China Beat Archive



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October 2, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright October 2, 2008. Used by permission.


As faithful readers may recall, China Beat contributor Leslie T. Chang has a forthcoming book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in Changing China, which will be released October 7. The book has received positive reviews, such as this one at Publisher’s Weekly and this one from China Beat’s Jeff Wasserstrom writing in Newsweek. You can read the first chapter for the book as a preview at Amazon, but we wanted to share a short excerpt, from Chapter 4, with you as well. In this excerpt, Chang describes how a mobile phone is not just a desirable accessory for migrant workers, but a necessity:

From Factory Girls: From Village to City in Changing China

By Leslie T. Chang

Small factories had their own problems, and Min soon discovered what they were. The workplace was disorganized, and her own responsibilities were never made clear; she scrambled to keep up with all the tasks thrown her way. Her new boss, like her old one, was insecure and status-conscious. Min was learning that many Chinese men had this flaw. He didn’t like it that Min did not get his approval for everything she did. He didn’t like it that she was friendly with the security guards. His response was to begin interviewing candidates for her position—a colleague, rival, or replacement for Min— without telling her. She heard about it from the office receptionist.

In August 2004, two months after she arrived, Min collected her pay and left without telling anyone. A former colleague had joined a factory in Shenzhen and invited her to go work for him, and she decided to go. She spent the night in a hotel near her factory; while she slept, someone broke the lock on her door. The thief took nine hundred yuan and Min’s mobile phone, the only place where she had stored the numbers of everyone she knew in the city: the excolleague who was her only link to her new job, the friends she had made since going out, and the boyfriend who had gone home.