Sunday, October 31, 2010

Factory Girls

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang tracks the lives of two young Chinese women, Min and Chunming, who leave their rural homes and move to city of Dongguan, a factory city in China, a part of the 130 million workers who move away from their homes to better their lives. Chang who was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal writes this non-fiction book as though it were a story, which makes for easy reading. Chang also discusses her own family history. Although she grew up in the United States, her father and siblings were born in China. After the death of their father, the family moved to Taiwan, and finally as her father and his siblings became young adults, tried to further their education in the United States. Visiting the land of her father's birth, Chang is able to locate some relatives and also the home where her family lived.

I have never given much thought to life in a Chinese factory city and was fascinated by their size, allowing the workers to access the things they needed without ever leaving the factory. The rapid transitions that many of these workers make from job to job is also amazing, and somewhat sad, as relationships that are formed quickly also end quickly. Everyone is looking to get ahead, trying to find an opportunity to do so. Still, Chang is able to form a relationship with both Min and Chunming, despite the fact that Chang reflects that neither girl ever ask for her help or advice.

I expected to feel badly for the conditions the workers are forced into, and the lives they lead. However, I never really felt that for the girls described in Factory Girls. These young women knowingly move to a factory city, seeking a better life than the rural one they have left. Their departure from the home they grew up in reminds me a bit of young people leaving for college. Their is a sense of excitement, an escape from the "real world." Some return home to marry and have children, but factory cities seem to open up an entirely different way of life. Home is always there - a place to visit, or regroup if needed.

Chang's book definitely brought to my attention the development of factory cities and the migration of young people to work in them in China. Factory Girls was such well written, interesting book that read quickly and kept my attention the entire way through.

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