Factory Girls After the Factory: Female Return Migrations in Rural China

By Julia Chuang

Journalists frequently argue that the rise of global outsourcing has generated countless jobs for women in manufacturing, particularly in coastal China’s famed Special Economic Zones. For example, in a 2000 New York Times op-ed, journalist Nicholas Kristof described a trip he took to a factory in the boomtown of Dongguan. There, he wrote, factory girls “seemed to regard it as a plus that the factory allowed them to work long hours. Indeed, some had sought out this factory precisely because it offered them the chance to earn more.”

There are a lot of assumptions packed in this statement. It is true that wages we consider abominably low in the U.S. go a long way for young women in China. But this is a dangerous line of logic. Today, factory managers – and global investors, for that matter – regularly make the assumption that young women are not only wiling to work for less, they should work for less. They reason that these women are often single, not supporting children. If they do have children, managers assume, then they also have a husband who is the primary breadwinner. Continue reading “Factory Girls After the Factory: Female Return Migrations in Rural China”