- Paperback: 420 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (August 4, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385520182
- ISBN-13: 978-0385520188
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 194 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
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“Engrossing. . . an exceptionally vivid and compassionate depiction of the day-to-day dramas, and the fears and aspirations, of the real people who are powering China’s economic boom.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“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.”
–The Washington Post
“Chang’s deeply affecting book tells the story of the invisible foot soldiers who made China’s stirring rise possible.”
–The New York Times
“This is an irresistible book.”–People
“Fascinating. . . Chang powerfully conveys the individual reality behind China’s 130 million migrant workers, the largest migration in human history.”
–The Boston Globe
“Chang reveals a world staggering in its dimensions, unprecedented in its topsy-turvy effects on China’s conservative culture, and frenetic in its pace. . . Chang deftly weaves her own family’s story of migrations within China, and finally to the West, into her fascinating portrait. . . Factory Girls is a keen-eyed look at contemporary Chinese life composed of equal parts of new global realties, timeless stories of human striving, and intelligent storytelling at its best.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Both entertaining and poignant. . . 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.”
–The New Yorker
“A compelling, atmospheric look at seldom-seen China.”
“Chang, a journalist at the Wall Street Journal, spent two years reporting in the gritty southern boomtown of Dongguan trying to put human faces on these workers, and the ones she finds are extraordinary. They are, more than anything else, the face of modern China: a country increasingly turning away from its rural roots and turbulent past and embracing a promising but uncertain future. . . The painstaking work Chang put into befriending these girls and drawing out their stories is evident, as is the genuine affection she has for them and their spirit.”
“In her impressive new book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, former Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie T. Chang explores this boom that's simultaneously emptying China's villages of young people and fueling its economic growth. . . To be sure, this mass migration is a big and well-told story. But Chang brings to it a personal touch: her own forebears were migrants, and she skillfully weaves through the narrative tales of their border crossings. She also succeeds in grounding the trend in wider social context, suggesting that the aspirations of these factory girls signal a growing individualism in China's socialist culture.”
“Elegant. . . Chang is less interested in exposé than in getting to know the young women of Dongguan’s assembly lines. Factory Girls reveals the workplace through the workers’ eyes.”
“A real coup. . . Chang, a former Beijing correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, does more than describe harsh factory conditions. She writes about the way the workers themselves see migration, bringing us views that are rarely heard. Factory Girls is highly readable and even amusing in many places, despite the seriousness of the subject. In the pages of this book, these factory girls come to life.”
–Christian Science Monitor
“Amazing. . . a fascinating ethnography of the young women who labor in the factories of Guangdong, China’s richest province, a land of boomtowns where wealth and scams and exploitation and warmth and courage all abound. . . I must have read fifty books about China this year, but this stands out as one of the best.”
“A gifted storyteller, Chang crafts a work of universal relevance.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In-depth reporting [that] contributes significantly to our knowledge about China’s development.”
“Rising head and shoulders above almost all other new books about China, this unflinching and yearningly compassionate portrait of the lives and loves of ordinary Chinese workers is quite unforgettable: it presents the first long, hard look we have ever taken at the people who are due to become, before very much longer, the new masters of the world.”
–Simon Winchester, author of The Man Who Loved China
“Often people ask me, ‘What’s it like for women in China today?’ From now on I'll recommend Leslie Chang’s Factory Girls, which is brilliant, thoughtful, and insightful. This book is also for anyone who's ever wondered how their sneakers, Christmas ornaments, toys, designer clothes, or computers are made. The stories of these factory girls are not only mesmerizing, tragic, and inspiring -- true examples of persistence, endurance, and loneliness -- but Chang has also woven in her own family’s history, shuttling north and south through China to examine this complicated country’s past, present, and future.”
–Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Leslie T. Chang lived in China for a decade as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. She is married to Peter Hessler, who also writes about China. She lives in Colorado.
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Using the words of her subjects, Chang shows us how much of what they do is motivated by nothing less than that which motivates teens around the world; the desire to experience life, break free of parental dependence, and find out who they are. China's young factory workers are strikingly similar to the teens running around in neighborhoods throughout the U.S., although not quite the same because these girls are pulling work shifts that would make even the most energetic teens in America whine for their free time, Facebook, and televisions. For that matter, the fact that a forty hour work week is considered the slow season in China's factory world is enough to shock most American workers regardless of age. This is accomplished via the indefatigable pragmatism of the Chinese which drives them to ignore the misery and focus on the big picture. To do nothing and accept defeat is not an option. As one girl noted; being young and able yet unemployed is inexcusable. That sounds like it would be a hot selling bumper sticker for the tea party.
