Working Conditions for Chinese Factory Workers

For most consumers (the ones I’ve spoken to anyway), where something is made is usually an after thought. The purchase is made and taken home then those who are interested enough will check the label.
So most people really aren’t too bothered where something is made as long as they get the product they want for a price that they are willing to pay. Yet when you ask people how they feel about manufacturing being outsourced to developing countries the response is usually along the lines of ‘it’s terrible, these people work for pennies in appalling conditions’ and that they would never willingly support it. So what are conditions actually like for the average Chinese factory worker?

Let’s start by looking at what laws the Chinese government have in place to protect their workers. The PRC labour laws of 1995 are surprisingly comprehensive. Some of the main areas they cover are; minimum wage, working hours, overtime pay, health and safety, child labour and labour disputes. There is a maximum workweek of 40 hours, minimum wages are decided locally to cover the cost of living, overtime must be paid at a fixed rate, workers must have at least 1 day off per week and wages must be paid on time without deductions (without good reason). Sounds good enough does it not?
In reality these laws are rarely followed. The problem is that whilst the labour laws may be adhered to for the local residents, a huge majority of Chinese factory workers are migrants coming from rural China. These workers can expect to work much more than 40 hours per week, have just 1 or 2 days off per month, be paid just £50-£70 per month and have money taken out of their wages for breaking trivial rules which the factory has set (such as talking whilst working or having too many bathroom breaks). It is also common for the factory to withhold their employees first 2 months wages as a ‘deposit’ which they receive when leaving – making it hard for migrants to move onto a better paid job (which often come up unexpectedly and must be taken almost instantly before the chance disappears) or leave without consent of the factory owner (which is not always given). One of the main problems is that the migrants are generally looked down upon by local residents and government officials and therefore treated as second-class citizens to whom the ‘rules’ do not apply. It is also usually the case that migrant workers don’t actually know their rights under the PRC’s labour laws of 1995.

Why, then, are thousands upon thousands of migrants arriving at these ‘factory cities’ every year? Why does China’s cheap labour force and cheap manufacturing industry continue to thrive? For most migrants the appeal is the independence, the chance of a new way of life – leaving behind their parent’s small farms and quiet rural settings. Most migrants are young and see it as a chance to travel and ‘see the world’ – although this may seem confusing to us as they don’t actually leave China, the average rural dweller in China would rarely leave the small group of villages in which he or she was brought up. With so many young people from all around China arriving at the same places it’s also a great chance to meet new people. So it’s not all bad, there also the accommodation provided by the factories. Most factories will provide a place for their workers to live whilst working at the factory and although this is usually very basic, with up to 10 workers sharing one dorm style room, it gives the workers a secure and steady place to live.

Of course, not all factories are the same, not all factories ignore the rights of their workers. One such factory is the EUPA factory in southeast China. EUPA has a massive complex, housing 17000 workers and pumping out tens of millions of domestic products per year. Factories such as this one; do comply with the maximum working hours per week, pay their workers a fair wage on time and on top of this provide them with many benefits. The workers live there, they eat there (in one of their 5 different themed cafeterias which are subsidised by the company to keep the cost of meals down), their children go to school there – they can even get married on site! There is also opportunity to move up the ranks, if you’re good enough at your job and you work hard you can be promoted to line manager and continue to work your way up. Being promoted comes with the benefits of better pay and more spacious accommodation. One of the main reasons that EUPA can afford to treat its workers so well is the size of it’s operation which in turn means that it has consistent, reliable orders from its customers.

conditions in the majority of Chinese factories are not what many of us in the west would consider acceptable although there are some exceptions to this rule. Yet we also have to take in to account the fact that the majority of the people who are migrating to these factories are choosing to do so in the hope of a better life – lifting themselves and their families out of rural poverty

The Products From China

It seems in the world today most electrical products are made (or assembled) in China. With the cost of labor in China at only $2.05, a huge number of companies are using Chinese workers to produce their wares.

Despite the ridiculously low cost in comparison to the minimum wage here in the UK (which is currently £6.08 if you are over 21) the average pay of employees across China has risen by 22% in the last year. The country as a whole, doesn’t have a set minimum wage for all of it’s employees across all of the provinces. This pay is decided by each province, and because of the rise in pay in each of these provinces, China now has the third highest average pay in developing asia.

Because of the rise in the pay for Chinese workers, many companies have been forced to find workers in South American countries. Brazilian employees are only a few cents more than the Chinese, and are payed just $2.11 an hour.

