China's post-1978 reforms wrought such wide-ranging changes that much remains to be understood and analyzed. Recovering Histories: Life and Labor after Heroin in Reform-Era China, by anthropologist Nicholas Bartlett, is a valuable contribution to the scholarship on Chinese workers in the ongoing reforms. It highlights the presence and consequences of a new force, heroin, which powerfully reshaped life and work in a southwestern city during the decades of socioeconomic transformation.

Famed for the rich tin ores in its surrounding mountains, Gejiu in Yunnan province has had a history of tin mining for two millennia. Political revolution in 1949 did not disrupt Gejiu's mono-economy but strengthened it with the state-owned enterprise (SOE), the Yunnan Tin. It became the largest employer, healthcare provider, and education provider for Gejiu's residents. The post-1978 reforms, however, brought opportunities beyond this “iron rice bowl.” For the second generation of Yunnan Tin workers, the choice to...

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