Book Review – Factory Girls by Leslie Chang

Book Review – Factory Girls by Leslie Chang

The lives of migrant workers in Dongguan

Rarely does one get to read a book about ourselves, the place we live, the people we work with, the ever evolving mishmash that is collectively and unmistakably Dongguan. For those who call this place home, albeit a temporary one, this book invokes a reflection of the past with resonating sentiments.

With a vivid and inviting prose, Leslie Chang shows us Dongguan from an unusual perspective – through the eyes of migrant workers. By befriending Chunming, Min and others, she tells a compelling narrative of their struggles in a foreign world. She follows their ambitious struggles, from familiar places like Zhitong Talent Market and the South China Mall, to unfamiliar places like the Making Friends Club and the Assembly Line English School. With a journalist’s attention to detail, she provides insightful observations on the harsh realities of the Wild West, with injustices so commonplace they are considered normal.

The most appealing part of her writing, in my opinion, is what she does not write about. Faced with the most cynical, perverse, and ridiculous absurdities that would make anyone with a moral fiber face palm himself into a concussion, she reserves judgment and tells it as it is. They are, after all, the rules of the jungle.

However, the book is not without its flaws. She embarks on a personal journey to discover her roots, and rambles on incessantly with irrelevant details, and tries to tie it into the main narrative by forcibly drawing tenuous parallels with the migrant girls. Her journey is interesting, but it belongs in a different book; hijacking the main story detracts from the reading experience. The time I spent reading these section is time I wish I had back.

Factory Girls was published in 2008. An interesting and mostly enjoyable read, but nonetheless now a historical anecdote, which is an attestation to the ever changing nature of Dongguan.

点此阅读中文: Chinese (Simplified)

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3 Comments

  1. JR Acton
    acton28
    June 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm Reply

    Interesting article, in some ways it draws parallels to cotton factory workers in Manchester’s industrial past. I looked up the book and it appears to be available in in French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Arabic. I’ll firmly add this to my reading list now…

    1. Daniel
      July 5, 2015 at 10:57 pm Reply

      It’s an interesting and quick read. I suggest skipping the three root-digging chapters inexplicably scattered throughout the book.

  2. John Reed
    June 29, 2015 at 1:21 pm Reply

    I read this book years ago soon after it was published. It was researched early to mid 00’s and given the rate of change in Dongguan it’s already quite dated. Still was an interesting read and would recommend it to people living here or visitors who want to understand something about from where those girls you see on the factory lines come.

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