As an experiment, I had a look at each of the electrical products I have in my room, and out of the 16 electrical items I own (one of which being a kitchen appliance), 10 of these were made or assembled in China.

I also had a look at a few of my flatmates belongings, and found that 6 out of 10 of one were Chinese made and 4 of 8 from another were Chinese made. Out of my 10 Chinese made electrical products, 6 of these were big name brand. These big companies include Microsoft, Apple and Kenwood amongst them.

Through my travels around my flatmates electrical devices, I came across hair straighteners, hair dryers, hand held electrical whisks, irons, headphones, games consoles (both hand held and table top consoles), music devices, phones, cameras (a mixture of digital, film, poleroid, and video cameras) and speakers. These, along with the absurd number of Apple products around my house, the place felt like a home for techies and gamers, not really a place for a house full of Interaction Designers. That being said, out of the 8 Interaction Designers in our house all 43 Apple products are split. The only non Interaction Design student owns no Apple products, which must say something about our discipline as a consumer market.

As I had a look through my flatmates electrical products, I figured out that in my house of 9 people there are 43 Apple products. Many of which (as we know) are made at Foxconn factories in China. As of late, Apple has had it’s ‘Nike moment’ where the quality of working conditions and the low pay of the employees has been brought to light. Another set of incidents at Foxconn factories that has been brought to light by the world is a recent spate of suicides in 2011 that forced Foxconn to put up anti-jump netting around their towers to try and stop it. With 4 deaths in 2011, 14 out of 18 attempts being unfortunately successful in 2010 and 4 deaths between 2007 and the end of 2009.

As I’m sure will be the case with numerous other companies in the future, Apple have been dealing with the issue admirably. From a companies perspective, this ‘Nike Moment’ is a terrible thing to happen, but Apple are not the worst by far, it just so happens that attention has been brought to the treatment of employees by the media.

When I asked my flatmates whether they knew the working conditions in which the factory workers are forced to labour, (with Apple as the exception due to the recent leak of media from Foxconn factories) they had no idea. Most of them didn’t even know that some of their products were in fact made in China, until I asked them to look. I found myself often surprised by the products that told me of their origin, and also the sheer number of Chinese made products I own.

The most surprising for me would most likely be my headphones, which come from a little known Canadian company, despite the size of the company of it’s popularity, their products are in actual fact, made in Chine. On the other hand though, there were things that did not surprise me at all. The Apple products, obviously being some of them, but also my X-Box 360, and Nintendo Dsi.

There were a few products I own that surprised me with the fact that they were not made in China. One of my external hard drives – which comes from a very large, particularly well known computer technology company – that was actually made in Belgium was a real shocker, as generally computer components are known for being mass produced easily and cheaply in China. This hard drive and my mobile phone both surprised me. My phone, which is made by Nokia (a Finnish company who are known for the phones we all loved from growing up) was in fact made in Finland. The fact that the company is owned and run and produce their products all in the same relatively small country (in comparison to a place as large as China), is hugely respectable.

Almost all of the people I spoke to about their technological products wouldn’t have thought twice about where they are coming from and the conditions the workers are in on a daily basis. They wouldn’t make any effort to look for products that were specifically made or not made in china. And perhaps more influentially, many of them said that despite them receiving news and information about Foxconn’s conditions, they would still by Apple products.

Sometimes in the world, fashion and brand is worth more than the comfort of a human being.

Assignment 3: ‘Made in China’

It has been said that Europe spends almost 12,630 Billion pounds a year on games and toys alone. Manufacturers have swarmed to China, which apparently assembles a massive 75-80% of the world’s toy production. China has 8,000 toy factories and more than 5,000 of them are in the Guangdong province and it has been said by USA Today in December 2006, that “some 1.5 million workers are making toys in Guangdong”.

With these figures in mind, I set about unpacking some of my and my family’s childhood belongings, searching amongst the boxes of stuffed toys, plastic gimmicks and even some more modern items and found that the majority of them were made in China. In fact the only two items I did find that did not carry the ‘made in china’ label was a stuffed toy, made in Vietnam, and a pack of collecting cards made in USA. The rest, including a rather large number of stuffed toys, cheap novelty products bought as joke presents and other items were all labelled ‘made in china’. I also asked a friend of mine to do the same and the results were very similar.

