In 2012, Liu Xinwu’s novel Chén yǔ hàn (尘与汗, in English Dust and sweat) was translated into French and I recently read it with great interest. Liu Xinwu (刘心武), one of contemporary China’s most gifted writers, wrote this novel in 1998, and gave us an insight into a migrant’s life in the late ‘90s. In this book we discover how Lao He (the main character) and his companions adapt to their urban life. As suggested by the novel’s title, this life is tough. We discover the hard living conditions of migrant workers, and their strategies for “muddling through”.
These ex-farmers are searching for new opportunities, new ways of earning their living. They are led down very different paths: in this novel, they encounter a triad member, a man who rents trampolines and a Daoist soothsayer.
For some of Lao He’s colleagues, buying lottery tickets is another way to transform their lives, and sometimes it works…
This novel also reveals the gap between the older generation of migrants, who do not fit in this new China (to the point of losing their mind), and the younger generation, who already feel urban.
This book can be seen as a snapshot of the late ‘90s in China, like Lao She (another great Chinese writer)’s novels in their time .