Dispatches From China

China’s younger workers have different expectations

The drumbeat continues on China’s labor problems. Starting with the suicides and strikes at plants in the Pearl River basin, which goes from Shanghai to Guangzhou, there are articles and opinion pieces both in the domestic and international media.

Foxconn, the Taiwanese multinational electronics manufacturing behemoth, is often at the center of these stories. But what is the reality behind these headlines?

I had an opportunity to talk to a Taiwanese business person who has been doing business in China for more than 20 years. My first question was about how they viewed the current situation and how it would impact future business in China.

Their first remarks were about the suicides of the young workers, which they saw as regrettable. They were quick to point out that in a factory complex which employs 400,000 workers, the sheer logistics of feeding and housing people is daunting all by itself.

Like an army, people often feel like interchangeable parts of an impersonal process. The younger workers, especially from one-child families, often find the move from a close-knit family group to living in cramped conditions with six to eight strangers difficult and disorienting. Many become depressed and anxious.

Read more in the latest Dispatches From China column here.

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