PERSONAL NOTE: I DECIDED to share my book with many friends and students in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China. It costs too much to order a copy from USA. Read it and share it. Happy Holidays, Steve, China, December 27, 2018, firstname.lastname@example.org https://getting2knowyou-china.com
– 100 –
Carron Wang, who lives in Dalian, Liaoning Province, once appeared on an American TV show because he was picked to represent the modern youth of China for this particular documentary show about modern youth around the world. And many Americans were impressed with Carron’s story because he had said the first thing he would do after graduation from college was to make enough money to buy a new house for his parents. The parents were ordinary farmers. Americans thought that was something unusual and amazing because most American young people would not have said that. The difference between the two cultures. I had the opportunity to know Carron like many other Americans after his appearance on the American TV show. One American businessman in particular wanted to do something for Carron and so he came to China to inspect a factory somewhere in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and he had invited Carron to come south to be his translator. Carron had majored in English. He came all the way from Dalian, a major city and seaport in Liaoning Province in the north. And I will always remember what he told me about what happened in Guangzhou.
“You know Steve, I have heard many stories about factories and migrant workers in China. And here I am helping my American businessman as a translator visiting this one factory. Of course he has heard many stories, good and bad, about factory conditions in China and he is here to find out the truth for himself. American reporters have come and pretended to be potential buyers with hidden cameras and recorded the inside conditions of some terrible factories for the world to see. The truth is: this one particular factory is prepared for his visit. But still the many things I see are not good at all.”
He continued: “I thank God that my parents sent me to college. In fact I was the only boy in the whole village who went to college. I thank my parents for giving me a college education. And I do not have to suffer the same fate as these many unskilled young migrant workers from different parts of rural China. You have to be here to see what I am seeing. Some rooms do not have ventilation at all. Lighting is very poor everywhere inside the factory. Imagine the young boys and girls, most are in their early teens, having to breathe the fumes in the air. There are so many chemicals used in this factory and the workers are breathing the fumes from these chemicals. Ventilation is the biggest problem working in this factory.” I could hear his anxiety in sharing his story.
He continued: “And then to meet certain production deadlines, the workers have little
– 101 –
sleep. They do not even have time to sit down to have regular meals. They have no time to relax. You cannot afford to get sick. And some times they are not paid on time. Nobody cares about your complaints. You don’t like the work, you can go, there are thousands waiting outside the gates to come in. Yes, we manage to talk to some workers away from the factory boss and managers. I have no idea what the American businessman is going to decide about his relationship with this particular factory. It is bad, Steve. I feel sorry for all the young men and women working here. What else can they do? They are from the rural areas of China. They know nothing. They have no education. They have no technical skills. Factory work is the only thing they can do. They have no other place to go. They are migrant workers.”
Before I came to teach in China in 2008, I too, had seen documentaries on American television done by American reporters using hidden cameras about the terrible conditions inside some factories. Despite this exposure many major American brands continue to do business with these factories. Why? Money. More profits because of low labor cost.
In the 21st century, things are changing in China. We hear some factories are being closed down because of inflation, rising labor cost everywhere. One factor is that many migrant or rural workers are getting smart. They are not willing to work for you for low pay. They did it once. That was 30, 20 and 10 years ago. You can say they were then hungry for food and money and jobs. Not now. No more. They are getting smarter. Now they have more options available to them. With their savings, many are opening up their own small businesses everywhere they live. Now factories are vying for the few workers out there. Rising labor costs are also driving foreign investors and buyers away from China, some going home, some going to other countries with much cheaper labor costs than China.
A summer ago when I was home in Puyallup, Washington State, I deliberately went to one Walmart store to see for myself what products there that are still made in China. For most Americans, rich or superrich, Walmart is the shopping Mecca for millions, with relatively lower or cheaper prices than other traditional stores or business outlets across America. Most stores cover a few acres of land, with a large area devoted to parking. Spaces are limited for Walmart stores in China. Instead of spreading out like the wings of large birds, many Walmart stores in China are going up, like high risers because there is no room to spread out horizontally. For years in America the majority of American shoppers go to Walmart stores looking for cheap products made in China. In China, an American reporter talked to Chinese shoppers in a Walmart store and found many shoppers looking for products made in America. Most Chinese prefer foreign products because they believe foreign products are well made and durable and
– 102 –
can be trusted. When I visited the store in my hometown, to my surprise, once almost
all the products came from China or Made in China. The picture is different now. Now I saw products coming from India, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Japan and some countries in South America. Not everything is now made in China. With the labor costs going up and up each year, more and more products are being made in countries with much more competitive labor costs than China. And shockingly, for example, America is trying to make some of the products themselves because of the rising cost in China, and restart some factories at home. And President Xi Jinping is saying we should not depend too much on foreign trade now, that we should focus on developing our own domestic market, which is the biggest one in the world with 1.39 billion people. China’s GDP remains steady around 7 percent. The double digit growth of past decades seems to have vanished, and IMF (International Monetary Fund) is predicting India could possibly perform better than China.
