Chang befriends two teenage girls in Yue Yuen, where 70,000 laborers make designer sneakers between sleep-shifts, and follows them over several years as they climb from job to job.
This illuminating study by journalist Leslie Chang is an intimate view into an unfathomably vast scene: over 114 million people in China have left their villages for urban work, creating the largest migration in human history. Chang focuses on the sprawling, industrial city of Dongguan, where she estimates 70 percent of the workforce is young women. As she discovers, these ordinary factory girls are revolutionary agents of change in Chinese culture.
Chang befriends two teenage girls whom she meets on break from their grueling day in Yue Yuen, where 70,000 laborers make designer sneakers between sleep-shifts, and follows them over several years as they climb from job to job. These girls are relentlessly ambitious—not for money (they make about $72 a month) but about developing themselves; they are driven to learn, study English, find new skills, and expand their wealth of experience. The money they send back home to the farm has given them unprecedented economic power within the family structure, subverting a tradition that dictates submission to elders; to a certain extent, the daughters are now calling the shots. In exchange, they work 60 hours a week, sleep in metal bunks 10 to a room, and regularly and voluntarily lose months of back pay when they move to another factory because they don’t want to confront their bosses, who would try to force them to stay. The insight into today’s China that these girls’ lives provide is truly enlightening. Theirs is a poignant story set in a corrupt, chaotic, and untrustworthy world, where if your best friend “jumps” to a new factory, you may never see her again.