From Harvard Magazine:
The massive rural-to-urban labor migration that has been transforming China since the late 1980s—an estimated 130 million people—is unprecedented in that nation’s history. Unprompted by direct ecological or political factors such as famine, war, or the forced relocation of population groups under draconian state policy, migration in post-Mao China is more likely to be instead the result of structural forces (economic need and consequences of agricultural reform) that are beyond the control of individual farmers. Motivated by the search for opportunities to improve their own lives, rural people have taken the initiative, making decisions to shape their own destinies—and fostering unforeseen entrepreneurial individualism in the process. Above all, restless young village women have assumed a major role in the current population shift, establishing a brand-new identity as dagongmei (literally, “working sisters”) in the booming industrial cities in China’s coastal areas, contributing to what sociologists call the “feminization of the global workforce.”
In Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang ’91, who spent a decade in China as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, delivers a vivid portrayal both of the dynamics of this internal migration and of women migrants as active players in globalization and local social and economic change.