So what is the employment picture now? In 2011, Yiwu City, an important manufacturing base in Zheijiang Province, was faced with a serious labor shortage. We all know more than half of the world’s Christmas decorations come from Yiwu City. Yiwu City is a busy hub for many manufacturers producing millions of seasonal items for the world markets, souvenirs and commemorative items, and millions of plastic products. That is Yiwu’s specialty. Was the shortage real? Not according to Wu Zujun, deputy head of the employment service bureau of Yiwu City. “We have 5,000 to 6,000 job opportunities every day. I believe it wouldn’t be so difficult if the job hunters really wanted to work,” he said. So how to explain that many employers in other eastern coastal areas like Yiwu City were having the same difficulty to find workers while unemployed workers could not find work? According to the economists, “The situation is caused by job seekers’ high salary expectations and firms hit with soaring labor and raw material costs, as well as the rising renminbi and lackluster market.”
One comment by a job seeker might explain partially for the labor shortage: “I’m still looking for a job, not because there are no opportunities. Salary is the problem.” I believe a survey conducted by Alibaba Group provided a truer picture, reporting that about 34 percent of small enterprises in Zhejiang Province were struggling to hire people with high-tech skills or skilled workers. Most people now looking for jobs did not have the necessary skills. According to Chen Shida, director of the Zhejiang Research Institute of Public Administration and Human Resources, the government should provide and improve vocational training for the jobless and the rural surplus workers especially when many small enterprises were trying to invest in high technologies and innovation to upgrade their production. Without government help some small enterprises might face bankruptcies or complete elimination. Rising salary
– 103 –
expectations and lacking technical skills were the two obvious culprits.
Amidst news of possible unemployment of unskilled workers and labor shortage and factory closings in some parts of China, I came across this bright news: “Meet the new breed of migrant workers.” It is about the modern city of Foshan, Guangdong Province. Foshan was one of the earliest ports to engage in foreign trade following Deng Xiaoping’s open door policy in early 80s. Foshan has major manufacturing industries and growing tourism industry. It has the reputation as the home of Bruce Lee Ancestor’s House, martial arts, Cantonese operas and Chinese ceramic arts. Foshan was in the news because of what the city government’s Bureau of Commerce was doing in 2014: It had started to recruit foreigners to join its staff to enter the global stage. The new migrant workers are few, not from the rural areas of China but from different parts of the world. Well trained and educated and sophisticated.
Because the bureau interacts directly with foreign companies, they have the vision and wisdom to build an international business environment with an international team, on a one-year contract—two from the United Kingdom, one from the United States, one from Mexico and one from Uruguay. According to Zhou Zhitong, Chief of the Foshan Bureau of Commerce, “We didn’t hire the foreign staff as a publicity stunt. Foshan is building an international business environment, and the foreign staff has brought much-needed help to our investment promotion.” And he was honest to admit that “What I didn’t expect was that the foreign staff would imperceptibly change the bureau’s working environment, making it more open and efficient.” Of course, some Chinese leaders are concerned with how to deal with sensitive materials and whether foreigners should be allowed to work in certain departments of the government. They believe because of language and culture differences, not all foreigners can achieve full proficiency and efficiency working in China compared to their own Chinese employees, many are recent returnees after completing their overseas education.
Who could forget that in 2008—the year I was invited to teach in Xiamen University—China launched the Thousand Talents program to lure back top scientific and entrepreneurial talent to help China to become a global economic and science powerhouse, essentially “to boost the country’s innovation capacity and international competitiveness.” Did everyone join the trip home to China? Returnees were promised huge monetary and other incentives including assistance with housing, tax-free education allowances for their children. Government reported 3,000 returnees in less than 5 years. This number included many business people and entrepreneurs who returned to join state-owned enterprises. But the return rate of those with PhDs in the United States was shockingly low. Sadly the truth is those who chose to return preferred visiting research posts, not willing to commit themselves to long-term
– 104 –
development of China’s science and technology sector, many, understandably so, unwilling to leave their tenured positions at major universities in the West. Did the financial crisis in the West lure people back to booming China? According to reports, not those who had received their PhDs abroad. Especially the Chinese. The Thousand Talents scheme expires in 2018 and many critics are not sure China will renew it because of too many internal problems within the program: for example, foreign PhDs versus Chinese PhDs, preference for later PhD returnees than older returnees, no guarantee of tenured positions in Chinese university for foreign talents, difficulty in seeking financial support for major research objectives, etc..
Yet, the President of China and other top government leaders continue to encourage and welcome foreigners to come with their rich Western education, knowledge, expertise and experiences to help China become a global economic and science powerhouse and boost its innovation capacity and international competitiveness. In a way, this is nothing new because Deng Xiaoping did this with his open door policies that are largely responsible for the China we know today: an international economic powerhouse.
Would you support, I asked my junior students, the government policy to encourage more foreigners to work in China, when not all the 8-10 million graduates each year could find jobs in China?