I was still unsure about these statistics. So I thought when studying the toy industry where else better to go than ‘Toys R Us’? Of course this visit was purely for research purposes… There I did the same thing, and investigated just how much of the company’s stock carried the ‘made in china’ label. As soon as entering the front door you are greeted with an abundance of Lego games and stuffed toys. Lego it seems is made in many places including Denmark and Mexico but many parts are still also made in China. In the stuffed toy section, while rummaging through the selection despite strange looks from both customers and staff, I found that the entire section seemed to be ‘made in China’.
As it turns out the rest of my trip around the store went in a similar fashion. ‘Made in China’, ‘Manufactured in China’, ‘Fabricado en China’ and many other variations of this made it apparent (after much scrutinising of the fine print) that most of the stock and merchandise all shared this similarity. In fact, by the end I was almost praying that I would find even some products that weren’t made in china. Although there were some toys, like the ever-popular ‘Barbie’, some ‘Disney Products’ and some ‘transformers’ toys that despite predominantly being been made in china, they also had some models that were manufactured in Vietnam. As a matter of fact the only toys I could find that appeared not to be ‘made in China’ were the products of Playmobil which is said to be manufactured in Germany, and some board games. The rest of the products I found however, definitely were ‘made in China’.

While there, I asked some shoppers some questions about the products they were buying and generally to consider general products they had at home. I asked them, without checking, if they could guess where some of the products they were about to purchase and also in their opinion, where most of the products they already own were made. Most people guessed China; however some other common answers were other Asian countries, Turkey and India. The next question involved the person recalling their favourite toys from their youth. Many I could recall were probably made in China; however, many after investigating were not. Some such as ‘a sheep skin teddy bear’ was made in Scotland. It seemed that the younger the person interviewed the more likely the chances their favourite toy was manufactured in China showing the over-all shift in manufacturing industries from more local areas, to overseas. This reminds us that it wasn’t so long ago, that factories lined our very own cities. Opinions on the quality of goods made outside the UK varied quite largely. Many or even most however, felt that the quality was good or had improved over the years. There were a number however, that felt that the quality was not good and was worsening. Yet, this could probably be a result of the present financial situation with tighter budgets for buyers; manufacturers have no choice but to lower quality in order to keep up with buyer’s low price demands. Perhaps this is why a number of interviewees felt that product quality, in some aspects at least, was decreasing. However, the majority stood with a rather high quality from products made outside the UK and in particular China.
For the next question I asked why they felt that the importation of Chinese goods into Europe and the U.S was so high. Almost all agreed that it was cheap labour costs and many added that it was also the larger workforces that allow for shorter manufacturing times. However, these similarities in opinion soon vanished when I asked what they thought of the working conditions these people were under and how they felt about them. The words ‘slave-labour’ and ‘poor conditions’ were thrown around a lot. However many argued they were under the impression that conditions had changed or presumed they worked within decent ethical codes and laws. The mere comprehension that such a powerful country could still be subject to slave labour seemed unrealistic. Whereas other interviewees felt the opposite, that for things to be so cheap there had to be a certain amount of this behind the scenes. In fact, according to an investigation carried out by the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, 7 out of every 9 companies, will break Chinese laws and breach the ethical codes set by buyers to the rights of their workers. It is said they have fake wage and hour slips, and pay their staff to lie during inspections. Staff are said to fear defending their human rights in case they lose their jobs.According to Tai Guang Lai, a manager of a toy factory in China that many of the workers are from poor provinces, so they ‘have no choice but to come here and work ‘. The workers, in the words of an American Industrial Designer who works in China himself said, ‘People are the most adaptable machines’ and it appears as though they are being treated in this way. I ended with a simple question, if it meant improving the working conditions of these people, would you be willing to pay more for the toys and all products in general? Again, the answers I received differed from person to person. It’s all circumstantial, to the person. Many said ‘If I had the money, I would’ and ‘In an ideal world’. The harsh reality is that whether the person said they would or would not pay more hypothetically means nothing. A lot of the problems that can be seen are down to the ignorance and naivety of the rest of the world. However, it seems most people I asked were in some manner, aware of how some of their products were ‘probably’ produced. So one can’t help wonder if this ‘ignorance’ is intentional. That perhaps people prefer to close their eyes and pretend the world’s a better place because, let’s be honest, isn’t playing ignorant so much easier than actually doing something about it?