The book raises many questions and debunks a few myths. I have been guilty of self-admonishment for my role in China's factory climate but it never occurred to me that much of China's expansion is embraced by the Chinese workers themselves. In arrogantly assuming their inability to take care of their own problems and to use circumstances to their advantage, my self-chastisement over buying a pair of Nikes is both misplaced and elitist. The truth is factory conditions have improved from the 90s and will doubtless continue with or without my boycotting Wal-Mart.
Another area impacted by the massive migrations is the cultural shift from Mao-era anti-intellectualism, anti-wealth, and pro-rural proletariat to the pro-education, consumer-driven society China is fast morphing into. Ironically, many of the subjects in Ms. Chang's study are clueless about their own short-term history and just as ideologically driven towards selfishness and self-indulgence as their grandparents might have been to wade deeply into selflessness and adoration of the working class farmers decades prior. Perhaps this is the saddest revelation to me and a source of inner struggle for some of the factory girls. They vacillate between the cutthroat lessons in their shady business classes or those learned by others scrambling in the burgeoning rat race and the traditional sense of community, nationalism, and selflessness endemic to their culture.
To coincide with the stories of the factory workers, Ms. Chang weaves in her own family's experiences to provide a historical connection between her subjects and her own ancestors. These stories not only illustrate China's 20th century changes but also provide additional empathy. Chang is clearly not an emotionally distanced observer.
The book doesn't always flow smoothly and some editing would've made it even better (at over 400 pages it's about 100 pages too long), but nonetheless, Leslie T. Chang has written a near perfect, powerful and provocative book. She shines a light into some of China's darker corners and in so doing; she exposes other issues larger than the factory girls and their struggle.
In writing a book that debunks many of the myths about factory workers in southern China, Chang has also drawn a comparison between China and America. It is hard to read this and not wonder how we have fallen so far. If the clichéd worry about China taking over the world comes to pass, you can credit the people themselves as much if not more than the U.S. corporations who moved production around the globe. Given the choice between stagnation and fatalistic futures on the farm, teenage girls chose the miserable working environments and slave labor wages of the factories in the city. How different is this from our own immigrant issues and the fact that they are more than willing to take the jobs that are available, whatever they may be? In a job market where competition is now global, corporations demonstrate zero loyalty to their home countries of incorporation, and the lowest rung of the ladder negatively affects all the rungs above, what is an unemployed and desperate person to do? Wait a second...let me amend my question: what is an unemployed and desperate person WITHOUT welfare, unemployment benefits, and all the social safety nets abused in America to do? I think you know the answer.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and here in the U.S. we used to understand that. I'm a dues paying union teacher who grew up in steel country and I have long pined for a return to single-earner households and the glorious middle class that Americans defined. Like it or not, however, that time is gone and its return is highly unlikely. Americans need to embrace the kind of pragmatism that China has long had at its core. We need to do more than complain and ride the welfare gravy train. Chang writes often of the intense fealty to independence and self-reliance of these teens, young people who are steamrolling The American Dream and slapping a Made in China label on it. 4.5 stars
The author looks at the lives of the (mainly) women who leave the country side to come to the factories to make money for themselves and for their families. Focusing on the city of Dongguan, which is known as a manufacturing city, the author looked for and found 2 subjects that were interested in telling their stories. She actually found more, but do to the turnover rates at the factories, she lost touch with them fairly rapidly.
Imagine, if you can, a factory that makes most of the athletic shoes for many of the main brand names in the industry, along with a few lesser brands. What would that factory look like and how are the workers treated? Would you be surprised if I told you the factory compound employs 70,000 employees (no, that isn't a misprint) and that the workers work forced overtime, make less than $200 a month (on average) and live and eat within the factory compound? I know I was amazed and tried to picture what a factory of that size looked like.
Interspersed with the information about the factories, the city, and life in the city, the author presents a history of her family. While it may seem out of place, the information is very useful in demonstrating how China has changed financially, as well as socially, over the past 100 years. The information paints a stark change in the way society functions and demonstrates that China is a different country now from what it was even a mere 10 years ago.
This was an excellent read that had me looking at electronic items I used every day in a totally different light. And, I am sure it will cause me to think twice when I next purchase something made in China. I will wonder if the people who made it are treated as slaves or if this factory is one of the better ones. And I will wonder if they aspire to own whatever it is I want (and probably don't really need). This is an excellent book that puts a face on the globalization of industry and I cannot recommend it highly enough!