They come in thousands, these girls from rural China, teenagers and young adults, alone or in groups, they flock to the booming South China city Dongguan. Here they make handbags, athletic shoes, rubber parts and electronics for eleven hours a day and, if a girl is lucky, Sunday off, in the endless factories that comprise the city. In a better factory the girls might sleep 10 to a room in dormitories, eat in the factory cafeteria, and earn an average wage of seventy-two dollars a month, a good portion of which the girls are expected to send home to their families.
The harsh conditions do not deter these girls; to “go out” from their villages is to live. In a rural society that values males over females, where marriage might be the only option, migration offers the best opportunity to better oneself. If a girl is willing to speak up for herself, lie through her teeth to get better jobs, take classes in secretarial work, computers, and English, then she does have a future and confers status to her family back home.
Journalist Leslie Chang takes us to the booming world of the migrant workers in Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. From the factories to the villages they leave behind, from boyfriend problems to family pressures, Chang chronicles the fears and dreams of these ambitious hard-working young women.