Sunday, November 21, 2010

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang

I have been reading Leslie Chang's book "Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China". It has been a truly engrossing read, evidenced by the deliberated slow pace I took in reading it. I always had some perverse interest in that even Chinese people in the towns and cities shared the sentiment towards migration is similar to ours when facing the thousands of young Chinese peasants moving to nearby factories to work.

What I didn't like about the book was the interlapsing of her grandfather's story with that of the factory girls whom she befriended while researching the book. It was very confusing and I felt that it would have been better addressed in another book. After all, her grandfather was the martyr of the nation, which strangely I had not read about in other books about China.

I interpreted the author's intention as her wanting to contrast the motives between her grandfather who travelled to USA to study then returned to China to improve the lives and prosperity of his people, versus that of the girls who leave their homes to improve their and their families' lives.

What I found fascinating about these girls who travelled miles from their villages to go to factories where they are trapped like battery chickens, producing endless products for worldwide consumption, is their outlook on life being reshaped from their parents' after becoming self-sufficient and more streetsmart. Upwards mobility is a must because of the terrible conditions they undergo and factories are reluctant to keep people above 30.

Honesty is no longer the best policy, and the migrants tended to hedge the truth when applying for jobs or in love. Earning lends them the strength to make voice their concerns and suggestions in their parents' decisions. Their ambition despite their poorly educated backgrounds, drives them to study English (assembly line English, you have to read the book yourself to believe it) or executive classes, lie and cheat to get better jobs, and even start their own companies, failing then retrying. They are always moving forwards, and living in thr present. One of the weirdest anecdotes of the book is that when a migrant loses the phone, he/she loses contact with everyone (what's wrong with storing the numbers somewhere else?). It was quite an inspirational read. I would say that it is something very few of us cloistered Singaporeans would dare to ourselves.

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