Monday, 9 January 2012

Chang, Leslie T. "Factory Girls"


Chang, Leslie T. "Factory Girls" - 2008

Leslie T. Chang is a Chinese-American journalist who travelled to and lived in China for a couple of years to get to know the country of her ancestors. She interviewed several female migrant workers and portrayed their lives between the old and the new world, the poor families they were born into and the life in the modern Chinese towns. Quite different from what we in Western Europe expect from someone leaving their home to work in the city.

This was one of our book club reads. For various reasons, we were only a few people but, nevertheless, had a wonderful talk about this book. Some of us had already read other books about China, unfortunately the one that gives the most information (“Risse in der großen Mauer” by Jan-Philipp Sendker) has not been translated into English. But maybe one day, you never know.

Anyway, we really liked the way the author portrayed the different cultures. It was quite shocking at times how these girls moved on in this world,  how they changed from their rural life into city life between factories and other jobs.

Most of us didn't like that the author incorporated her family history into this work. It could have been a book on its own. The title of this one is "Factory Girls" and there is nothing about factories in her family history.

I am always amazed to learn about other lives, especially if they are completely different from ours. Often you have to go back in time for that - but not always, as this book proves.

From the back cover:
"An eye-opening and previously untold story, Factory Girls is the first look into the everyday lives of the migrant factory population in China.

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; 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."

We discussed this in our book club in December 2012.

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