Over the last few weeks I’ve gone through old photos, started reading journals I wrote when I was younger and writing my memories down when I can. It’s tough to reflect on the past, when there are so many different perspectives depending how who you talk to about it.
After reminiscing with relatives and helping my brother with his sociology paper about a subject very close to both of our hearts, I’ve learned that there’s more to the past than what one mind remembers. My memory, for instance, is very sense-oriented, smells and images are particularly poignant for me. For others it’s dialogue or feelings. It all depends on the individual.
I think that’s what makes history so fascinating. I’m starting to see how hard it is to collect the facts, time line and details of my childhood, can you imagine what it’s like for a nation inhabited with millions?
For instance, in the book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang reports on the conditions of migrant women workers in Dongguan, China — one of the world’s largest producers of goods. She explores the city, culture and history of China through the young women she meets who are seeking their fortunes outside of their rural homes and away from family.
Chang investigates and writes these sub-histories to begin to explain a broader context of the country. She does this with elegance and curiosity. I particularly like seeing how her own family history interweaves with the story, giving a background of Communism and her family’s hardship when they emigrated to Taiwan.
The anecdotes from the women shows the essence of human experience mixed in with nuggets of Chinese culture that would be difficult to explain. The way a woman dresses, or how she introduces herself are all indicators of this long history before her. Each story becomes the root of the history of Dongguan, women in China, or simply, people with a dream.
For anyone interested in reading a good non-fiction book with subtly provocative prose, check out Factory Girls to be inspired by the simplicity of a woman’s journey from the roots of her home, to the tenuous branches of her future.