Chinese Making Processes

Cloisonné (Jingtailan)

Cloisonné is the name used to describe the process of enamelling or decorating metalwork. The name derives from the French for ‘compartments’ – ‘cloisons’, as Cloisonné is created by soldering wire onto a metal surface in a pattern, and filling the ‘compartments’ made by the wire with vitreous enamel. Cloisonné first developed in Ancient Egyptian Jewellery and body adornment, where they would use a mix of cut gemstones, glass and enamel.  This technique was very popular and through trading it gradually moved around europe, the Anglo-saxon, Roman and Byzantium empires, Russia, and eventually, in the 14th Century it arrived in China.

Cloisonné Making Process

The Chinese name for Cloisonné, ‘Jingtailan’ refers to the Jingtai Emperor during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The most valued pieces of Chinese Cloisonné are thought to have come from this era, although the earliest pieces date back to the reign of the Xuande Emperor (1425-1435). By the reign of Jingtai, the Chinese had developed very advanced skills in Cloisonné, and therefore created some extremely detailed and beautiful pieces.

Chinese Cloisonné Ornamentation

The Chinese have developed a very distinct style of Cloisonné, and although they did not invent the technique, they appear to be the most famous for it. They often use this technique for pots, vases and ornaments, but it is also used to make pendants and beads for Jewellery. Chinese Cloisonné designs, like many other pieces of Chinese art, are often religious or images of good luck and prosperity. Their designs commonly feature images of winged birds, the Dragon and the Phoenix, which were all thought to be symbols of good virtue. Cloisonné in China is full of bright colours and beautiful patterns and motifs. It is often further decorated with gold and brass sculpture, which gives an extremely rich and majestic look to each piece. (As seen below)

Champion Vase from 18th Century (GW Vincent Smith Gallery, Massachusetts)
Cloisonné and Chinoiserie
In the 18th Century, Chinoiserie became a very popular fashion in Western countries. Through trading and ‘The Silk Road’, many pieces of Chinese furniture, art, fabrics and ornaments found themselves in the West. The rich, and mysterious appearance of these Eastern treasures quickly became very popular, and was in high demand not only from the higher class, but also the middle classes of the Western countries of Europe. Hense, Chinoiserie was developed. The Europeans picked up several techniques which would mirror that of the Chinese. An example of this is ‘Japanning’. A somewhat ignorant name used to describe the process of Chinese style laquerwork. And of course, another example is Cloisonné. This was a very popular technique in the Chinoiserie era, as it looked archetypally Chinese. Its appearance looked expensive and exotic, which is what people wanted.

Jade Carving (Yu)

Soft, smooth and glossy. It appeared to them like benevolence; fine, compact and strong – like intelligence”

Attributed to Confucius (551-479 BC)

The process of Jade carving is originally done by drawing a bow string back and forth to propel a drill, while adding water and abrasive to the stone. Jade is extremely difficult to carve and is sculpted by repetitively cutting, grinding and polishing the stone. It also a very expensive material to work with, and jade carvers must be careful not to waste it. They have to think of ways to make a beautiful design while keeping the carving to a minimum. The way Jade is carved is often symbolic. When carved into a pig, it represents prosperity, when it is in the shape of a disk, it represented Heaven, and when a piece of Jade is enclosed in a square, it represents the Earth.

Chinese Jade Sculptures

Carved Jade is thought to have become popular in China over 7000 years ago, when it was used for weaponry and ornaments. According to the Chinese ‘creation’ story, after man was created, he wandered the Earth with nothing to protect him from wild animals. A storm took pity on him and forged a rainbow into two Jade axes, which it tossed to the Earth for man to find and protect himself with. Since the beginning of Chinese history, Jade has been a prominent symbol of wealth, power, security, good health and strength.

An ancient Chinese proverb states, “You can out a price on Gold, but Jade is priceless”.

According to legend, only Emperors were allowed to posess carved Jade, and it is often referred to by the Chinese as ‘the Stone of Heaven’. A piece of Jade was sometimes placed on the tongue of a dead person to represent ressurection. To the Chinese, Jade is a majestic and divine stone.

Jade was commonly used to adorn the body.  During the Han Dynasty, royal members were buried in suits made of Jade. The suit was made up of several square Jade plates, which were woven together with wire, ribbon or silk.

Jade Burial Suit – Han Dynasty

Nowadays, a common trinket sold to tourists in Chinese markets is a faux-jade Buddha Pendant. Although the Chinese still treasure Jade, it is becoming less fashionable and more commercialised.

