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As China has evolved into an industrial powerhouse over the past two decades, a new class of workers has developed: the dagongmei, or working girls. The dagongmei are women in their late teens and early twenties who move from rural areas to urban centers to work in factories. Because of state laws dictating that those born in the countryside cannot permanently leave their villages, and familial pressure for young women to marry by their late twenties, the dagongmei are transient labor. They undertake physically exhausting work in urban factories for an average of four or five years before returning home. The young women are not coerced to work in the factories; they know about the twelve-hour shifts and the hardships of industrial labor. Yet they are still eager to leave home. Made in China is a compelling look at the lives of these women, workers caught between the competing demands of global capitalism, the socialist state, and the patriarchal family.
Pun Ngai conducted ethnographic work at an electronics factory in southern China’s Guangdong province, in the Shenzhen special economic zone where foreign-owned factories are proliferating. For eight months she slept in the employee dormitories and worked on the shop floor alongside the women whose lives she chronicles. Pun illuminates the workers’ perspectives and experiences, describing the lure of consumer desire and especially the minutiae of factory life. She looks at acts of resistance and transgression in the workplace, positing that the chronic pains—such as backaches and headaches—that many of the women experience are as indicative of resistance to oppressive working conditions as they are of defeat. Pun suggests that a silent social revolution is underway in China and that these young migrant workers are its agents.
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Pun Ngai is Assistant Professor in the Division of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She is coeditor of Remaking Citizenship in Hong Kong: Community, Nation, and the Global City and the founder and chair of the Chinese Working Women Network, a grassroots organization of migrant women factory workers in China.
For more information regarding the Chinese Working Women Network, please click here.Review:
“Made in China is a passionate, engaged ethnography. Pun Ngai provides us with a searing critique of how global capital, with the collusion of the Chinese state, is turning China into the sweatshop of the world. Her ethnography is a moving and angry description of the lives of young migrant women, who are the guts of this process. Through Pun’s ethnographic eye, these women come alive as active subjects who confront the pain and trauma of the social violence inflicted on them in a complex poetics of transgression.”—Lisa Rofel, author of Other Modernities: Gendered Yearnings in China after Socialism
“Right now, anything that happens in China’s economy affects all of us. Pun Ngai’s book should be required reading. It is jam-packed with richly drawn and provocative insights mined from her fieldwork as a ‘factory girl’ in the midst of South China’s migrant workers.”— Andrew Ross, author of Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor
“Made in China is an important inter-disciplinary contribution to the body of literature on women workers. Development practitioners will find the rich empirical data, which corroborate some field reports, useful to shape policy. The book raises serious issues about the development path that China has embarked upon, and although Pun Ngai frequently emphasises geographic specificity, it will resonate with development studies scholars focusing on other regions of the world.” (Anibel Ferus-Comelo Gender and Development)
"[A] remarkable book. . . . [A] vivid and persuasive first-hand account of life in China's factories in the late 20th century. . . . [A]nyone who cares about East Asia today, and tomorrow, should read [this book]." (Bradley Winterton Taipei Times)
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