Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Chinese Worker: Part 1

The Chinese Worker, Part I:

Guangdong province is the factory of the world. This is a easily proven statement. Something like 60% of the world’s underwear, 80% of the glass frames, 30% of the computer chips, electronics, ect. ect. ect. are made in this single southern province. I don't know how many toys are manufactured and made here, but I do work at a toy factory that employs more than 2000 workers. That may seem like a lot of workers but in actuality, my factory is quite average. There are much bigger ones that employ 20,000 to 50,000 and even 100,000 workers!!! That’s crazy. Combine that with the amount of factories in this vicinity (CONAIR and Privatex are right down the street from me) and you can have an idea of what’s going on here. The shear scale and scope of this operation is just tremendous.

My mom was here a couple of weeks ago to visit me. When she was here, I invited her over to the factory to check out what I’ve been doing. When I was touring the factory floor with her, showing her the different assembly lines and machine shops, she mentioned that someone should look into this more specifically… especially into the lives of the workers who make all of this possible. I agree. These migrant workers, who are from all parts of China, are the untold story of the factory of the world.

In my 3 months at the factory, I’ve had various social interactions with my coworkers. Of the 300 office “management” colleagues, I’ve hung out with about 50 of them so far. In two different occasions, I invited them out for drinks (to get them wasted at a bar) and dinner (to get them wasted, while eating food). From these interactions, I’ve observed a few things:

  1. Most of the workers who are employed in the companies and factories are from the countryside. Very few of them are from the cities.

This is an interesting revelation. There are many studies out there that state how most of the Chinese population is still in the countryside rather than cities (about a 35% to 65% ratio). I had never realized this fact before.

There is a definite hierarchy in the China between city people and rural people. The hierarchy is rather stupid considering it’s based upon the rural person’s lack of experience in the city. Ultimately, “country bumpkins” are discriminated against and looked upon by the city folk as ignorant and dumb.

  1. These workers take life as it comes and don't really expect anything. They rarely have future goals and aspirations.

In my conversations with my fellow colleagues, I have always asked “as a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up” to have a semi-comparison between Chinese and Western children (that I grew up with). The answers were very similar across the cultural divide. Doctors, sports stars, astronauts, teachers… everything was the same. However, when I asked them: “what do you want to be now, what do you want to do in the future,” the answers change dramatically. In the US, I believe people have a basic idea of what they’re doing. Maybe they like medical school and law school and business, but cant decide between them, but they definitely have future goals and aspirations that they have a desire to achieve. In China, this question has only been answered in 2 different ways among the people I work with:

“I don't know, I’ve never thought about it before.”


“I want to be my own boss.”

It is quite amazing that no one seems to have any desires, any plan, any agency to work and achieve for the future. Instead, they are only working for working’s sake. They make their money, hang out in 4 person dorm rooms and are perfectly content with life. The people who have thought about it don't know what they want to do, but do know that they like money and hope to make lots of it. Isn’t that amazing?

  1. The workers are good people and whole-heartedly appreciate anything other people give them.

All of the people I’ve interacted with, who are “lower” on the social scale and from the “countryside” have been all incredibly generous and have treated me wonderfully. They live in non-air conditioned dorm rooms with no hot water and 3 other people. The lighting is shabby and the floors are dirty. Nothing is ever given to them and only in a few instances are their interests “taken care of”.

Whenever I have visited a friend or had food with one of them, it seemed like none of that mattered. They opened up their rooms and generally offered to pay for the meals. It can be said that although they do not have that much money or the best apartment, they offer things that money can’t buy: their help, their time, their strength, their knowledge, and sometimes, even their money in a genuine caring manner that is incredibly endearing and good.


angel said...

You are right to the point.They have no dreams of what they wish to be in the future.No goals,wants or needs. Just go through their daily life of existence.Maybe our view is wrong for taking what is normal for us as what everyone should be like.Question,does not history show us that this is just a normal growth of human society.
Time always wins,just have too wait.

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