Female migrants' tales of hard life in the city

Female migrants' tales of hard life in the city
Hunan native author Sheng Keyi.

SINGAPORE - Like millions of women from China's villages, Hunan native Sheng Keyi left home for a better life in boomtown Shenzhen.

Unlike most who end up in assembly lines, hair salons or KTV parlours, the high-school graduate had an easier time doing office jobs.

Nevertheless, by the time she left Shenzhen after eight years in 2002, she had seen enough to write Northern Girls, or Bei Mei, as female migrant workers in the southern city are called.

Published in English by Penguin last year, the book won Sheng a nomination for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize.

While the novel was a socially realistic story about the perils that befall female migrants in Shenzhen, Sheng, now 39, said she did not do research and relied on her imagination and reading instead.

She was inspired by fellow Chinese author Yu Hua and American novelist William Faulkner when she started to write the novel.

"I felt I had a lot of things I wanted to write about. Northern Girls came about naturally. It was as if the character of Qian Xiaohong was leading me," she told SundayLife! recently over tea in an expatriate area in Beijing.

The heroine of Northern Girls, Qian Xiaohong, is a spirited and sexually liberated migrant worker who keeps her head up in the face of indignities and material temptations.

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