By Chet Yarbrough
By Leslie T. Chang
Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Leslie Chang is perfectly suited for this journey into the heart of China’s economic transformation.
Ms. Chang works for the “Wall Street Journal”. She has family generational experience of imperial and communist China from the 1920s to the present; she speaks Mandarin Chinese, and grew up in the United States. Chang brings intimate perspective to the dynamics of economic and social change in 21st century China.
“Factory Girls” gives the world a glimpse of the tremendous cultural change occurring in today’s China.
Sixteen year old girls are leaving rural China to seek their future in the City. With little formal education, they are fuel for the engines of China’s rapid industrial growth. Chang follows several of these amazing young women back and forth from their rural beginnings to their immersion in the difficult life of factory work.
At home on one acre farms there is nothing for young women to do but eat, sleep, and be treated as a burden and betrothal obligation.
Anomie, culture, tremendous ambition, boredom, and opportunity lure these young women into an unknown world of commerce. Chang notes there is little Chinese law to protect children from the abuses of industrialization.
The city beckons because it offers more than the limited opportunity of baring male children. China’s cultural history emphasizes male value and female inferiority to fuel the ambition of young women anxious to prove themselves.
The drive for money, power, and prestige are as clearly evident in women as in men. Those drives have been unleashed by China’s industrial transformation.
The consequence to factory girls is good and bad; i.e. a consequence of living any life. But, for the factory girls, Chang seems to infer the cost of change is less than the cost of staying on the farm.
China is not America. Though about the size of America, China has a population of 1.31 billion; America 325 million.
Chang’s book is frightening to American parents who have the luxury of endorsing extended childhood through college for those who have a high school education.
Imagine a sixteen year old daughter taking a train to a city where she knows no one; has no financial support, and is expected to make her own living.
It is hard to imagine an American daughter that has no opportunity except as a barer of male children. What is a young Chinese girl to do if her life options are limited? What is any human to do if their options are unfairly limited? The poor in America know, but that is another book.
“Factory Girls” is an impressive report of the massive cultural change occurring in China. It is an astounding affirmation of the “will to power” explained by Friedrich Nietzsche. It is the drive of the superman (or woman) to perfect and transcend the self through the possession and exercise of creative power.
One cannot help but admire the factory girls of China; i.e. as difficult as the reality of their lives seems to be.