Chia-Yi's Reviews > Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang
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's review
Aug 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction

While being able to relate to Chang certainly is not a prereq for enjoying this book, I think I've had a different experience reading this book than non-Chinese-Americans may have. My mom grew up working in sweatshops and factories in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s, so this book has been really interesting as a look into the generation of girls that came after her. She had limited schooling, and worked with her hands her entire life. The mentality of moving up and switching jobs and taking computer classes to improve your chances at a better job (and husband) seems to be what sets this generation of girls and women apart. My mother didn't go to work because she wanted to improve her life, she wanted to earn money to improve the lives of her siblings and let them continue schooling. She is of the previous generation, just like Chang's father's generation.

It was really interesting how having wealth changed the migrants' roles in their family affairs. Chang mentions that for the older generation, it was not the same (i.e. getting beaten for changing your major without consulting with parents). My mother also earned a lot for her parents, not more than her father, but it only made a difference when she argued for allowing her younger sisters to continue their education.It is interesting to see how much has changed and how things are continually changing, not necessarily in a good or bad way, but just changing.

Some quotes that I liked:
p. 49 "We can be ordinary but we must not be vulgar" - Wu Chunming
p. 58 "The divide between countryside and city was the only one that mattered: Once you crossed that line, you could change your fate."
"You can only rely on your self"
p. 234 "Seventy percent of Chinese people are bad." - Lao Gong, businessman

Some of the reviews talk about how Chang uses a lot of metaphors, or jumps from topic to topic, or delves too deeply into her own family history for the purposes of the story. I think to try to understand present modern China, you really do need to understand at least some of the history, and the cultural things that have led up to present day. I admit that at some points her narrative is a little weak, but the richness of history makes up for that and the intrigue of the modern girls' story holds up well against it.

As for the metaphors, that is part of Chinese culture (i.e. the not talking openly about yourself or feelings or opinions), so if you really don't get the picture or effect she is going for, then you could try just thinking about it for a few minutes. That break in space between paragraphs is meant to tell you to take a moment and think before you barrel further into the story. This is not like your fictional novel where you just want to see what happens at the end. Part of the process is really trying to understand the people and what they are going through in these stories.

On a somewhat related note, this is an interesting project (scroll down to "Apart Together"):

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Reading Progress

August 27, 2011 – Started Reading
August 27, 2011 – Shelved
August 27, 2011 – Shelved as: non-fiction
August 27, 2011 –
page 105
25.0% "Really interesting so far! Reminds me of some of the stories my mom used to tell me about her life in China."
August 28, 2011 –
page 228
54.29% "I enjoyed the chapter on the author's family's history in China. A quote: "The pull of China is strong, which is why I resisted it for so long.""
September 1, 2011 – Finished Reading

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