Author Talk: Leslie Chang, author of FACTORY GIRLS

On Friday night, I went to hear Leslie Chang, the author of Factory Girls, speak at Politics & Prose. I blogged about the book on Thursday and wanted to hear more about it.

Chang opened with an excerpt from the diary of Chunming, one of the two migrant factory workers she follows in her book. The excerpt reveals some insights about why these women work and how they view their role in society. Here are some of the things Chunming wrote:

  • "All we can do is work."
  • "We are not inferior."
  • "The door of success is always open."
  • "In twenty years, things will be different."
  • "God looks out for those who are diligent, brave and enterprising."

Chang talked about how these women work on the assembly line from 7 am to 9 pm, then immediately go to sleep and wake up at 6:30 am to start the process all over again. Chunming is driven to learn and self-improve, and she quickly works her way up the factory ladder.

LeslieTChang4 Chang also cited this jawdropping statistic: there are 130 million migrant workers in China – the largest migration in human history. The workers work long hours for low pay, doing tedious work – but it is also a life of potential opportunity, where they learn new skills. Chang says the workers are revolutionary, changing China's fate by turning over old views and putting individualism over the state. 

Interesting – Chang says much of the focus of the migrant's life is on finding a parter. Many chapters are devoted to this search, which many pursue on the Internet. In this way, these women live at the intersection of modern and traditional worlds. Her observation was that the dating word was not unlike the factory world – full of lying, people scamming to get ahead and taking advantage of the vulnerable.

If you want to read more about China, Leslie Chang contributes to a blog called The China Beat.

I enjoyed Leslie's talk and hope to get to Factory Girls sometime soon!