Nicholas Kristof on Tiananmen and Sweatshops

In an open Q&A session at Reddit this week, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof discussed his experience covering the Tiananmen protests and his views on sweatshops, among other important issues.

CaptainApathy419: What was it like covering the Tiananmen Square protests?

NicholasKristof: I’ll never forget Tiananmen. I was terrified as bullets whizzed over my head. My notebook was stained with my sweat from fear. And that night I saw a level of courage that i’ve never seen surpassed. there were rickshaw drivers who would drive toward the soldiers and pick up kids who’d been shot and drive them to the hospital. they drove toward me, tears streaming down their cheeks, so that i as a foreign reporter could see the carnage. I was awed by their guts.

RedDeadDerp: Do you still feel that sweatshops are still “an unpleasant but necessary stage in industrial development”?

NicholasKristof: yes, i do. i think the critics of sweatshops are right in their criticisms, and on top of those problems some of those factories also have environmental issues (e.g. dump pollution in a river). But the big need in poor countries is jobs, jobs, jobs. And garment factories provide those jobs, often to women who don’t have a lot of other alternatives. i remember a mother in indonesia telling me that her dream for her son was that he work in a sweatshop. My wife’s native area in China, taishan, has been transformed by sweatshops, and women have benefited in particular. In Africa the big problem is that there aren’t enough factories. I know it’s not a popular view, but i think that the one thing worse than being exploited by a foreign investor is being jobless.

supahappyfuntime: Hey Mr. Kristof, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do an AMA. Would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses?

NicholasKristof: Definitely one horse-sized duck. Then I’d distract it with some cracked corn and, as it gobbled it up, I’d jump on its back and take it for a flight. I’m too poor to afford a private plane, so a personal horse-sized duck would be a nice alternative.