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Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (2008)

by Leslie T. Chang

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8003419,086 (3.85)59
China has 130 million migrant workers-the largest migration in human history. In Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang, a former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing, tells the story of these workers primarily through the lives of two young women, whom she follows over the course of three years as they attempt to rise from the assembly lines of Dongguan, an industrial city in China's Pearl River Delta.As she tracks their lives, Chang paints a never-before-seen picture of migrant life-a world where nearly everyone is under thirty; where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a mobile phone; and where a few computer or English lessons can catapult you into a completely different social class. Chang takes us inside a sneaker factory so large that it has its own hospital, movie theater, and fire department; to posh karaoke bars that are fronts for prostitution; to makeshift English classes where students shave their heads in monklike devotion and sit day after day in front of machines watching English words flash by; and back to a farming village for the Chinese New Year, revealing the poverty and idleness of rural life that drive young girls to leave home in the first place. Throughout this riveting portrait, Chang also interweaves the story of her own family's migrations, within China and to the West, providing historical and personal frames of reference for her investigation.A book of global significance that provides new insight into China, Factory Girls demonstrates how the mass movement from rural villages to cities is remaking individual lives and transforming Chinese society, much as immigration to America's shores remade our own country a century ago.… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, GabbyHM, wearyhobo, piquareste, Canutus, sasameyuki, qingerqueer, Betsyreader
  1. 30
    Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China by Tiantian Zheng (mercure)
    mercure: Both these books deal with rural young women in China that travel to the cities looking for a better life in China's current economic boom. Ms. chang concentrates on Donghuan in the Pearl River delta in the south of China, and Ms. Zheng on Dalian in the north. Ms. Zheng also concentrates on the one profession that Ms. Chang seemed less interested in, so from reading both you get a more comprehensive idea of the social changes that China goes through.… (more)
  2. 31
    River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (jilld17)
  3. 21
    Factory Girls: Women in the Thread Mills of Meiji Japan by E. Patricia Tsurumi (TomWaitsTables)
  4. 00
    Northern Girls: Life Goes On by Keyi Sheng (SilentInAWay)

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» See also 59 mentions

English (32)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Read 2018. ( )
  sasameyuki | May 14, 2020 |
​A real eye-opener. In order to succeed in Chinese business you must throw away any shred of integrity you possess. Lie about your age, job experience, education, and everything else in order to obtain a position you are unqualified for and fake it until you make it. Then after a couple of weeks to a couple of months of ​being in this job, leave it for a newer, better one. Because that amount of time makes you a certified expert in whatever field. The only traits you must possess are confidence bordering on audacity, tenacity, and the ability to manipulate other people. ​Other people are virtually disposable and can be thrown under the bus whenever for your own advancement.

The flip side to all of this is that basically the Chinese are living the American Dream. That is to say that anybody can become somebody. These Chinese are no longer fettered by nationalism, idealism, or filial piety. Those brave enough to "go out" to work in the factories can choose their own path, date whom they please, spend what they want, and indeed, enjoy a hitherto unprecedented level of freedom​.​

Those who go out become alienated from their village and family, who can no longer understand them. These worlds are socioeconomic polar opposites.​ Once a migrant is firmly established, he or she likely sends home much more money than his or her village family makes in a year. This is not to say that migrants go out with the purpose of helping their families paramount in their minds. It is certainly a factor, but according to Chang most migrants are out to improve their station in life. The American Dream ​is now the Chinese Dream. One must wonder what the future will bring. I recall either from this book or Peter Hessler's River Town the comment about Chinese being so harsh on America in the past and now they are going through the same things. Side note, but related in a way, China seems so very dirty by American standards. I find this to resemble the Industrial Revolution in western countries and posit that given enough time China will overcome this hurdle (though it is a big one considering the size of the population).

I'm sure all this might be common knowledge to seasoned China watchers, but I am new to the pursuit so I found this book very informative.​ ( )
  otaginenbutsuji | Nov 12, 2019 |
Very interesting! I learned a lot. Inevitably I find myself comparing her work to Peter Hessler's. Hers isn't as masterful, but then, he is kind of in a class of his own. This is definitely worth reading, particularly if you are wanting to learn about women's experience of factory towns in the 2000's in China. It appears that Chang also really did her research and tried really hard to be as honest as she could. In the wake of the recent Mike Daisey debacle (he performs monologues on stage about having met factory workers at the Apple Factory in China, and it recently came out that he made up a bunch of his experiences out of thin air and also stole and/or exaggerated stories from other reporters), I really appreciate all the diligence and all the research she did. ( )
  xiaomarlo | Apr 17, 2019 |
First quarter of the book was interesting, but the remaining 75% was just a repetition of everything that had already been said. At one point the author inserted a long telling of her own family history which had little to do with the purpose of the book. It was like she felt the book wasn't long enough so she added filler. A big disappointment for a book that started out with promise. ( )
  valorrmac | May 15, 2018 |
I loved this book! ( )
  Jewel.Barnett | Sep 6, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Oct 7, 2008)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leslie T. Changprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ericksen, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Witteveen, AlbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The factory world was a place without tradition or pedigree, and people had to learn how to redefine themselves.
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