I just had conversation with a friend who is the CEO of a Shenzhen based fashion firm. She said that Shenzhen (and ultimately) Chinese manufacturers were facing two problems:
Low level manufacturing was being relocated to countries like Vietnam, where wages were lower, and;
Workers born in the 80s and 90s generation have higher quality of life expectations than do workers born in the 60s and 70s.
Her point, of course, was that the workers from the 60s and 70s not only built Shenzhen, but are also currently factory owners and the most active in society. Therefore they are not necessarily willing to offer workers from the 80s and 90s improved working conditions, including regular time off, air conditioned dormitories, and fewer roommates. She concluded that to be successful, Shenzhen producers needed to offer higher value, niche manufacturing that incorporated both industrial and social design into new business models.
This conversation chimes in on ongoing discussions I’m hearing about dormitories in Shenzhen. It is also reflected in Re/Code”s recently published article, “A Rare Glimpse Inside Foxconn’s Factory Gates” which shows the Taiwanese multi-national’s efforts to re-brand its Shenzhen campus, as a place where workers are well treated and therefore happy.
Opportunity in the post-Mao era — like all opportunity — has been a question of being in the right place at the right time. Below, I have translated a blog post, lamenting the fact that even if Shenzhen is the right place, it is no longer the right time; the opportunities are going, going, gone and if what remains are wage labor and education, even they are not enough for the poor.
Of note, the author uses the expression “poor second generation (穷二代)”, the direct opposite of the “rich second generation (富二代)”. More interestingly, he refers to “second generation farmers (农二代)”, as if the transition from farmer to urban resident was a natural progression. However, there have been generations of Chinese farmers — in fact, this is one definition of traditional Chinese culture. What then, we might wonder, is it about Shenzhen that gives rise to the expectation that each generation must do economically better than the last?
Shenzhen: Unfortunate Generation 80, Unhappy Workers, and the Hopeless Poor Second Generation
First of all, let me explain that my title refers to me. Perhaps you, who are reading this heading are one of the lucky Generation 80, the happy office workers. Or, maybe you’re one of the poor second generation or a second generation farmer but aren’t hopeless. If so, congratulations. My opinion isn’t going to be yours, its only representative of my thoughts.
Yesterday, a member of Generation 80 took me to the beaches and mountains of Old Shekou, where he played as a child. He remembers swimming off small docks, crabbing on the dike that used separate the Naihai Hotel from the backwash of Delta waters, and biking safely along narrow, dirt roads. Little remains from his childhood. Even the broadcast tower from Broadcast Mountain has been razed and the remaining structures converted to an upscale Cantonese restaurant. Anyway, the area he used to bike, we cruised in his sports car. Impressions, below:
I’ve recently heard the phrase 羡慕妒忌恨 (envy covet hate) to refer to situations where another is happy in a situation that shouldn’t make her happy. For example, someone with a full-time job might envy-covet-hate a part-time worker who is happy with her situation – free time, low stress job, low pay, few high-priced objects. The point, of course, is that those with “everything” the new economy has to offer – prestigious jobs, upscale homes, and fancy cars – aren’t happy and thus envy-covet-hate someone who feels happy with her life. In Mandarin, this deep sense of satisfaction / contentment / happiness is called 幸福感 and friends are quick to point out, published accounts notwithstanding, Shenzhen has one of the lowest happiness indexes in China. Continue reading →