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A migrant worker’s daily circus-like balancing act is a surreal reflection of China’s economy

As China shifted from a small-farm economy to an industrial powerhouse over the past generation, there’s been an enormous demographic shift, with some 282 million migrant labourers splitting their time between cities and their rural homes. For Wo Guo Jie, who makes her living in Shanghai collecting styrofoam boxes from markets and reselling them to a seafood wholesale market, this transformation has meant spending as many as three years at a time away from her family farm, where her children sometimes barely recognise her when she returns. Part of a video series on work in modern China by the Shanghai-based photographer and filmmaker Noah Sheldon, Styrofoam follows Guo over the course of a day’s collecting. Working under the cover of night to limit police attention, she’s still a highly conspicuous sight on the city streets, biking with as many boxes stacked around her as possible so that she has to make only one trip a day.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

Composer: Nick Zinner

12 February 2018

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