Eating Bitterness (Review)

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Xi'an: The Perfect Business Model?
The rapid growth of the western Chinese city of Xi'an can accredit much of its success to the “Great Opening of the West” policy initiated in 2000, yet the policy may have never met fruition without the intricate rural-urban dynamic in place in Xi'an (Loyalka, 2012, p. 5). Loyalka's book Eating Bitterness examines eight Chinese families affected by growth of Xi'an and Xi'an's High-Tech Zone, providing insight into the diverse daily lives of the families as well as the constantly evolving codependent relationship between the city and countryside. The city and the countryside are connected by the movement of people, space, money and culture, but Chinese families remain the strongest link as they enable these transfers. This heavy traffic between the the rural and urban cause a strain on the rural Chinese family, yet it is because of these hardworking, persevering families that the city manages to evolve in a transforming China. The new shift in focus to oneself and materialism has created many job opportunities in Xi'an for both men and women. In this decade, Chinese women visit beauty parlors to improve their health and their appearance. With urban populations now having disposable income and companies such as M. Perfumine hiring young women from the countryside, luxuries such as beauty and cosmetics are becoming available to the middle class (p. 69-70). Teenage girls such as Jia Huan, who have only reached a junior high school education level, find few job opportunities in the city. Jia Huan's mother believes “[the] beauty industry is good for Jia Huan. As a girl, what else is she going to do? She has no skills” (p. 83). These teenagers have a small chance at surviving in any other “career” where higher education and a wider skill-set are

required. So although there are few employment opportunities with decent pay and housing, especially for women , the primary alternative option for Jia Huan would be returning to their village and marrying “a local boy” (p. 91). Live-in nanny is another position for women in the High-Tech Zone. When Xiao Shi struggled to become an adept nanny, she reassured herself that every nanny had to learn to become a nanny - “everyone's got to learn” she says (p. 156). This rings true particularly for the average uneducated rural migrant worker. However, there are some who manage to live off a few skills they have perfected while in the countryside. Wang Quanxi is a knife sharpener who also never passed beyond junior high school (p. 41-42). He noticed that no knife sharpening services existed in the High-Tech Zone, so Wang Quanxi and several other members of his village, a village known for their blacksmith artisans, decided to fill that void (p. 50-51). These workers help keep the chiefs and restaurants in the High-Tech Zone content as they ride their bicycles around the city in search of customers. Nannies, beauticians, and knife sharpeners all exemplify this movement of rural workers filling “urban jobs” (in that the services are completed in the city) to satisfy the insatiable needs of the High-Tech Zone. For an expanding city such as Xi'an, the movement of people to placate its residents is not enough – the city needs space. Usually farmers seek prosperity and move to the city, other times the city comes to the farmers. Whole villages have been absorbed by growing cities to become what is known as a “city-village” (p. 128). City-villages are urban pockets that were once farmland and often maintain poverty-level income and housing akin to its rural roots. In essence, city-villages are islands of rural inhabitants and culture in a sea of urbanism. Migrants often live in city-villages while working in or along the peripheral of the High-Tech Zone. Wang Tao's nuclear family lives in the city-village of Gan Jia Zhai which is surrounded by the High-Tech

Zone. Originally a farmer, Wang Tao owned the land where a portion of the proposed High-Tech Zone was to...
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