China has 150 million migrant workers—the largest migration in human history. Though we rely on cheap goods made in China, few Westerners have been inside the factories that provide us with the sneakers, luxury handbags, mobile phones, and computers we depend upon, and even fewer have penetrated the lives of the young women who leave their homes to work in China's sprawling factory cities.
In Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, former Wall Street Journal Beijing correspondent and first-generation Chinese-American Leslie T. Chang tells the story of these workers who labor countless hours to provide us with the material goods we take for granted. Factory Girls is told primarily through the lives of two young women, whom Chang 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.
Chang vividly portrays a world where nearly everyone is under thirty; where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a mobile phone; and where lying about your age, education, and work experience is often a requisite for getting ahead. Chang brings us inside a sneaker factory so large that it houses its own hospital, movie theater, and fire department. She takes us to posh karaoke bars that are fronts for prostitution; to makeshift English classes where students shave their heads in monk-like 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 that have driven these workers to factory life 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.