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China’s Smartphone Generation

Commuters use their phones riding a Metro train in Shenzhen City, China
Commuters use their phones riding a Metro train in Shenzhen City, ChinaPhotograph by Wu Hanren/AP Photo

Every day at noon, workers spill out through the red gates of the Xue Fulan garment factory on the outskirts of Beijing to enjoy one precious hour of lunchtime freedom. They are mostly in their late teens or early 20s, living in no-frills dormitories within the factory complex. Most saunter out on a hot summer day with a water bottle in one hand and a smartphone in the other.

While personal computers are rare inside the factory, many of these young migrant workers—who are just climbing onto the lowest rung of the urban economic ladder—are now on the Internet daily. With 12-hour workdays, their free hours are scarce, but they still find time to use social media and dating apps, play video games, and read lifestyle and news sites, where they can catch a glimpse of the upscale urban life they aspire to.