Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang


The stories of migrant women shared certain features.  The arrival in the city was blurry and confused and often involved being tricked in some way.  Young women often said they had gone out alone, though in fact they usually traveled with others; they just felt alone.  They quickly forgot the names of factories, but certain dates were branded in their minds, like they day they left home or quit a bad factory forever.  What a factory actually made was never important; what mattered was the hardship or opportunity that came with working there.  the turning point in a migrant’s fortunes always came when she challenged her boss.  At the moment she risked everything, she emerged from the crowd and forced the world to see her as an individual.

Best sentence:

I would have liked to spend more time with Big Sister Sun, minus the interpretive commentary; it was unendurable to watch one woman cry while another compared her to seaweed.

Highly recommend this excellent, enlightening, moving book.  I had heard amazing things about it, but figured it would be either dull or depressing or both.  I found it instead to be incredibly compelling.  There is a modesty and openness in the way Leslie Chang writes that is very rare in even the best nonfiction.  The description of the man who invented “Assembly Line English” is a genuine if somewhat tragic LOL.

I trailed Mr. Wu around the room.  I thought he was going to introduce me to some students, but he walked me over to one of the machines instead.  “These are so much more unwieldy than my new machines,” he said.  “It takes two people to carry one.”

By now it was early evening, and I commented that it was getting a little dark to read without light.

“That’s not bad for the eyes,” he said. “Bright sunshine is bad for the eyes.”

“I’m not saying bright sunshine is good for the eyes,” I said.  “I’m just saying it’s not good to read in the dark.”

“That’s not true,” he said heatedly.  “That’s only if your eyeballs are not moving.  If your eyeballs are moving, it doesn’t matter how dark it is.”

One small complaint.  There is a description of the village girl Min going to McDonald’s for the first time.  “She brought her face down close to her Big Mac and ate her way through the sandwich one layer at a time.”  I could not exactly picture how this worked (like, was she descending on the bun part from the top?  did she remove each layer?) and would’ve liked more clarity.


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