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Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China [Paperback]

Leslie T. Chang
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

1 Jan 2010

‘Head and shoulders above almost all other new books about China, this unflinching and yearningly compassionate portrait of the lives and loves of ordinary Chinese workers is quite unforgettable’ Simon Winchester

Every year in China millions of migrant workers leave their rural towns to find jobs in the cities. These people are the driving forces behind China’s economic boom: they work very hard and for little money to make the trainers, ornaments, designer handbags and toys which we buy.

Through the lives of two young women, Chang vividly portrays a world where you can lose your boyfriend and your friends with the loss of a cell phone; where lying about your age, your education, and your work experience is often a requisite for getting ahead; where a few computer or English lessons can catapult you into a completely different social class. This is a powerful and humane portrait of the forces which are shaping China.

‘Astonishing . . . Heartbreaking . . . As one tool in trying to understand today’s China, this is a most valuable, if troubling read’ Irish Times

‘Engrossing . . . An exceptionally vivid and compassionate depiction of the day-to-day dramas, and the fears and aspirations, of the real people who are powering China’s economic boom’ Scotsman

‘Chang’s elegant book is evidence that the best trips home often require a circuitous approach’

Nell Freudenberger, Financial Times


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Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China + Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the China Production Game
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (1 Jan 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 033044736X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330447362
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Engrossing. . . an exceptionally vivid and compassionate depiction of the day-to-day dramas, and the fears and aspirations, of the real people who are powering China's economic boom."-"The New York Times Book Review""Chang delves deeply into the world of migrant workers to find out who these people are and what their collective dislocation means for China. Chang skillfully sketches migrants as individuals with their own small victories and bitter tragedies, and she captures the surprising dynamics of this enormous but ill-understood subculture."-"The Washington Post" "Chang's deeply affecting book tells the story of the invisible foot soldiers who made China's stirring rise possible."-"The New York Times""This is an irresistible book."-"People ""Excellent."-"Chicago Tribune""Fascinating. . . Chang powerfully conveys the individual reality behind China's 130 million migrant workers, the largest migration in human history."-"The Boston Globe ""Chang reveals a world staggering in its dimensions, unprecedented in its topsy-turvy effects on China's conservative culture, and frenetic in its pace. . . Chang deftly weaves her own family's story of migrations within China, and finally to the West, into her fascinating portrait. . . "Factory Girls" is a keen-eyed look at contemporary Chinese life composed of equal parts of new global realties, timeless stories of human striving, and intelligent storytelling at its best."-"San Francisco Chronicle" "Both entertaining and poignant. . . Chang's fine prose and her keen sense of detail more than compensate for the occasional digression, and her book is an intimate portrait of a strangeand hidden landscape."-"The New Yorker ""A compelling, atmospheric look at seldom-seen China."-"BusinessWeek " "Chang, a journalist at the "Wall Street Journal," spent two years reporting in the gritty southern boomtown of Dongguan trying to put human faces on these workers, and the ones she finds are extraordinary. They are, more than anything else, the face of modern China: a country increasingly turning away from its rural roots and turbulent past and embracing a promising but uncertain future. . . The painstaking work Chang put into befriending these girls and drawing out their stories is evident, as is the genuine affection she has for them and their spirit."-"Time" "In her impressive new book, "Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China," former "Wall Street Journal" reporter Leslie T. Chang explores this boom that's simultaneously emptying China's villages of young people and fueling its economic growth. . . To be sure, this mass migration is a big and well-told story. But Chang brings to it a personal touch: her own forebears were migrants, and she skillfully weaves through the narrative tales of their border crossings. She also succeeds in grounding the trend in wider social context, suggesting that the aspirations of these factory girls signal a growing individualism in China's socialist culture."-"Newsweek" "Elegant. . . Chang is less interested in expose than in getting to know the young women of Dongguan's assembly lines. "Factory Girls" reveals the workplace through the workers' eyes."-"Financial Times ""A real coup. . . Chang, a former Beijing correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," does more than describeharsh factory conditions. She writes about the way the workers themselves see migration, bringing us views that are rarely heard. "Factory Girls" is highly readable and even amusing in many places, despite the seriousness of the subject. In the pages of this book, these factory girls come to life."-"Christian Science Monitor" "Amazing. . . a fascinating ethnography of the young women who labor in the factories of Guangdong, China's richest province, a land of boomtowns where wealth and scams and exploitation and warmth and courage all abound. . . I must have read fifty books about China this year, but this stands out as one of the best."-Boingboing.net "A gifted storyteller, Chang crafts a work of universal relevance."-"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) "In-depth reporting [that] contributes significantly to our knowledge about China's development."-"Kirkus Reviews" "Rising head and shoulders above almost all other new books about China, this unflinching and yearningly compassionate portrait of the lives and loves of ordinary Chinese workers is quite unforgettable: it presents the first long, hard look we have ever taken at the people who are due to become, before very much longer, the new masters of the world."-Simon Winchester, author of "The Man Who Loved China""Often people ask me, 'What's it like for women in China today?' From now on I'll recommend Leslie Chang's "Factory Girls," which is brilliant, thoughtful, and insightful. This book is also for anyone who's ever wondered how their sneakers, Christmas ornaments, toys, designer clothes, or computers are made. The stories of these factory girls are not only mesmerizing, tragic, andinspiring -- true examples of persistence, endurance, and loneliness -- but Chang has also woven in her own family's history, shuttling north and south through China to examine this complicated country's past, present, and future."-Lisa See, author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan " "From the Hardcover edition."

