Before we left for China, I had read many articles on the imbalance of males to females in China. One article even stated the ratio as high as one-hundred and twenty males to every one-hundred females. The reasons given for this imbalance were startling to me. Many articles pointed to the one child policy and the cultural preference to males as the reason. I read about families having abortions to control the sex of their one child and even the outright killing of female babies. The fact that we were going to China to pick up our new granddaughter only helped to reinforce my idea of what we would see on the streets of China. I fully expected to see only males and an occasional female. This was a false impression.
When we arrived in Beijing I was surprised to see large groups of young girls. From my observation these groups far outnumbered the males. When we traveled to Nanjing, the ratio of girls to boys on the streets was even higher and only grew when we were in Wuxi. When we reached Guangzhou, it was a rare sight to see a young man on the streets. My observations were not scientific, only an impression, although it was hard to believe the many articles I had read before coming to China. I began to ask why I was seeing so many girls and the answer was always that they were from the countryside.
I have since read about the mass migration, in China, of the rural girls to the cities for factory work. Among my readings the best book is by Leslie Chang. The Factory Girls, From Village to City in a Changing China. After reading this book I now feel I have a very good understanding of whom those young girls were and why they were in the city. Reading this book was an epiphany experience. I began to understand the many young girls we interacted with at the hotels, shops, and restaurants. I understand the intense shyness coupled with the curiosity they exhibited toward us.
I know why some were so eager to talk English with us and receive the little gifts of postcards of Milwaukee, WI we passed out. This book brought me into the world of these migrants and allowed me to glimpse what their lives were like. When I finished the book, I felt an emptiness not for the girls but for myself that I had to leave them.
Leslie Chang is a marvelous writer. She could have easily written a book judging the circumstances causing the migration and detailed the horror of the migrant’s life in China. Instead she opened the door to examine the migrant’s life and allowed the reader to come to their own conclusions. She allowed the girls in the book to speak for themselves and in so doing the reader becomes personally involved with the girl’s stories. Wrapped around these stories is the author’s personal story of discovering her family in China. I must admit that at first I did not understand why she included this personal narrative. Now I can see that it enabled her to better understand and write about the migrant population.
The Chinese migration of one-hundred and thirty million workers is the largest migration in history. This migration has an enormous impact on our economy, our foreign trade, and relations with other countries. The migration provides the workers to make the products we consume. These are the faces of those who have changed the way we go to work and the jobs we do here in the United States. They are manufacturing the products which just a few years ago were made right here in the United States.
The migration in China is transforming the society in China and also here in the United States. Without these millions of young girls who have left their rural villages to travel thousands of miles and work in the factory towns we would still have an industrial economy and not a service economy.
I have also taken a keener interest in my own family. I now want to investigate my grandfather’s role in unionizing the International Harvester plant in Chicago. This book is life changing and I am very grateful to Leslie Chang, her talents as a writer and her integrity as a person.
is an important book for its understanding of both an ancient and changing society and the new global economy of China. I will never put on a pair of shoes without thinking of the worker’s at the Yue Yuen. Even the computer I am using now has taken on the faces of the workers in Dongguan.