A beautiful collection of essays that gives an intuition for the stark contrasts in China's society between the countryside and the metropoles.

Xiaowei paints a compelling critique of hyper-capitalist and authoritarian trends in China. Though frankly, it feels awfully universal. They work in the San Francisco area and as such bring some alternative viewpoints shared amongst many young people there. A mindset that rebels against status quo ideas of living and eagerly explores modern forms of communality. (They describe themselves as artist, writer, organizer and coder.)

The important realization that breathes throughout Xiaowei's writing, is that our capitalist economies can only exist because of the billions of people who were "forced" into unthankful labor. People who are abstracted away for the benefit of the system. Nothing of our globalist economy works without them. This book explores just a few of their stories, thereby reclaiming some of their humanity. I think it's really important to try to grasp this humanity behind the numbers, in order to make sense of the modern world. Only then can we as the masses hope to achieve radical reforms.

Rather than seeing the way technology has shifted or produced new livelihoods in rural China, I have been humbled to see the ways rural China fuels the technology we use every day, around the world.

I have traded a family story, subject to the forces of political will, for a life that changes and moves under economic forces, through the will of financial capital.

[...] the tragedy of the commons theory is just plain wrong. The concept was disproved with in-depth data and careful science in 1990 by Elinor Ostrom, who would be awarded a Nobel Prize for her work.

Pork dishes are a large part of Han Chinese cuisine. Pigs were domesticated in China as far back as 7000 B.C.E., and a 1929 anthropological survey showed that 70 percent of animal calorie intake in China was from pork.

Countries like the United States have wheat reserves as insurance against famine, and to control food prices. China is the only country in the world to have a pork reserve, consisting of millions of live pigs and uncountable pounds of frozen pork.

The irony is, she stopped feeling fulfilled when her workplace became optimized, her work stripped of meaning, turned into mere labor.

[...] the questions we ask cannot center on the inevitability of a closed system built by AI, and how to simply make those closed systems more rational or "fair."

I walk by a woman balancing a bucket on her head, off to feed chickens that help control pests. She whistles on her way up a mountain. A whole socioeconomic ecosystem stems from the technical farming infrastructure in this village. It makes me wonder what the parallel might be for our network infrastructure.

Guiyang's status as a tech boomtown is amplified by its dreamy, sci-fi landscape. The highway is only ten years old, but already vines and eucalyptus have crept through underpasses, covering entrance ramps. Tunnels and bridges tumble through the city, layering cars and people on top of buildings and mountains.

If the military science lab was seen as the birthplace of twentieth-century nuclear annihilation, the twenty-first century's death by ecological destruction and unfettered capitalism is symbolized by a glass-cube conference room with a whiteboard.

The data gathered on me is cheap and meaningless, just as the data gathered on you is already meaningless after the moment has passed. My last ten purchases on my credit card do not speak to the poetry of my mornings, the slant of Californian sun at 4:00 p.m., the moment between dream and waking. In a life with specificity and intention, the power of surveillance and data becomes deflated, the industrial quality of rendering people into categories vanishes. The call to an examined life begins. There is no intrinsic value in the categorical. There is nothing to be said about bare existence that gains power through classification.

Living against history can equally be applied to our understanding of data—"I am not a prisoner of history. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny. I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introducing invention into existence. In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself."

The food at this restaurant is humble. The restaurant is actually the first floor of Fujiang's home, and the kitchen is his family kitchen. His son lights up the brick stove in the corner, coal burning underneath a large wok. A small bowl of stir-fried tomato and egg appears, pickled radishes, a few leaves from the season's last cabbage, and rice from their family's harvest. The choices are limited by what Fujiang and his family have grown over the past year and what they've managed to pickle. These tomatoes, the cabbage, and the rice are grown from heirloom seeds, preserved from previous years' crops.

The portions are laughably diminutive compared to the large plates of food doled out in major cities. Yet the tomatoes are flavorful, the cabbage sweet and crisp. "This is all food we grow ourselves," Fujiang tells me. "We eat the good stuff—unlike you city people. No pesticide or fertilizer for us, too expensive to use that stuff anyway!" The dishes are heightened by fermented chili paste, which comes from the family's chili plants. It's so good that I ask Fujiang if I can buy some. He pauses, and then says it's fine, but he has no container for me to put the paste in. His son riffles through a cabinet and emerges with a large empty Sprite bottle. "How much is it?" I ask, and it takes him a minute to think through this. It's clear that in this village, there are no hungry capitalists yet, no price stickers and scales. Finally, he says, "Is RMB 10 (US$1.40) a fair price? Can you pay me via WeChat?"

A movement coalesced around Peppa Pig, crystalizing a careless nihilism and rejection of mainstream values. Like in so many other countries, consumption has become the sacred value of daily life in China.