INTRODUCTION
I don’t know how I survived, but I am the only one who can be alive. All the women
from my village died in the fire. I still can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to have
escaped the gates of hell.
—A survivor of a factory fire in China
On 19 November 1993, a fire engulfed a factory in Shenzhen, China, run by a
Hong Kong subcontractor to a European toy maker, a brand famous in both
U.S. and European markets. The blaze killed over eighty workers, all but two
of them female. Fifty others were seriously burned and another twenty were
injured. The tragedy shocked Chinese society as well as the international
community, as if it were the first trauma inflicted by global capital in reform-
era China and as if the mass media had suddenly awakened to acknowledge
the great costs to rural migrant workers that had been paid as the price of
rapid economic development.∞ However, the dream of modernity in Chinese
society—the great belief in capital and the market, especially after the illusory
promises of the Chinese state and the Communist Party—is permanently
inscribed with factory fires, which burn with the hopes and desires, as well as
the evils of postsocialist development, and in which the sacrifice of ordinary
people and subaltern classes are seen as a must for development. Chance had
brought me to meet one of the factory’s workers, Xiaoming, who of all the
migrant women workers from her village was the only one to survive the fire.
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