Sep 03, 09
Read in September, 2009
There are two great reasons to read this book! One, the direct relevance it has to almost everyone alive today who consumes products of any sort (shoes, bags, cell phone parts, computer parts) made by the intrepid young working ladies of Dongguan in Southern China that the author describes in this book. Second, Ms. Chang's narrative voice was truly a pleasure to read.
The material itself is fascinating and up-to-the minute-timely; the book details how a huge migration is taking place in China, transforming family life, economic life, and the individual fates of millions of young women and men who leave the countryside to work in cities full of factories, cities which are changing and growing at an insane speed. Knowing next to nothing about China, this book opened the door a crack for me to understanding something about the country. It was a great introduction, providing a context or anchor for further reading, and sparking my interest in learning more. Ms. Chang was the perfect narrator; she wrote in a way that provided an immediately familiar and recognizable narrative voice to an American reader but with her Chinese language skills, family background, open mind, and warm heart she was also able to become close enough with the Chinese women to give us an intimate view of their lives, ambitions, and view of the world.
It took me almost a month to read the book. Upon finishing, I realized I was going to miss Ms. Chang's company, telling me the story of these girls and their surroundings through the filter of her own wonderfully insightful mind; sometimes with gentle humour, sometimes subtly scathing, sometimes admiring of the girls, sometimes seeing right through their words and acitons. While picking up on unusual and fascinating details with a reporter's careful eye, Ms. Chang also showed just as good a feel for understanding the bigger picture and going to the heart of the matter in her analyses. It would have been difficult to read about some of the chinese style self-help-gurus, the cult style English teachers and the like without touches of Ms. Chang's scepticism and wit. It was useful, after reading about the flimsiness of business standards in Dongguan and shallow ethics of the Dongguan workplace, to have Ms. Chang anchor the story in the context of a larger picture of Chinese values and history. I appreciated the honesty, open-mindedness, humour, courage, and wisdom with which Ms. Chang researched the book, lived her life in a very intense environment without losing her own perspective, and narrated this fascinating story.