Book Description

'Often people ask me, ‘What’s it like for women in China today?’ From now on I’ll recommend Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls , which is brilliant, thoughtful, and insightful. This book is also for anyone who’s ever wondered how their sneakers, Christmas ornaments, toys, designer clothes, or computers are made. The stories of these factory girls are not only mesmerizing, tragic, and inspiring—true examples of persistence, endurance, and loneliness—but Chang has also woven in her own family’s history, shuttling north and south through China to examine this complicated country’s past, present, and future' Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Factory Girls offers a previously untold story about the immense population of unknown women who work countless hours, often in hazardous conditions, to provide us with the material goods we take for granted. A book of global significance, it demonstrates how the movement from rural villages to cities is remaking individual lives and the fates of families, transforming our world much as immigration to America’s shores remade that society a century ago. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and involving 7 Feb 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The subtitle of this fascinating book is particularly expressive and descriptive: Voices from the Heart of Modern China. First published in 2008, the book follows the lives of two migrant girls, as they leave home (and occasionally return) to make their way in the burgeoning factories of China's south-east regions, as part of the "largest human migration in the world's history" as 130 million seek fortune and "life-changing possibilities" away from the country villages of their birth in the new towns and factories. It provides an intimate portrait of the lives, aspirations, frustrations and values of the girls striving to make both a physical and cultural separation from their homes, and to find their own way in the modern evolving China. Somewhat disjointed at first, the book makes, then loses contact with the girls, and then having seemed to express disinterest in her own family history, the author embarks on one of a number of interludes as she explores in great detail her own history from her grandfather's assassination by the Communists to the present day via various relatives still living in China.
As the book progresses, however, this exploration alongside the stories of the girls - provides a deeply absorbing insight into some of the lives of modern China as they struggle with the past and present, and deal with conflicts of family, future, boyfriends, bosses, and opportunities.
While mentioning only in passing some of the major movements and leaders in China in the past few generations, the focus is firmly on the present day and how the girls come to terms with their past by moving forward with resolve and determination ("to linger on loss was pointless").
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely engrossing 2 May 2010
Format:Paperback
I bought this book on a bit of a whim to have something to read while on a holiday visiting family. I will admit that beforehand I knew almost nothing about contemporary China, and also didn't really have any interesting. I can't stress enough how engrossing this book is - beyond any educational level it is extremely well written. I had to ration how many pages I read a day to make the book last the duration of the trip - could not get enough. The people and situations are fascinating, and it really feels like you're getting to glimpse into a world you otherwise wouldn't. I can't recommend this book highly enough, it sparked for me a major interest in China, and it has done the same for everyone I have told to read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can only rely on yourself 22 April 2011
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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.

