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Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour [Paperback]

Hsiao-Hung Pai
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

23 April 2008

You know the people in this book.

You’ll remember the harassed waitress from your local Chinese restaurant. You’ve noticed those builders across the street working funny hours and without helmets. You’ve eaten the lettuce they picked, or bought the microwave they assembled. The words ‘cockle-pickers’, ‘Morecambe Bay’, ‘Chinese illegals found dead in lorry’ will ring a bell.

But did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Chinese immigrants in Britain? They’ve travelled here because of desperate poverty, and must keep their heads down and work themselves to the bone.

Hsiao-Hung Pai, the only journalist who knows this community, went undercover to hear the stories of this hidden work force. She reveals a scary, shadowy world where human beings are exploited in ways unimaginable in our civilized twenty-first century.

CHINESE WHISPERS exposes the truth behind the lives of a hidden work force here in Britain. You owe it to yourself, and them, to read it.

Frequently Bought Together

Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour + Invisible: Britain's Migrant Sex Workers + Scattered Sand: The Story of China's Rural Migrants
Price For All Three: 25.93

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (23 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141035684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035680
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 378,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Back Cover

`Hsiao-Hung Pai takes you on a haunting journey into the heart of migrants' lives in Britain and you cannot help but be gripped, moved and shamed' Felicity Lawrence

`A book that really needed to be written. Utterly gripping, deeply moving' Marina Lewycka

`An incredibly moving book that in turn angers and saddens and above all makes you want to change things' Nick Broomfield

About the Author

Hsiao-Hung Pai was born in Taiwan and came to Britain in 1991. She first started writing for Chinese publications and later for the Guardian, specialising in stories about the Chinese community. She covered the Morecambe cockle picking tragedy for The Guardian and in order to understand the plight of other Chinese migrants, she went undercover, and is the only journalist working in Britain who has truly penetrated the world of undocumented Chinese migrants.

Hsiao-Hung now works as a freelance journalist, writing for the Guardian, the New Statesman, and others. Nick Broomfield’s recent film GHOSTS was based on her work. CHINESE WHISPERS is her first book. Hsiao-Hung lives in London with her partner.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I know these people! 5 May 2008
By Bing
This book is something very special for me. I am a UK resident of Chinese origin. Those people and their stories in Pai's book reminded me of my friends from that 'status-less' part of the world in UK, my hairdressers, porters at Chinese grocery stores I've visited etc. They give their blood to this country's economy every day. They've been treated hostily in return. I've heard so many times that my local (UK) friends and colleagues complainting about these people wasting NHS money. Do you have any idea that out of the 170k to 200k Chinese illeagal immigrants probably less than 0.01% of them would ever dare to come into light and expose themselves in the NHS system in fear of deportation. (I know this for a fact because I work as a freelance interpreter in the public sector.) Majority of them are forced to be invisible. They work commonly around 12 hours a day and 6 to 7 days a week with no holiday pays. My friend Mrs Zou's husband was not even allowed to take a day off when she was delivering a baby. They actually have work permit but UK government's plicy about work permit means they are equally open to be exploited by their employer. (The reasons are explained very clearly in Pai's extrodinary book.)

The common view about human rights in China has always been that when the American's talk about human rights they are using it against China but when the Europeans (especially the British) talk about human rights with China they mean it. But I am a bit disillusioned now. What I see here is that we have double standands. We only respect the basic human rights if the people in question have proper documents.

Why does it take 5 or even 10 years to consider someone's asylum seeking case?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should we leave a tip? 15 Jan 2009
By Ben
I know a great restaurant in Chinatown that does great squid with chilli and salt, the sort of place you can drop in to before a movie in town; the meal will cost less than the movie. Thinking about this place again after reading this book, i was forced to confront how modern life manages to be so cheap. Someone is paying and it isn't me, it's the waiter, the cook or the porter.

This book is timely antidote to the depressing hysteria over illegal immigrantion and thoughtfully humanises the victims of our demand for ever cheaper goods and services and the Westminster consensus on the need for an ever more 'flexible' labour force. The moving life stories and experiences Hsiao-Hung Pai retells for us of illegal chinese migrant workers, illuminate some the dark recesses of British life: from the nightmarish salad picking in Sussex to a terrifying trip to the seaside in Morcambe Bay in search of cockles. The people are revealed with warmth but without mawkishness or sentimentality, the villains and heroes are not always predictable and no one escapes complicity as these people have become an important but shamefully ignored part of our modern economy. The author also brings us personal accounts of the real costs of the huge social upheaval and human catastrophe that underpins the Chinese economic miracle.

