Feature

Don’t pity China’s workers

China’s factory workers don’t feel victimized by American consumers.

Leslie T. ChangNewYorker.com

China’s factory workers don’t feel victimized by American consumers, said Leslie T. Chang. The idea that our insatiable hunger for iPhones makes Chinese laborers suffer is not only inaccurate and solipsistic but also demeaning to millions of workers. China’s migrants are “not forced” into factories because we demand gadgets. They seek out these jobs so they can make money, learn skills, and build better lives. I spent two years with assembly-line workers in the Chinese city of Dongguan, and in countless conversations, they barely mentioned the products they made. Instead, they talked about their lives: forming new relationships, challenging their bosses, and dreaming about the future. “They could not have cared less who was buying their products.” China’s 150 million migrant workers, a third of them women, represent the biggest migration in human history, and their experiences “have changed the way they work and marry and live and think.” The factories are mere backdrops to millions of cases of self-transformation. Should Americans feel bad? “I don’t think so. But whether you do or not is peripheral to a much larger and more important story.”

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