“But jade carving is very slow, and it takes a long time to sell, because the market for jade carving is narrow: just a few collectors here and in Japan and America.” 

Quote from a Jade Craftsman in an interview with the Smithsonian.

Buddha Pendant

Assignment 2: China and Animation

China is believed to be one of the biggest animation markets on the planet. It has a population of 1.3 Billion, with 370 million of them being children. A survey carried out by the ‘Quatech Market Research Company’ concluded that citizens from the age of 14 to that of around 30 in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing spent over RMB 1.3 billion Yuan on cartoons every year. However, 80% of this was spent on animation from other countries. It has been said that only 11% of China’s youth prefer animation made locally. The other 89% prefer works predominantly from Japan and also a good deal from America. It is in the opinion of many that Chinese cartoons focus too much on education and not enough of on entertainment. 60% of China’s youngsters prefer Japanese animation which is probably due to the fact that Japanese plots introduce more true to life problems that children have to face, making their characters more relatable to the viewers than compared to characters found in Chinese animations. According to Japanese cartoonist Chiba Tetsuya, “Chinese cartoonists are as good as Japanese ones, if not better…But a good cartoon requires not only good drawings, but also an interesting plot. Chinese cartoonists need to spend more time on creating adventure story lines and on upgrading their story skills.”

Chinese animation has been said to be influenced by other forms of art and historical and cultural events and also obtaining a lot of influence from ancient folklore and Chinese manhua. Manhua are Chinese comic books sharing similarities to Japanese Manga and Korean manhwa. However, unlike manga, modern day manhua usually comes in full colour with some panels created completely in paint for single issue format. Chinese manhua originated in the late 19th century to the early 20th century. It is said that manhua was developed in some way from small picture books called Lianhuanhua and these became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s.

It is undeniable that China, as it presently stands, isn’t exactly renowned for its outstanding animation. However, one cannot say that they didn’t play role in the innovation of the art form at all. Around 180 AD Ting Huan, an inventor created the earliest version of the Zoetrope. This device, made of semi-transparent paper of mica panels, was hung over a lamp. The Zoetrope would spin with the rising air creating the impression that the images that were painted on the zoetrope were moving. Although, China may have lagged behind in the progression of the animation industry over time, it can still be seen that the country was already ahead of its time in regards to the very concept behind animation itself.

The earliest examples of animation to hit China, was the series ‘Out of the Inkwell’ which was released in 1918. That and many other examples from Europe and America influenced the trend in China greatly. The first Chinese animation was created by Wan Laiming in 1922 for the shuzendong Chinese Typewriter. Shortly after, Wan Laiming and his brothers Wan Dihuan, Wan Guchan and Wan Chaochen formed together and worked for the Great Wall Film Company. There, they made many advances in animation. The Wan Brothers, as they became known, wanted to create a style that was distinctly Chinese. It was common place during this period to use the combination of live action footage and traditional 2D animation. The first animation they made was a 10-12 minute long piece called ‘Uproar in the Studio’. In 1935, they went on to create China’s first animation with sound ‘The Camel’s Dance’ and in 1941, created one of the most well renowned Chinese animated feature films, ‘Princess Iron Fan’. The story of this animation was apparently influenced in some way from the Chinese folk tale ‘Journey to the West’. It was the first animated feature film to be presented in Asia. The film was produced by a team of 237 artists under the supervision of the Wan Brothers and it was done using rotoscoping during the Second World War. It cost over 350, 000 Yuan and was over 20,000 frames in total.

The movie was said to have had a great impact on animation in Asia, and in particular, inspired Japan to also develop a feature-length animation ‘Momataro’s Divine Sea Warrior’. In 1956 the Wan Brothers went on to develop ‘Why is the Crow Black-Coated’ which was one of the first coloured Chinese animations and is recognised world-wide. A mere two years later, the brothers went on to create animations using cut paper based on folk art. Examples of this style can be seen in ‘Pigsy Eats Watermelon’. In addition to this, the animator Yu Zheguang established another new method of animating using origami in the film ‘A Clever Duckling’. However, the progress of Chinese animation didn’t stop there. The Wan Brothers were yet to create their most recognised film ‘Havoc in Heaven’. The film broke boundaries in technique, colour and skill and was 2 hours long. The Film took almost 4 years to complete.

