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Department of English, NTNU


This paper examines the traumatic experience of migrant workers through a reading of Lixin Fan’s award-winning documentary film Last Train Home (2009). I am not primarily concerned, like most trauma-studies-based research, with grand, clearly recognizable catastrophes. I also avoid generalizing about human suffering in the age of global capitalism. I focus rather on post-Socialist China’s more hidden social violence and its traumatizing effect on the quotidian life of migrant workers—a subaltern group on the periphery of society. I argue that the trauma of the marginalized population must be socially and politically contextualized. The first section of the essay investigates the traumatic sense of homelessness suffered by the film’s migrant family. I show how the family members’ loss of home is due to both the alienating capitalist mode of production and the cunning hukou system that turns migrant workers into a perpetually floating population. The second part concentrates on the painful intergenerational chasm. Here I argue that the father-daughter strife is a symptom, not just of the clash between modernity and tradition but of the falsehood maintained by neoliberal discourse. Neoliberal narratives of education and consumption construct fantasies such as that of mobility and freedom, subsuming migrant laborers within the nation’s capitalist economy and trapping them in a prison of unrealizable hopes. The film ultimately exposes and critiques the state-capital alliance that controls and deprives migrant workers through its economic, political and epistemic strategies.