Jenny Yates's Reviews > Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang
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Jan 15, 2011

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I learned a lot from this book, and found it an interesting read. It’s an account of a particular segment of Chinese culture, seen through the eyes of an American. And it’s true that only a foreigner can see a country clearly, and also true that foreigners always bring their own beliefs and prejudices to the country they’re describing.

However, given that, this book gave me a real sense of what it’s like for young women in China today. Chang does a clear, thorough job of detailing the lives of women in transition, moving from the village to urban life. The women in this book are not stuck in their factories; they have a clear sense of their own destiny. She describes their friendships, their relationships to their families, their romantic struggles, their ways of living, their mobility, their dependence on cell phones, their ambitions, and their ethical beliefs.

Throughout most of the book, Chang maintains an observer stance, although she never entirely leaves herself out of the story. People’s reactions to her are revealing, too. But she also diverges from her main theme to tell the story of her own family history in China. She went back to visit her ancestral village, and to see hitherto unknown family members. I often wished this could have been a book of its own, since it didn’t always mesh with the rest of the book - although it does echo, on a larger scale, the patterns of the migrant workers who “go out” and then come home.

One thing that’s clear is that Chang’s attitude towards China changed in the writing of this book. She discovered things she didn’t expect - about herself and her own history, and about the factory girls she was studying. And I was surprised by the things she discovered as well.

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