Jane: “I support my government with this policy. Nowadays, talent is becoming more and more important. Encouraging talented foreigners to come and work in China is beneficial to China’s economic and technological development. We can learn many skills and knowledge from foreigners but also we can show the world that our country is modern, open and friendly. This will help enormously with our relationships with other countries. Some of China’s graduates cannot find a job is because they don’t like to do hard job. They are enjoying a comfortable life. Because there are many workers in China. We should not blame the foreigners for coming. It is wrong.”
Mary: “First, it is the best way to learn foreign thoughts and the way to solve problems. It will let our thinking be more fresh and different. Second, it also benefits China to establish greater friendly relationships with the countries which send their men and women to our country. This way China can always get more help if it needs it in the future. Third, it is a good way to stimulate our Chinese students to do better. Chinese students will have more competitive awareness and will study harder to get better jobs.”
Susan: “It encourages young graduates to work harder to reach the level of
– 105 –
international workers. At the same time, these foreigners can also create jobs. Some of them are doing businesses with Chinese business people.”
Blair: “Foreigners can help us learn from each other and reach better results. Foreigners’ logic, ability and knowledge are different from us in some ways. Foreigners can bring some advanced technologies and working styles which can benefit us. Chinese graduates cannot find jobs because they are asking for too much for their work.”
Glenda: “Since economic globalization and the presence of many multinational corporations, we need to follow the trend so we can develop our national economy well. Hiring foreigners will help the companies to enter the world. We need to play a role in the world as the biggest developing country in the world. Having foreigners can also help us develop our cultural diversity. We can absorb all kinds of cultures from different parts of the world. So this government policy is terrific for both economy and culture. And this is what our government needs.”
Belinda: “By allowing more foreigners to come to China proves that our country is getting stronger so it can attract people from other countries to want to work here. This fact will force our college students to study harder, force them to improve their skills, so that they can compete with foreigners. In the modern world, labor exchange is a trend and we must support it, not to stop it.”
Carla: “Our new China needs fresh blood. Many of our graduates are useless because they do not have fresh ideas to contribute to our country.”
Joan: “We should encourage our students to go to other countries, and students from other countries to come to our country.”
Donna: “I think it will be good for communicating between different countries and different cultures. As for the graduates who cannot find a job, they should have studied well and learned more skills. More foreigners are coming. It is a trend we cannot stop. So what we can do is do our best to prepare well to compete with them.”
Fiona: “I would not support our government with this policy. Because it is more important for our government to give more opportunities for the 8-10 million graduates every year. The government can give more chances to them to study abroad and then to return to work. Students can learn more new technology and knowledge to help our country develop better. To encourage foreigners to come and work is a waste of money, at the same time, it makes the new generation of graduates harder to find a
– 106 –
job which is suitable to them. If too many come to our country, where would our graduates go?”
Tina: “I think Chinese government should make sure Chinese graduates can find a job first. Then try to encourage foreigners to come and work in China. The government should protect our own country first.”
Liz: “Firstly, foreigners can help us practice our oral English or any other languages. As we know, it is important to have a good environment to learn a language well. The more we have a chance to listen and speak, the better we are. In addition, we can learn the correct pronunciation from them. We cannot speak well or fluently if we do not know the right pronunciation of words. Last but not least, we can learn about their culture and know more about their manners and customs. There is no need to worry about our graduates not finding a job. China is rapidly developing and we need different talents. What we need to worry about is how to learn more skills or be good in at least one skill.”
Lois: “There are so many good things we can learn from foreigners. For example, they are open-minded, independent and believe in equality. I think many college students can try to go abroad if they have the money. Learning from different cultures can make China develop more quickly.”
Betty: “If the government continues this policy, many citizens will suffer the crisis of unemployment in China. They can come as tourists or visitors but not to work here.”
Ann: “As to the graduates who cannot find a job, I support them to work abroad. Because they can learn some useful skills from other countries and bring them to China and make some contribution to our economy.”
Ruth: “There are many aspects China needs to improve such as technology and education. Though we have made progress in some areas, compared with the more developed counties we are far behind. Foreigners can bring us new ideas, new technological thinking, helping us to be more innovative and creative. And Chinese workers will improve their skills while working and competing with foreigners.”
James: “I support our government to encourage more foreigners to come and work in China. China is a melting pot. She has great capacity to admit these foreigners.”
Tim: “I am aware of the fact that our government continues to encourage foreigners to come and work in China. With the development of China, our country is getting more
– 107 –
and more wealthy. It is very important and wise to welcome foreigners to come and work here. On the one hand, this can promote Chinese tourism development. On the other hand, it can bring in some few faces and knowledge. Foreigners can bring in new skills that can improve our economy. To some degree, foreign workers can improve our international status in the world. They come because China has something new and exciting and attractive to them.”
Most students support the government policy to allow more foreign workers to come to China. They do not believe this new breed of migrant workers—not like the millions and millions of migrant workers from rural China—will take away their jobs but instead they will help the students to study harder, acquiring new knowledge and new skills, to compete with them. We should learn from them. They should be our inspiration.
Meet the new breed of migrant workers. .
This is China.