This is a great piece of investigative research and a good read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book! 13 Nov 2008
By S
An eye-opener. What kind of country do we live in- a shiny one of shopkeeps and suits and bureaucrats- a capitalist success that somehow runs without much in the way of labour? Or a country whose very bedrock is exploitation, that we all take advantage of?

I had previously thought that such exploitation was confined to western companies- our Nestles and Mars bars etc- going abroad for cheap slave labour- which is of course an abomination. Before reading this book I hadn't given a thought to the exploitative work that goes on just out of eyesight- in kitchens and industrial estates we drive past to get to our office jobs. It seems staggering after reading this- did I ever really believe that our food/clothes/electronics/*everything* just came from nowhere? I can't help but look at the country and New Labour differently- and I also can't help but feel that if there was a God, we'd have been Great Flooded by now.

Fantastically effective. I'd recommend to anyone, this isn't a preaching to the choir book for Marxists. It's for everyone- should be required reading in school! All you wanting legitimate reasons to hate New Labour- right here (not that the Tories or the Libs are at all different)!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In 2004, John Pilger edited a book of articles by investigative journalists Gellhorn, Fisk, Hersh and Foot, written over recent decades. Pilger's underlying point is that there are very few people determined to report the world according to facts rather than shoring up the mendacity of the status quo. Instead, most of our news is written and presented as episodic entertainment ensuring confusion and support for those who are determined to control our lives.

Penguin Books has just published `Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour' a book by Hsiao-Hung Pai, and now we all can become aware of another writer determined to expose what passes for civilisation in our voracious people-consuming world.

Wars certainly define our time, but the vast movement of people from rural areas of the world to towns and cities is also profound. According to the United Nations, for the first time in all history, there are now more people in the world living in towns than in the countryside. Why has this happened and who are the people migrating in this epoch?

In Britain, one of the world's economic heartlands, Pai relentlessly tracks down those responsible for and vividly writes about a world occupied by victims of a vicious system. It is a system that requires the degradation, often the death, of people to further enrich that extraordinarily narrow slice of wealthy humanity.

Pai exposes a decaying economic system that requires people to leave familiar homes and villages, and be shunted, at great personal expense, thousands of kilometers to foreign Britain. These undocumented workers never see the statutory minimum wage.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism into a sub-culture few of us know.
Hsaio-Hung Pai has written an incredibly compelling and important book.
Published 2 months ago by Cleveland22
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing Eye-Opening Tale
However I am at a loss as to why the author is bashing our government when it is the Chinese government she should be having a go at. Read more
Published 2 months ago by MTG
5.0 out of 5 stars Chinese Whispers
I think Chinese Whispers is about how badly the ‘Chinese’ are treated after the pay thousands of pound in their own currency to get into the country illegally. Read more
Published 6 months ago by mrblue
5.0 out of 5 stars Cover design and title put me off at first...
...but the content was truly insightful. The writer does an excellent job of providing a window into this parallel world that exists in our own backyards. Read more
Published on 14 July 2010 by Mr. H. Lam
4.0 out of 5 stars The true cost of your Chinese meal
This is a fine and courageous piece of investigative journalism, lifting the lid on the exploitative working conditions suffered by the estimated 170 000 - 200 000 undocumented... Read more
Published on 2 Feb 2010 by Jeremy Bevan
4.0 out of 5 stars a good investigation into the life of Chinese illegals in the UK
This seems to be a well researched and very human book on the plight of Chinese illegal immigrants in Britain (predominantly England). Read more
Published on 28 Jun 2009 by Joanne
5.0 out of 5 stars Broadens your horizons
"Chinese Whispers" broadens your horizons: not by whisking you off to some far flung place but by opening your eyes to Britain. Read more
Published on 17 May 2008 by A. Brew
5.0 out of 5 stars The real story behind the headlines
Hsiao Hung Pai's book is fantastic. Investigative work which accurately details working life for those living on the radar. A compulsive and important work. Read it!
Published on 15 May 2008 by J. Riggall
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Well researched and deeply moving.

I hope some change in government legislation can become of this. Read more
Published on 4 May 2008 by Michael Kinsey
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