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Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Hardcover – October 7, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 182 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Chang, a former Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, explores the urban realities and rural roots of a community, until now, as unacknowledged as it is massive—China's 130 million workers whose exodus from villages to factory and city life is the largest migration in history. Chang spent three years following the successes, hardships and heartbreaks of two teenage girls, Min and Chunming, migrants working the assembly lines in Dongguan, one of the new factory cities that have sprung up all over China. The author's incorporation of their diaries, e-mails and text messages into the narrative allows the girls—with their incredible ambition and youth—to emerge powerfully upon the page. Dongguan city is itself a character, with talent markets where migrants talk their way into their next big break, a lively if not always romantic online dating community and a computerized English language school where students shave their heads like monks to show commitment to their studies. A first generation Chinese-American, Chang uses details of her own family's immigration to provide a vivid personal framework for her contemporary observations. A gifted storyteller, Chang plumbs these private narratives to craft a work of universal relevance. (Oct. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

China is in the midst of history�s largest human migration, a hundred and thirty million of its citizens having left their home villages in search of urban employment. Chang, an American of Chinese descent, explores the migrant experience and �the burden of being Chinese� through the lives of several young women in the industrial city of Dongguan. Their Sisyphean attempts at self-reinvention are both entertaining and poignant; the most ambitious of them achieves modest success selling dubious health products, before falling under the spell of an American raw-food guru. In her diary, she reminds herself, �We can be ordinary but we must not be vulgar.� Chang�s fine prose and her keen sense of detail more than compensate for the occasional digression, and her book is an intimate portrait of a strange and hidden landscape, �a universe of relentless motion.�
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; First Edition edition (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520171
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. C. Carrad on October 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting subject, thorough research, well-written. Even the digressions (about the author's family and their histories in and out of China) are fascinating, though they don't quite mesh with the rest of the book. The experiences the factory girls have and their personal transformations will resonate with American readers - here is the self-improvement, hard work and confidence Horatio Alger stuff that used to inspire America transplanted into a culture that is receptive and eager to absorb it, and here, too, are lucid accounts of the sad gaps between ambition and ability, ideals and reality, success and failure that go with immigrant experiences. The author was able to get closer to her subjects than anyone else I have read and writes very well indeed. Her account of how the internal migrant experience has mutated in China over the last 10-15 years is particularly fascinating. I read this cover to cover with great interest and hope the author is a work on a new book. (I don't know what is bothering the one star reviewer -- this review is written in Henan where I am visiting my Chinese wife's family, and I have read countless books on China and spent lots of time here and can vouch for the authenticity of this book).
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Format: Hardcover
In this book, Leslie Chang delves deeply into the world of migrant workers to find out who these people are and what their collective dislocation means for China. Chang skillfully sketches migrants as individuals with their own small victories and bitter tragedies, and she captures the surprising dynamics of this enormous but ill-understood subculture. In many ways, migrant workers embody the fundamental changes underway in China today.

Chang covered China for the Wall Street Journal, and she's an insightful interpreter of a society in flux. People who leave village life, with its intense cocoon of family and community ties, find themselves untethered in a city, scrounging for work and a place to sleep. "They were prey to all sorts of cons, making life decisions on the barest bits of information," she writes. And yet many migrants also feel freed from a suffocating web of traditional habits and mores. Able to explore and grow in the lawless free-for-all of China's boomtowns, many cross an invisible line into the modern world, and there is no going back.

Chang got to know dozens of young women who have ventured to Dongguan, a new metropolis just north of Hong Kong. She focuses on two particularly compelling ones, Min and Chunming, who gradually came to trust her enough to share their stories, as well as diary entries, late-night phone calls and heart-to-heart confessions. Each is ambitious, impulsive, endearing. Each left home as a teenager and experienced a big adventure. Through their lives, Chang shows us how unmoored China is, erratically yearning for something better, and surprisingly resilient.
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Format: Hardcover
From this book's opening paragraph positing two factory girls meeting each other with an opening question of, "What year are you," the China-knowledgeable reader knows with certainty that author Leslie Chang has her literary finger firmly on the pulse of mainland China. The good news is that Ms. Chang sustains her dead-on rendition of Chinese culture and factory life throughout the full length of this deeply engaging look at China's massive migrant work force. FACTORY GIRLS is informative and insightful, offering a first-hand view of the (mostly) young women who make up what the Chinese aptly call the "liudong renkou," the "floating population."

Ms. Chang, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent and spouse of China author Peter Hessler (RIVER TOWN and ORACLE BONES), directs her attentions to the industrial heart of southeastern China, in the city of Dongguan. There she meets and obtains the confidence of several young women from peasant families who have migrated from small villages in the country's interior, agricultural provinces to take factory jobs. There's Lu Qingmin, a migrant from Hubei Province who follows her older sister Guimin's trek to the factory world in Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong. There's Wu Chunming, the inveterate diarist and self-motivator, a native of Hunan Province who left her village for factory life in 1993, long before the migration became a massive movement.

Amazingly, as Chang reveals, some of the young women had no idea what factory work was like before arriving there, imagining it as some sort of chatty, casual environment. What they discover is, of course, far different, but Chang uses her personal entrée to explore their motivations. First and foremost is money, both for their own use and equally to send back to their families.
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Format: Hardcover
Factory Girls is a non-fiction book written by an Chinese-American journalist. It focuses on the stories of girls who immigrate from rural Chinese villages to factories in more urban areas of China. The girls work in shoe factories, purse factories, factories that make one specific plastic piece for a larger item, and a lot of other factories, but their stories are all the same -- they left the village for better opportunities.

I'm glad that someone finally wrote a book like this. People in America like to focus on poor working conditions of factories in China, but what they don't realize is that a lot of the people working in those factories would rather work 14 hour days sitting in an assembly line and earning 10x the amount they make doing back-breaking work on a farm. The author does a great job showing the lives of these girls who leave their village without imparting any judgement on them or their bosses.

I enjoyed reading the stories of the handful of girls who worked at one factory, jumped to the next, jumped to another job, and so on, but I thought the author's own story of her family felt a bit tacked on. It made the book feel like it was trying to be two separate books. The author's story could have gone in a separate book about families affected by the Communist Revolution.

The book is easy to read. Even though the factory girls' stories started sounding similar toward the middle of the book (that was the point), it never felt like a chore to read. I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in the side of the story that doesn't usually get covered in western newspapers.
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