Behind the China Olympics, life goes on as usual for millions of people who work in the factories… producing goods for the world to buy. Most of China will not see the Olympic games because their villages don’t have television access. Besides… work does not slow down in the factories… except at Chinese New Year… when workers go home for a month.
Most company buyers of China’s goods don’t go into the interior of the country, where small rural factories produce much of the markets goods. Well lighted and clean shows rooms in cities such as Hong Kong and Shenzhen, represent most of the China factories. In other words… the buyers for Wal-Mart aren’t going to be bouncing around in an old van…hitting pot holes and… dodging folks who are on foot or riding bikes, in order to get out to where the goods are actually made.
My boss had been doing business in China for many years before the big market rush. He had developed relationships with many factory owners who invited him to come to their factories. For me to see the actual everyday workings of a factory was not only exciting but also quite disturbing. I mistakenly assumed the factories would be updated and automated. After all this country produces vasts amount of product for the world.
Boy was I wrong. Automation is the work of many human hands…. not machines. And, while some of the factories we visited were clean and organized… most were not.
The basket factory we went to was one of the most depressing sites I saw. Men and women were working in poorly lighted, dirty and cramped conditions. Each nail was hammered into the rim of the basket by hand…one nail at a time. No nail guns here!
Kiln dried basket slats? No way… how about sun dried…. thousands of slats drying out in the court yard.
The living conditions were deplorable… dirty open water next to the sleeping areas. No wonder they had mosquito netting around their make shift beds. Oh my gosh… and the flies.
When Chairman Mao, the leader of the Communist Party, initiated the Cultural Revolution… many of the teachers and intellectuals were taken from their classrooms and sent out to the country to be reeducated or in other words… “Agree with us or die.” Professor Tao was a Physics Professor at a university. He was whisk away into the countryside, locked in a closet for many weeks and suffered much persecution. When the Revolution was over… he did not return to the city but stayed in the country and built a factory. His factory produces small wooden trinkets that are exported to the United States.
Many of the factories are not equipped with good lighting. Notice, this woman is using the light to dry the goods rather than use the light to see by.
If the items needs to be painted… the worker methodically paints each individual item. Every detail is hand painted… one detail at a time.
Rusted metal was the rage. We designed small rusted shapes… stars, hearts, apples etc… that crafters could use to decorate with… (Some of the shapes were as small as 3/4 inch.) Problem… the rust would shed a little bit and leave a rust residue in the bottom of the package. Couldn’t have that…now could we?
So the factory was told that a sealer needed to be applied to the items so the rust would not come off in the packages. “O.K… no problem,”… came the reply from the factory.
When we came upon this scene… it broke my heart. These men were sitting in a small, poorly lighted room… applying clear shoe polish to each rusty star… both sides… one at a time. Thousands and thousands of 3/4″ stars were sitting in baskets waiting for the shoe polish to be applied. I couldn’t believe how cheerful and friendly the men were… pricked fingers and all. Go figure.
So… when I watched the Opening Ceremonies of the China Olympics… I thought of the thousands of hands it took to produce the show for our pleasure. Thanks… factory workers of China… You did a beautiful job… one bead… one stitch… one light… one firework at a time.
P.S. I would love to go back to China. A little of my heart is still there.