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You can only rely on yourself
on 22 April 2011
This book brushes a brutal, but realistic, picture of the new (and the old) China: the villages without men (and now even without young women), the cities of singles, the sweatshops and the sweat cities, as well as the individual struggles against exhaustion or for a better education.
This monumental economic and social upheaval is illustrated by in depth documentary reports on the lives and loves of two young girls and on the author's research about her own roots, which are heavily marked by wars, warlords and, most of all, by the Cultural Revolution.
After being outvoted in the Central Committee of the Chinese CP, Mao fought back by setting up the young generation against the old one: `everyone lost years in education, health and family members. But, people still don't (want to) speak about this catastrophe. They repressed the painful past or are seeking excuses like `so many people suffered'.
Migration from the villages
One third of the migrators are very young single women, some not older than 16 years: `They took such risks, and they were surrounded by corrupt or dishonest people.'
Moreover, `unlike men, women had no home to go back to. According to Chinese tradition, a son was expected to return to his parents' house with his wife after he married. Daughters would never return home to live - until they married, they didn't belong anywhere.'
Working conditions in the sweatshops
In some sweatshops, the working conditions are simply dismal: `up till 13 hour workdays with two breaks for meals. Some Saturday afternoons there was no overtime. That was their only half day rest. Salaries (not always paid on time) stood at 50 $ a month.'
The sweat city of Dongguan (between Shenzhen and Guangzhou) could stand as a good example of a sweat city with its outspoken characteristics of `materialism, environmental ruin, corruption (kickbacks and bribes), pollution, noise, prostitution, bad driving, short term thinking, stress, striving and chaos.'
At the other end of the social scale stands the `Yue Yuen factory with its population of seventy thousand workers; a manufacturer for Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Asics with a complete vertical integration from design, glues, soles to finished products. Workers eat, shop and sleep in the factory, which has a kindergarten, a hospital and an average salary 72 $ for sixty hours work week.'
Even with these very long working hours, some people still find the time to study. But, the needs of the Chinese economy are growing so fast that education cannot follow.
The link between the migrations
The journey that my grandfather attempted was one that millions of young people now make every day - they leave home; they enter an unfamiliar land; they work hard. They were/are concerned with their own destinies, and they made/make their own decisions. It was/is an ugly world; but, at least, it was/is their own.
This book is a must read for all those who want to understand the world we live in.