China Beat Archive



Leslie T. Chang

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May 24, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 24, 2008 Leslie T. Chang. Used by permission.


I started writing my book on a March morning in 2006. About fifteen minutes into it, panic hit: I am no longer earning a salary just sitting here at my desk. By mid-morning, another realization had set in: I can’t go back to being a newspaper reporter.

The book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, opens inside the world of the young women working on assembly lines in the south China factory city of Dongguan:

When you met a girl from another factory, you quickly took her measure. “What year are you?” you asked each other, as if speaking not of human beings but of the makes of cars. “How much a month? Including room and board? How much for overtime?” Then you might ask what province she was from. You never asked her name.

To have a true friend inside the factory was not easy. Girls slept twelve to a room, and in the tight confines of the dorm it was better to keep your secrets. Some girls joined the factory with borrowed ID cards and never told anyone their real names. Some spoke only to those from their home provinces, but that had risks: Gossip traveled quickly from factory to village, and when you went home every auntie and granny would know how much you made and how much you saved and whether you went out with boys.