Working Hard and Playing Hard in Fun City

A New York Times article and accompanying video look at the lives of Foxconn workers once their shifts end. Outside the gates of the Zhengzhou campus, the atmosphere “resembles a gigantic street fair”:

Here on the gritty outskirts of Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan Province, the nocturnal menagerie reveals a little-explored aspect of the global supply chain, the off-hour escapes that give the masses of workers the motivation to return to the assembly line.

The hands that make the world’s electronics belong almost entirely to young people with dreams of their own, and a lifetime of contented industrial drudgery is not among them. Their precious time off is a rare chance to enjoy the present as they strive for a better future.

“Everyone gets psyched for the weekend,” said Bai Sihai, 24, as he navigated open potholes on the way back to his dorm after work one afternoon. His plan? A video-game binge session at an Internet cafe followed by a long-distance phone call to his girlfriend.

The captains of industry are beginning to see the merits of off-hours leisure. In recent years, a wave of riots and suicides at China’s huge factories have highlighted the abuses that workers often endure.

As the plight of China’s factory workers gains increasing media attention, a number of journalism projects have attempted to document their personal lives. An earlier documentary project by two Italian journalists looked at the lives and dreams of Foxconn workers, while photos and an essay by photographer Jordan Pouille from 2010 give an intimate glimpse into their lives.

These workers, part of the “post-90s” generation, often have a different attitude toward being migrant laborers than their parents. Unlike the older generation, who planned to earn money and return to their villages, these workers prefer to build lives for themselves in the cities. A recent slideshow on Sina shows the lives of post-90s generation workers at textile factories outside Beijing. From Offbeat China:

China’s younger generations of are a whole different story. They know nothing about rural life and want nothing to do with it– most of them never grew a thing in their lives. More importantly, they aspire to an urban lifestyle. To help build a city and then go back to farming in the countryside with a load of money is no longer their dream. Their dream is to one day conquer the cities. [Source]

In another recent photography project, Song Chao creates portraits of workers at the largest hydropower manufacturing facility in the world. “Before being workers, they’re human beings with emotions. That’s what I want to show,” Song says, in an essay about his work in Slate. See more of Song’s photos here.

For more on the lives of China’s factory workers, see “Revisiting Leslie Chang’s ‘Factory Girls'” via CDT. Read more about migrant workers, working conditions, and Foxconn, via CDT.

July 17, 2013 8:25 AM
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