March 25, 2017

WED: China’s migrant workers, the destruction of China’s social order

If it’s Wednesday, it must be another IGS cosponsored event!  Tomorrow we’re turning our attention to China, with two talks on the emergence of modern life there.  foxconn

First, at 2 pm tomorrow, April 13, Beijing University sociologist Professor Lu Huilin will discuss “The New Generation of Peasant Migrant  Workers.”  We’ve read stories of suicides in Apple’s I-Phone factories, but what are labor conditions like in China’s booming factory towns?  Does unrest there pose a threat to China’s internal stability?

Then at 3:30 pm, we’ll consider: what are the roots of failed governance and unrest?  What happened to China’s traditional Confucian order?  Professor Sun Feiyu, also a sociologist at Beijing University, will speak on “The Tragedy of Mao’s Revolution: The Destruction of the Traditional Elite and its Implications for Good Governance in China.

Both talks will take place in the International Lounge in Usdan.  Hope to see you there for one, or both!


  1. Sandy Watemberg says:

    Professor Lu Huiling’s talk was really interesting and eye opening to the problem of workers in China. In the latest 30 years, China’s economy has grown at a remarkable rate, almost 10% increase per year. Professor Lu says that as the world invests in China, China produces to the world. He then introduces the Foxconn Company, which is the world’s leading electronics manufacturer, and the problems and poor labor conditions its workers face. In 1988 they started with 150 workers, and increased the number to 1.5 million workers by 2014. This company was out of sight until the suicide of 13 of their workers. Professor Lu showed how the workers at Foxconn work in dust-filled workshops with no protection and unventilated conducts. Their work is like a military training, and strict and inhuman disciplines are applied to them. As seen in the video, yellow lines are placed in the floor to mark the space in which they have to be in, and they cannot trespass these lines. Workers also work excessively and involuntarily extra time, which was reduced after the workers suicide to 10 hours of work per 6 days a week, with 80 overtime hours. Because the government prioritizes social stability and suppresses worker’s collective actions, China holds their prices down. By not giving workers the safety conditions they should have and better wages, China is able to produce at low costs and then dump their goods in the world market.

  2. Alyson Perenne says:

    Professor Lu Huilin had an insightful discussion on the plight of peasant workers in China. It is not surprising that, during the past 30 years, China’s economy grew 10% per year. China is known as the World’s Factory. Huilin described this World Factory as a combination of cheap labor and global capital. He went on to talk about a manufacturing company called “Foxconn.” The factory conditions were dreadful. Workers were pushed to their limits and were trained as if they were in the military. The workers were given excessive and involuntary overtime. Overall, Foxconn was violating the labor laws and more importantly, the workers’ rights. Under the conditions that these workers are forced to work in, it can be implied that China is dumping its goods on the world market. China is selling its products for less than what it costs them to make them in order to wipe out its competitors. China is performing this act to benefit their economy but, in turn, they are also neglecting their workers of higher income and satisfactory factory conditions. China has a large demand in the world market to produce goods at a rapid pace. That is why it’s economy is booming 10% a year. China is not necessarily artificially holding down its prices by denying worker’s their rights. China is involved in competitive industries and therefore has to keep up with the demands of the international markets. The plight of the factory workers is the consequence of this rapid competition of different industries. Economic growth is China’s main concern and unfortunately the workers’ actions are suppressed.

  3. Zikun Wang says:

    In some ways it is possible that Chinese government strengthens its competitive power by denying peasants workers’s rights. But I think it is also a result of huge labor force in China in last decades, which lowers the cost of labor. Therefore to some extent I believe Chinese government is using advantage of cheap labor to dump Chinese products abroad. However, we should also consider the factor that China’s cheap labor is a result of huge labor force which will will lead to aging population in the next few decades.
    For the second lecture, CCP’s revolution destroyed the old social order of China and resulted in the loss of traditional moral and social connection. Most significantly, the trust between people and the moral of helping others in need were removed from Chinese society, and people now care more about their own family rather than the well-beings of others.

  4. Jie Cai says:

    I found Professor Lu Huilin’s thoughts regarding the fate of China’s migrant workers fascinating in that he was able to back up his personal opinions with facial support. Being Chinese myself, I am more than aware of the criticism China has received regarding its unprecedented annual economic growth of 10% for the past two decades. Some critics have voiced their opinions that China’s spectacular economic growth is simply the result of possessing a cheap labor. While I acknowledge the terrible working conditions in Foxconn and deeply sympathize the unequal treatments the migrant workers constantly face, one ought not to draw a conclusion that China is dumping its goods on the world market. I agree that the central and local governments need to take collective efforts to improve the working conditions, the clients of Foxconn in the West should also be held accountable for the misery of the migrant workers. They have been exploring the benefits of employing China’s relatively cheaper labor and systematically bring tremendously huge amount of orders to Foxconn, while simultaneously accusing China of neglecting workers’ rights. It is no doubt that had China not have the comparative advantage in labor cost, there would be no offshoring of Western companies in China in the first place.
    It is of great significance that the Western companies and the Chinese governments cooperate to come up with a specific agenda, clearly outlining the rights of the peasant workers and strictly following the agenda. This is an urgent issue in China as there are over 2 billion migrant workers in China, and their needs ought to be recognized and met in a timely fashion. Given the increasing economic disparity between migrant workers and other types of labor, the Chinese government needs to go to great length to fight the growing inequality. Otherwise, the 2 billion desperate migrant workers might potentially stir riot, igniting social unrest and causing instability.

