos of migrant workers – or to use their official name min gong or ‘people’s workers’.

The earthy and often bleak shots of these labourers – whose numbers match the combined populations of Germany and France – is the perfect visual accompaniment to Factory Girls earlier insights.

Tokyo-based Seibert – who takes pictures for magazines such as Newsweek and Fortune – says he began the project because he wanted to “understand a little better the historical change China is going through.”

As he points out, if you want to comprehend what a “capitalist revolution with Chinese characteristics” looks like, the floating migrant population is a pretty good place to start looking.

“It is these workers who keep China’s economy running and growing,” says the photographer.

We have reproduced five of Seibert’s images as a taster (see print edition of WiC). The book – which contains 316 pages of photographs – offers an insight into China’s 150 million migrant labourers and the contrast between their poverty and dynamism.

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