China Beat Archive



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October 10, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright October 10, 2008. Used by permission.


Last weekend China Beat contributors—and longtime Beijing neighbors—Susan Jakes and Leslie T. Chang caught up to talk about Chang’s newly released book,Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. The book, which builds on stories Chang wrote as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal (and currently garnering glowing reviews and widespread coverage), follows the lives of young rural women making new lives for themselves in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan.

Susan Jakes: How did you decide you wanted to write a book about migrant workers in China? What did you want to try to figure out? Was there a weakness in the existing reporting on this subject that you wanted to address?

Leslie Chang: The book project began with a bit of an agenda. I had already read some stories in the foreign press, including the Wall Street Journal, about how terrible the conditions in the factories were. The stories tended to focus on the worst cases, the abuses, the miseries, the horrible bosses, the injuries. They tended to portray migration as a desperate act without much of a pay-off for people.

I had a suspicion that there must be more to this, that perhaps things were not so black and white. I also thought that, for a young person coming from a farming village this whole experience in the city might appear very different than it does to us as Western observers. What is it like to leave your village at 16 or 17, to come to a city where you don’t know a single person or only one person, to work in a factory, to earn money for the first time? How does your relationship with your family change? How do your friendships change? How does your worldview change? I thought there must be more to the story. And with that suspicion in mind, I went down to Dongguan in February of 2004.