  5. Leo Kim says:

    China today is seen as the “world factory” where the world can invest and in return, receive huge quantities of products for low costs. This poses a serious issue for factory workers in China. Professor Lu Huilin shared at the event on 4/13/16 the horrifying incident in 2010 of the 13 teenagers who committed suicide at a Foxconn facility, 10 of them dead. China’s priorities are influence by its attitude toward developmentalism. Therefore, the government has supported a company like Foxconn. Potential employees are initially tricked into joining Foxconn with the understanding that they will be paid well, provided housing, and given a career path. They were tricked. Professor Huilin responded to one of the questions that governments in China support Foxconn and the low minimum wage because it is afraid that any attempts at reformation will drive away factories and reduce flow of money into the cities. While the migrant workers are faced with such difficulties, I would not say it is the result of dumping. Foxconn’s attitude toward its workers shows how low the expenses are for the company to meet its demands. Workers are only paid 1.8% of Foxconn’s profits. Corporations can be bullies because of their corporate influence. Workers (who are not even seen as civilians) are the ones getting bullied. Corporations want to maintain low costs, but continuing to exploit workers can increase the negative media as was the case for Foxconn and the suicide incident. Additionally, low working conditions lead to high employee turnover. As a result, Foxconn will have additional expenses and will have to raise its prices. While I believe the situation seems to be an ethical concern, the structure has led to these circumstances. Therefore, I believe in this example, Apple has great incentives to extend a CSR program and improve its partners’ policies.

  6. Pamela Btesh says:

    professor Lu Huilin talks about how china has become a world factory. china today owns the biggest factories in the world. They export most of these products. China’s economy has risen for the past 30 years, each year growing 10%. Due to its cheap cost of producing, worker’s conditions are very bad. Huilin uses as an example the large electronic manufacture; “foxconn”. As seen in the video he showed working conditions in this large factory are terrible. Workers are treated like in the military. Workers also say that they receive a smaller wage that what they had been promised. the video shows a contrast of what you see in an advertisement of an IPhone and how everything seems perfect but it also shows the hidden part of the story which is how its manufactured. Besides the terrible working conditions workers work obligatory overtime. Even though of all this terrible conditions apple as well as other companies like Nokia, Samsung, Moto and LG let their products be manufactured in these conditions due to low cost.

  7. Arlenys Reyes says:

    The Presentation on China’s migrant workers was of much interest to me. I was aware of the poor conditions that were present in large manufacturing companies in China like Foxconn; however, a sense of shock still existed. It was interesting to see how Foxconn would provide such poor working conditions to its workers due to the high demand of their apple products. The migrant workers are expected to work tireless hours with many restrictions and poor air quality. The only goal is to get the products manufactured not to keep the workers safe. It seems like Foxconn is the #1 project since the name is enough to attract the government’s attention. This in turn discourages the workers and leads them to a path of no return, where they come from poor conditions back home and attempt to better their lives but in the midst of doing this, the life threatening obstacles may trigger suicide. This in fact happened as 13 young Foxconn workers committed suicide. This was a tragedy and should not have gotten to that point.
    Another very controversial topic with this situation is that of dumping. China is indeed dumping on the world markets. The cheap labor, which is not supported by the amount of work provided by the workers, as well as the overall cheap costs of manufacturing make the lower prices on the market possible. This in turn creates more demand of these types of workers and the conditions for the workers become harder to improve. Attending this talk made me realize that the manufacturing company should not be the only one responsible for the health its workers. We as consumers and as members of a global community are in part responsible for the emergence and continuing existence labor conditions in China.

  8. Menachem Bandel says:

    I personally found Lu Huilin’s presentation on “The World Factory and the Plight of New Generation of Peasant Workers in China” to be very interesting and eye opening. We usually tend to just read the news and not care about the situation in Asia, but once we hear it in first person it hits us. This is something that should not be happening in any part of the world. According to Professor Huilin, China’s economy has been able to grow at a very remarkable rate. He showed a chart which translated into almost a 10% increase per year in China’s economy. This is very impressive, but at the same time it is kind of expected due to the fact that everyone around the world tries to invest in China since they are the major producers in the world. This is something that it is know since almost everything is labeled as being “made in China”. Huilin then shifted the conversation and focused on speaking about FoxConn Company, which is the world’s leading electronics manufacturer. FoxConn offers very poor labor conditions to its workers which causes many problems and the people to be upset as well. Huilin expressed the disappointment the Chinese workers by showing pictures of some of the housing provided to these workers as well as how they do not receive any protection. He also explained how the training is run as a military train with stick and inhuman actions being applied to them.
    I really understand the struggle expressed by Huilin since I have seen similar treatments in Latin America. I grew up in Venezuela and still hear stories from my dad telling me how he had to go to work when he was around 10 years old since his family was poor at the time. He kept telling me how the working conditions were inhumane and how he did not get paid well at all compared to all the work he had to do.
    To conclude, I enjoyed listening to Professor Huilin’s talk but I believe this is a problem that must be dealt with right now and have the government as well as other agencies interfere with. I think that we should not allow this to happen anywhere in the world. I understand the fact that by providing low wages and poor working conditions, China is able to produce all their products at very low costs and then sell most of their goods to the rest of the world; but I firmly believe in the fact that we all have rights and those rights must be protected no matter the cost.

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