Excellent, very readable account of the lives of the rural migrants in China’s cities. These are mostly fairly young girls, and work in factories manufacturing all those “Made in China” goods we buy for so little.
You get to experience the journeys they make from one world to another – from the poor, boring, rural countryside to the buzzing cities. Not that the cities are super-rich, at least by our standards, but most migrants manage to make money to send back home, the lifeline of the countryside and almost the sole driver of development – the Chinese government is mysteriously absent from their lives. Their journey is also one of values, from the Confucian ethics of the generations before them to the new capitalist ethos of the cities, where a new attitude towards money, elders and even sex is taking hold.
You get to appreciate the hard lives these girls lead – thirteen-hour days, seven days a week, crammed into dormitories, pay docked if you talk while working. And their drive to lift themselves up, to continue developing themselves through classes and self-study even after those thirteen-hour days. And their spunk – needed if you are to attract the attention of your bosses to be promoted ahead of hundreds of other nameless girls, to switch from job to job (almost the only way to get ahead, despite the advice of conservative parents who view any job as something to hold onto for life), to hold onto their own identities even in the confusing, calculative, corrupt world they live in. And corrupt it is: besides obvious things like kickbacks, there’s all the people who teach things they barely know, and the people who sell things even though they know it’s dangerous. Not that the girls don’t also engage in such things from time to time – it’s necessary to lie sometimes to get yourself a better job, although on the other hand some job interviews can be somewhat ingenuous: “Actually I don’t really know anything.”
Overall, a compelling portrait of the new economic and sociological realities in China. There is a bit about the author’s own family history (which frankly I found a bit boring) but most of it recounts the experiences of a few girls. Though their tales are probably out of the ordinary – they are among the few open enough to talk to the author, a journalist – they are the face of a new China coming to terms with the future.