Hsiao-Hung Pai

‘Talking about the displaced as people changes perceptions’

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Socialist Review spoke to Hsiao-Hung Pai about her new book, Bordered Lives, which exposes the failings of the refugee system in Europe.

Why do you begin Bordered Lives by questioning the term “refugee crisis”?

I think the media language that we have accepted (and often adopted as our own) has in many ways shaped the way we understand issues relating to refugees. “Refugee crisis” has been the media term by which we’re made to think about displaced people in the world. My biggest problem with the term is that it suggests “us” and “them”, refugees being the “problem” for “us” to find solutions to. That seems to be the way many in this country look at migration and movement of people.

Coming face to face with hate

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Author Hsiao-Hung Pai set out to understand where bigots learn their behaviour. She talks to Socialist Review about the results of her research, her new book, Angry White People.

Could you say something about the approach you take in the book? Why did you decide to interview and spend time with the likes of the EDL’s Tommy Robinson, and give their words space?

China's scattered migrants

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China's booming economy has been built on the back of migrant workers. Hsiao-Hung Pai talked to Sally Kincaid and Charlie Hore about her new book and the lives of China's migrant population

Why did you choose the title Scattered Sand for your book?

The idea of Scattered Sand came originally from Sun Yatsen, the founding father of the Guomindang (Nationalist) Party - so it came from the Republican Revolution of 1911. The idea was when he was talking about the Chinese people as being scattered sands - not united as a nation against Western imperialism.

China: miracle and misery

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Last month David Cameron visited China in an effort to encourage trade with Britain, but barely mentioned the touchy issue of human rights. Hsiao-Hung Pai analyses the "miracle" of Chinese economic growth and the human suffering that underpins it.

Last month a huge British trade delegation led by David Cameron and four of his cabinet ministers, all wearing their Remembrance Day poppies, went on their Journey to the East to promote British business interests and sign trade deals for British capitalists.

Letter from China

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The 60th anniversary of the People's Republic has become a nationalistic festival of "ethnic harmony" manufactured to cover massive discontent, reports Hsiao-Hung Pai

When I entered China at the town of Manzhouli the border control officers insisted on a 40-minute search of my luggage. They opened each Word document on my laptop without explanation. Other rail passengers told me this is part of an anti-terrorist security check, primarily against the Uighur "splittists". Should I worry that I don't look Han Chinese enough?

UFO in Her Eyes

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Xiaolu Guo, Chatto & Windus; £12.99

It is not the first time that Xiaolu Guo has used the idea of an "alien" as a metaphor. But this time, in UFO in Her Eyes, her second novel in English, it isn't about the alienation of a young female Chinese student finding love in England (as in her wittily written first novel in English, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers). It's about the alienation of an illiterate rural resident of a village called Silver Hill in Hunan province, set in 2012, four years after the Beijing Olympics.

Views from the migrant workers

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Francesco and Gianluca, like their 98 Italian colleagues housed on a barge at Grimsby Fish Docks, had arrived in late January on a four-month contract to work at the French oil giant, Total, at Lindsey oil refinery in Immingham.

Francesco, in his late 40s, had worked as a welder in Tunisia and Libya. Gianluca, in his 30s, worked in Croatia and Germany. "This is my first time in the UK," he said.

And here in north Lincolnshire, "it was the first time in my 20 years of working life abroad that I've experienced anti-foreign feelings," said Francesco.


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Huang Yong Ping, Barbican, London until 21 September

Huang Yong Ping's Frolic is a tale about the largest drug traffickers of the 19th century: the British Empire.

Frolic was a New England clipper ship built for the opium trade in Asia. For Huang, however, it isn't only the name of the ship. It is about capitalism and its wars.

Migrants: Britain's hidden labour army

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The deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in 2004 exposed the appalling working conditions of thousands of migrants in Britain. Hsiao-Hung Pai, author of a new book, Chinese Whispers, describes her quest to tell the stories of such workers and why going undercover was the only way to get at the truth.

Xiao Fan came to say goodbye. He had decided to return home, to Tianjin in north China. "I can't live a life like this any longer, hiding myself in the kitchen every day, fearing the next immigration raid. When it's so hard to earn even a pittance, it leaves you no dignity. What is the point? I've had enough."

No child's play - workers and the deadly toys

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Just as people are getting ready for Christmas shopping, tens of millions of toys have been found to pose a health hazard - not only to children in the West, but also to those producing them in China.

US toy maker Mattel - the largest toy company in the world - recalled 172,000 Fisher Price toys in November after several children choked on small detachable parts. The company has also, for the fourth time, recalled large quantities of toys due to high levels of lead in their paint. Mattel had already recalled nearly 20 million toys, and in September it withdrew 844,000 toys from its Barbie brand.

Mattel's toys are manufactured by companies such as the Chinese Sunyick Plastic Products company, which employs 5,000 people.


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