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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Factory Girls 4 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have spent much time in China for over twenty years now - the people from the shop floor still being very much aloof from me. This book has brought me closer to who they really are and what they really think and feel. If you have a desire to understand the culture of this fascinating country and its endearing people then this book will grip your interest and expand your knowledge. Beautifully written this is an absorbing experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opener about life in modern China 18 Aug 2010
By bethb
Format:Paperback
I bought this for my daughter, who has just gone to China to travel, and hopefully to work. It's a real eye-opener on life in modern China for the young people who travel to the cities looking for work. Well worth a a read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By J. Baldwin VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've had a copy of Factory Girls sitting on my "to read" pile for a few months now. I kept putting it off because although I was interested in the topic, I expected it to be a rather depressing exposé of factory conditions in China, so waited until I was in the mood. Quite what mood I thought that would be I can't tell you.

I wish I hadn't put it off: this is a wonderful book. It isn't about slave labour, awful conditions, or poor wages, but about the people who work in the factories: the "factory girls" of the title, in fact.

Factory Girls explores the culture of migrant workers in China, people who leave rural homes to find their fortune in the rapidly growing cities where people labour away six days a week to make everything from screws to cars. Internal migration has a long history in China but in the past decade or so it has changed considerably. It has also changed the culture of the family.

The book follows a few girls and tells their stories as they leave behind family and friends and forge new lives. For some it's a way of sending money home that can supplement (or even overshadow) the meagre earnings of the family farm. For others it's part of the family contract: the older children leave school early, go out to work, and send money home so the youngest can go to school for a bit longer. By the end of the line, one of them may even go to college.

For these girls there are lots of traps. One ends up running away from a massage parlour when she worries about what she will be expected to do, and ends up living rough for a while. She later builds up a social network but it is all contained on her phone; when that is stolen, everything is lost (including the contact details of the job she had been promised) and she has to start again.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Many new insights into the lives of Chinese factory workers
The greatest benefit of Chang's book is that it manages to capture the sheer dynamism of the factory towns along China's southern coast. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Beren
4.0 out of 5 stars Factory Girls
First part of the book is a bit confusing and the author jumps about from one thing to another. Once she settled into writing about the two main characters it be came easier to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Diane Poppi
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent insight into the factories of China
This book was recommended to me whilst on a touring holiday of China, initially the author concentrates on the women who have travelled from the countryside to work in the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M. Wadsworth
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Honest and thought-provoking book about the lives of some of the female workers in the Chinese factory city of Dongguan. Read more
Published 9 months ago by elephvant
4.0 out of 5 stars Two stories in one.
Very interesting book especially as I am currently working in China, however because of this I think the book could easily be retitled to include every type of female in China,... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Glynnis
2.0 out of 5 stars a bit boring
some passages are interesting, but some are really boring, the author is turning in a circle , with some repitition,
Published 13 months ago by casimodo
4.0 out of 5 stars Evidence for understanding
This book provides case studies of those who power the new China through migration to the cities and employment there. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Marion New York
4.0 out of 5 stars Factory Girls
I'm not a big non-fiction fan. The books are usually very dry and despite how interested I might be in the subject matter, I can't remember what I've read from one page to another. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Laura Besley
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning to be a Chinese factory worker - Keyne Readers
[Book group review]
We chose this book because we wanted to find out about the lives of modern Chinese women, and a number of us had this book recommended to us. Read more
Published 17 months ago by G. E. Kirkup
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight at a personal level
I found this book whilst searching on amazon for biographies and it sounded fascinating. When it arrived it was over 400 pages of tiny writing and I thought that this would be a... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Janie U
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