The Chinese factory girls setting free their world

Some years ago, I was listening to a radio interview where a journalist described being taken to dinner at a swanky Shanghai restaurant, and afterwards, being taken for a drive around the tower-block apartments springing up everywhere in the city. ?That?s the sort of place one our waitresses from tonight lives,? his host explained. ?In a one-bedroom, cold-water flat.? How exploitative, the journalist responded. Why on earth would anyone want to live like that? ?Because it?s better than the poverty-stricken rural village where she came from.?

Bill Bryson has made the same point about sprawling slums in Africa: people move there from isolated villages because it?s an opportunity. Historically, the same happened in Britain during the Industrial Revolution: people flocked to the cities because the jobs, dangerous as they were, and the slums, horrible as they were, were still better than the grinding poverty of rural life. Quote:

China experienced the greatest advancement out of poverty of all time, partly thanks to the manufacturing boom which followed economic liberalization in the 1980s. But there is a common misconception regarding the consequent working conditions: many imagine all Chinese factories to be ?sweatshops? in which workers toil to serve the ?greed? of capitalists.

That, however, is to overlook the workers? own experiences. End of quote.

That?s nothing new: leftists have almost always been largely uninterested in what actual workers want or have to say. Even the undeniable fact that workers prospered under capitalism was dismissed as ?false consciousness?. Because, unlike ivory tower elitists, workers are just too dumb to know what?s good for them. Quote:

?This simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing,? says the writer Leslie T. Chang. ?But it?s also inaccurate and disrespectful.?

?Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods,? Chang explains in a TED talk. ?They choose to leave their homes [in rural China] in order to earn money, to learn new skills and to see the world.?

A few years ago, Chang, formerly a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, spent two years in China getting to know factory workers in order to make their stories known.

?In the ongoing debate about globalization, what?s been missing is the voice of the workers themselves,? Chang says. ?Certainly the factory conditions are really tough, and it?s nothing you or I would want to do, but from their perspective, where they?re coming from is much worse ? I just wanted to give that context of what?s going on in their minds, not what necessarily is going on in yours.?

?The portraits that emerge of independent, ambitious young women contrast sharply with the widespread narrative of victimhood. End of quote.

In Keith Richards? autobiography, he anecdotally refers to the generation of young women discovering financial and social independence in London in the early 60s, thanks to a boom in female employment. In India, economic opportunity is liberating a generation of women. China is no different. Quote:

Women ?are more likely to value [internal economic] migration for its life-changing possibilities? than men, since gender roles are less restrictive in cities than in the traditional countryside. Even though it was initially considered risky, or shameful, for a single woman to go out on her own, today migration to cities is practically a rite of passage for rural Chinese. End of quote.

In their turn, these young women are transforming rural China. Quote:

Min made it her mission to modernize the farm home where she grew up.

?Min walked through the house pointing out improvements she wanted: a hot-water dispenser, a washing machine, a walk of poured concrete across the muddy yard.? She plans on eventually paying for the construction of an indoor bathroom and an electric hot-water heater so that her family might bathe in the winter without being cold.

Migrants like Min act as the chief source of village income by sending earnings home. That year, Min and her older sister Guimin sent home more than double the amount of money that the small family farm brought in through the sale of pigs and cotton. The sisters? money paid for the schooling of their younger siblings.

The money also gave the two women a voice in family affairs, letting them insist their younger sisters attend school longer than was usual for girls?

It is thanks to economic liberalisation and so-called capitalist greed that a generation of women, as Chang?s book shows, were given the opportunity to change their fate, take hold of their own destinies and make their own decisions. Globalization didn?t imprison them in sweatshops, it set them free. End of quote.

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