Mikey B.'s Reviews > Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang
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Feb 11, 13

bookshelves: favorites, china, history, journalism
Recommended to Mikey B. by: Caroline
Read in January, 2013


             Debrouillez-vous!   



If you have ever wondered about the people who make most of the objects we use on a daily basis – like running shoes, home appliances, kitchen utensils... read this book. We are given an insightful view of their lives and surroundings.

Most of them are young women who come from rural areas. They essentially abandon the rural lifestyle to embark on an urban factory journey. Most will change jobs several times. They will meet a myriad of friends who just come and go. Their lives are forever altered.

The author does not wage a campaign denigrating the factories young people work in. We are presented rather with their daily living conditions. They work long hours and they are exploited – if they leave the job they may not receive the back pay owed to them (like two months wages). One of the first things that hit me when starting to read, were the job ads specifically asking for “female workers”. In my country (Canada) it would be against the labour code to specify a gender when posting an ad (not that jobs in Canada do not discriminate by gender – construction jobs are male dominated, CEOs are predominantly male).

Importantly the author visits a village, that some of the workers come from, during the New Year vacation period. We feel the contrast between what the young girls’ life in the village would be like with constricting and defined roles around the family, the extended family and the entire rural community. In the factory they have more empowerment – they can ask the boss for a change of position, a raise, or even quit. They can spend their earnings as they wish. They also sense their empowerment when they return to their small community – which aside from the electronic gadgets seems almost medieval; there is no sense of privacy.

Neither does Ms Chang paint the urban factory as a paradise. There is a constant pressure of production – of doing more with less, and also dishonesty between all levels of the workers and employers . We are told for instance that theft is common in the worker bunk houses. Also I got a pervading sense of loneliness,but loneliness is common in the urban environment. So many people, but so few real friends.

I titled this review “Debrouillez-vous” which is a French expression meaning – get on with it, make due, you are on your own. This, I believe, describes the plight of these young girls when they arrive in Dongguan – a huge land of factories – where they must organize themselves, get a job, change jobs – all on their own – and become self-reliant. They are no longer in a communal village.

This is a revealing book and focuses on people – not statistics – so we get a personal view of some of the factory workers – mostly female but young men as well. One statistic does stand out – 130 million migrant workers – the population of my country (Canada) is somewhat over 30 million. That is a staggering number! Perhaps I would have liked more on sexual harassment – after all most of the workers are young women and their bosses male. We are also provided with a chapter on the ubiquitous running shoe. This is a very worthwhile read – up close, engaged and personal.

Some quotes:
Page 11 (my edition): “There was nothing to do at home, so I went out”
Page 57: If migration liberated young women from the village, it also dropped them in no-man’s land.
Page 97: In a universe of perpetual motion, the mobile phone was magnetic north.
Page383: now there was an opportunity to leave your village and change your fate, to imagine a different life and make it real
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Caroline Ah, so you have now read Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China too!

I related completely to what you said in your review. I thought this was most pertinent

I titled this review “Debrouillez-vous” which is a French expression meaning – get on with it, make due, you are on your own. This, I believe, describes the plight of these young girls when they arrive in Dongguan – a huge land of factories – where they must organize themselves, get a job, change jobs – all on their own – and become self-reliant. They are no longer in a communal village.

One can hardly believe the culture shock these girls must experience between the intimate smallness of village life (in all respects), and the giant impersonality of these vast factory towns...


Mikey B. I really enjoyed this book - and its THANKS to your review!
The author by looking at just a few of the young people gives us a good in depth view of how their lives have been jolted by factory land. I also liked the fact that she did not paint both factory/small village existence in negative/positive tones but gave us a portrait that was much more nuanced and with a lot of feeling.

In their village everything was regimented - as in factory land, in some ways, they had more self-freedom.


message 3: by Caroline (last edited Feb 12, 2013 10:06AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Caroline Certainly in the factory towns they seemed very ambitious - not at all just treading along in the same job day after day. I was surprised at how innovative many of the girls seemed even in those incredibly monotonous/inhuman surroundings.

Also all the girls seemed to have families in rural villages that they could go back to. I wonder how long that will last? As China continues to modernise and more people work in towns and in the factories, I wonder how long that sort of one-family subsistence farming will last.


Caroline My friend who lived in China for 12 years just sent me a link to an interesting article on blue collar versus white collar jobs in China, and the aspirations of today's graduates.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/bus...


Mikey B. Hmmm I can't seem to connect to that page - and it is the New York times which I use frequently
There are those dots at the end?? bus...


message 6: by Caroline (last edited Feb 14, 2013 09:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Caroline I'll try again...

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/bus...

It's really weird, the links *look* the same, but I think this one is working.


Mikey B. It worked!! THANKS

What an interesting article that ties in well with the book. Surprising (or maybe not) to read that computer graduates cannot find jobs. Also interesting (and that was mentioned in the book) how the factories also provide extracurricular activities for their employees - like cafes, sleeping accommodations, internet access...


Caroline Also I suspect that provisions for factory workers have got better in recent years (as was suggested by the move from dormitories to 2-person flats), as it has become less easy to recruit blue-collar staff....


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