Many migrant workers in China are widely reported to experience difficulty in finding a conjugal partner or maintaining conjugal intimacy. Despite this widely shared perception, firsthand data about the love lives of migrant workers are hard to access. Yet, to have such knowledge is important, since these domains, though intimate and private, are crucial sites of socioeconomic exchange. In light of such challenges, how can ethnographers “get at” the emotional experiences of rural migrants outside standard frameworks? This article engages with this question through the intimate lives of one hundred women factory workers in China's Pearl River delta. Their experiences are documented—in poetic form—in Stories of Migrant Women written by China's best known rural migrant poet Zhang Xiaoqiong. The article approaches Zheng the poet as a de facto social science researcher, whose accounts of migrant women present myriad counter points to the government, media and cultural elites, and scholars. It also reads her poems about as ethnographic material, which, the article demonstrates, enriches, expands, and in some cases challenges scholarly research. Situated in a China-specific social and political context, the article's discussion goes beyond the call for a “literary turn” in anthropology. Instead, it argues that for scholars who are serious about understanding the emotional cost of social inequality in China, seeking partnership with China's subaltern writers is not just desirable; it is essential.

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