Chinese Industrialization

degrading, moribund, mundane, listless, and helpless

The five adjectives that I have chosen to show the conditions of modern Chinese factory labor are degrading, moribund, mundane, listless, and helpless. The first adjective I thought of was degrading. In these factories, workers remained in a rut from day to day for years. They needed to make the same things and do the same work every day. When they were allowed to socialize, they would be too busy sleeping or scarfing up food. These workers are offered not individualization. It’s degrading. They lose all unique talents that they had or could have come to have, but nobody cares. Some even wonder why they keep on living if the conditions are so bad, and lose so much self respect that they commit suicide. A factory worker who was also a poet who did commit suicide, wrote “I swallowed a moon made of iron/They refer to it as a nail”(Xu LiZhi via The Washington Post). He said this to symbolize his dying as him becoming part of the moon. He was degraded so much, he lost his will to live. The next word I chose was moribund. One of the definitions of this word is “in terminal decline; lacking vitality or vigor,” which I feel captures exactly what these workers are feeling. Working if a factory with so many people, the air is thin. The pollution in the factory also clogs their lungs. They are living on 400-500 calories a day. They also cannot keep their mental health, as they are barely allowed to socialize. They are acutely underpaid, and are living solely off of routine. The work is also mundane, as each day is the same. There is never any excitement. There is bland food and thousands of iPads to make each day at Foxconn. I chose listless as one of my adjectives, because this word is often used to describe ghosts or shadows. Ghost and shadows take the form of humans, but they are all the same, and they do not have emotions. Every day, these workers, with their routinely tortuous life fade more and more into ghosts and shadows. These workers are also helpless because without their job, they will have no money and they will not be able to support themselves. However, with a job they will still have a terrible life, but at least they have a place to live. The factory conditions also cannot get better, as foreign markets are unwilling to pay the factories more, so the conditions can improve. The workers are effectively forced to breathe heavy, polluted air, and suffer from extreme sleep deprivation.

While all of these images offer some sort of insight into the contrast between the poor working/living conditions on the British industrial revolution and these conditions of modern Chinese factories, these three pictures represent the poor working conditions the best as a whole. First of all, we have the political cartoon that parodies Angry Birds. Angry birds is an iPhone game in which you begin with a set number of birds on the left side of the screen, and there is some sort of unstable wooden structure with enemies on the right side. In angry birds, your goal is to hit all of the enemies with the birds by launching them from a catapult. The cartoon shows the enemies as being foxconn workers. They are on the unstable structure that could collapse any second, a realistic representation of what working in a Foxconn factory is actually like. In a timeframe, spanning only from May 2011 to December 2011, “two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77”(The New York Times). Yes, making iPads at foxconn injures and traumatizes the workers, just as they look in the Angry Birds political cartoon. This cartoon also shows how buying this app and buying iPads hurts the workers, and it keeps the demand for iPads high, so they must keep working in the adverse factory conditions. The next two pictures I chose were of three child factory workers who worked during the British industrial revolution, and some modern child factory workers who work in s Foxconn factory in China. The three British children are all warn out from their work. They are all probably poor girls who can afford little, but the clothes on their back, which is also seen to be patched up over the tears. They work in harsh conditions where boilers may spontaneously explode and kill them, of they may faint from weariness. The Chinese children are all also at these same risks. They focus on their factory work, which they do day to day, as a robot, with no breaks even to take a picture like the British children. During their 18hr days, they are not allowed to socialize much with other coworkers. They also only get paid around 6 cents an hour.

Ending the adverse conditions of Chinese labor would be the most ideal course of action, yet it is the most difficult to achieve. During Britain’s Industrial Revolution, the factory conditions were just as dangerous and harsh, however the workers commuted from home instead of staying crammed in dorms. Because rich people were willing to invest in the industry, Britain was able to improve the factory conditions and thrive. In China, the factories are so big, it would be nearly impossible to invest enough to give the factories enough money to significantly improve the working conditions of the thousands of workers in China. Even if we donated the money, the factory owners would probably keep it as personal pay. Also, because the textiles and other goods in British factories were distributed between British homes, there is no threat that there will be no more customers. Britain only bought textiles from Britain. In China, if they increase the price of goods, other countries will buy the goods elsewhere, and the workers will get even less money. The workers in Britain also formed unions to fight for their rights, or else they refused to work. They could do this, because they could sustain themselves without work for short periods of time, as a lot of the workers lived on farms. However, in modern China, “China’s laws actually make the formation of free trade unions illegal which means workers have weak bargaining power compared to those elsewhere” (Labour Behind the Label). Also these workers would not be able to sustain themselves without a job, as many of them don’t even have enough money to get back to their home farm. It is nearly impossible for the factory conditions to be improved or ended in the near future.

Works Cited

Duhigg, Charles, and David Barboza. "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad." The New York Times 25 Jan. 2012: n. pag. NY Times. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

Kahn, Joseph, and Jim Yardley. "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes." The New York Times 26 Aug. 2007: n. pag. NY Times. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

"Smog Chokes Beijing marathon, but Should be Gone for APEC." Los Angeles Times 20 Oct. 2014: n. pag. LA Times. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

Tharoor, Ishaan. "The Haunting Poetry of a Chinese Factory Worker who Committed Suicide." Washington Post 12 Nov. 2014: n. pag. World History in Context. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

"Trade Reforms Creating Concern for Garment Workers as China's Star Rises." Labour Behind the Label. N.p., 19 Sept. 2006. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.

Picture Urls