I finished this book half an hour ago and if you are at all interested in China's economy, changing China, the role of women in China, migrant workers, modern China in general or where your stuff comes from, this is a must read.
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Leslie T. Chang
A fascinating look at the life of China's migrant workers. Chang's account focuses on the Dongguan area in southern China, part of China's manufacturing boom area. Her she meets the young girls who have left rural China to move to the coast in hopes of building something better for themselves and their families. (Dongguan is about 70% female. Chang speculates that one reason for this may be that families are more reluctant to let their sons "go out" and move so far away from home.)
Chang follows these girls as they jump factories and move up and down the ladder of economic and personal success. She visits their home villages, hangs out with their friends. While there is a wealth of information about trends and modern China, it is through the lens of these girls, these women, and the reader connects with them on a personal level.
Entwined with the personal stories of these girls is the story of Chang's own family, and how they also migrated (but due to political rather than economic reasons) across China and then to Taiwan and the States. Through these duel narratives, she explores the similarities and differences, but also the Chinese mindset about the past, about individual and shared history and responsibility.
I most appreciated Chang's portrayal of factory life. Her descriptions of work schedules and conditions are colored only by the perceptions of those who work there. The focus is not "look at these horrible conditions" nor "such great opportunity!" but more, "this is what it is" and these are the people who work here, who live here.
Extremely readable and fascinating. I also think that this book would be a good read for teens--not only to see what the world is like and a little about where their stuff comes from, but also to see how 16 year olds live on the other side of the world and what they are doing and what their lives are like.
Read an excerpt here and an interview with Chang here