After the Cultural Revolution however, it is said that animation took an almost stand-still. Over the 20 years from 1960 to 1989, predominantly American shows were imported to Hong Kong. In regards to Asian animation, Japan had taken the forefront with popular anime shows that were exported to Hong Kong, Europe and the U.S. China had, and still to this day, has strong competition for interest,  not only word-wide, but also at home. Nevertheless, The Shanghai Animation Studio, which the Wang Brothers and many other popular artists became part of in the1940s launched a further 219 animated movies in the 1980s. Some of these animations such as ‘Three Monks’ and ‘Feeling from Mountain and Water’ went on to become award winners.

Despite this from the 1990s onwards, Chinese animation was ousted from the public eye with the global commercialisation of American and Japanese works. It can be seen today that China are still improving their skills, however it’s almost as though they are losing the feeling of an animation that was distinctly Chinese. It has been claimed that China is adopting western and Japanese styles, even in modern works of manhua, and in turn losing the sense of culture and individuality that they had endeavoured to preserve all those years. Yet, in spite of all this negative opinion, near the end of the millennium, China was introduced to the internet. This has provided China with a new means of getting their animation out to the world, and allowed for more freedom instead of everything being, in the words of Jin Guoping (shanghai Studio Director) ‘ decided by …the government’. China appears to have had its ups and downs in this area, and although it’s never quite held a place at the forefront in the progression of the animation industry globally, after all this time, the country’s still improving to this day. In this time, amidst the remarkable growth of China, one can only wonder if it will ever become a recognised figure in the industry as it has been threatening to do for all these years.

How China Projects Itself to the World as a Travel Destination

When browsing through travel brochures for Beijing, Shanhai and other popular holiday destinations in China, I was somewhat surprised to see that not only did several of the brochures offer an extensive list of generic holiday activities like ‘Golf’ and ‘Skuba Diving’, but they didn’t seem to offer much in the way of exploring the culture. But why, I asked myself, would you want to play  game of golf, which you can do at home, when you’re in a beautiful country full of colour, exotic foods, new people, and interesting places? What strikes me as strange is China’s apparent want to westernise and commercialise itself.

Lychee Park, Shenzhen

Ironically, having never been to China myself, I have very set views of Chinese culture and ways of life. When I think of China, I immediately picture two vastly contrasting images: One being an idyllic countryside, a few solemn, architecturally stunning Chinese houses set against a backdrop of snowy mountains, cherry blossoms and rice fields; The other being a busy, polluted city with constantly rising skyscrapers, traffic jams, and markets bursting full of colour, exciting food and interesting people. All in all, it comes across as an extremely fascinating culture.

People at a Chinese Market

What I can’t understand, however, is China’s apparent need to sway towards commercialism. As a country it seems desperate to abolish its past, its beauty and its nature, in order to make room for westen culture, money and modern success. In Duncan Hewitt’s ‘Getting Rich First: Life In A Changing China’, he tells us of Mr Zhao, the owner of one of the last remaining houses in ‘The Forbidden City’, Beijing.  ‘We came home one day, and saw the Chinese word ‘Chai’, which means ‘demolish’ painted on the wall of the house…’

The Chinese do not appear to have any desire for frivolities or riches. They seem to strive for power, and high achievements rather than beauty and wealth, unlike many other countries. Hense, the Chinese are gradually ruling out everything that is great about their country. Their cities and roads are constantly expanding to make room for more factories and skyscrapers. And therefore, their countryside and nature suffers. Essentially, they are ruling out their past to make room for their future: Power.

A Westernised Chinese Wedding

What I noticed while flicking through travel brochures and ‘Places to Visit in China’ websites, was that the British guides focussed on Chinese culture, where to find the best views, where to experience Chinese ways of life first hand, while the Chinese guides were very much focussed on the best hotels and resorts, and the generic, mostly western, activities available. I found it ironic that the British flaunt China’s great qualities more than the Chinese do, but then again, adapting to western culture is ultimately what has made China become so successful.

Shoppers in a busy Chinese IKEA store

‘I have worked for this company for 15 years’, he said, in his lilting English, ‘and I have never seen anything like it.’ He seemed a little pale at the recollection. ‘The Saturday before last, we had 35,000 people in the store,’ he continued, ‘It looked like a tornado had gone through the place!’….’It was…woah!’ He sighed…Mr Gustavsson was, it perhaps goes without saying, the newly appointed manager of  the Chinese capital’s first branch of IKEA.’

Quote from ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’

Duncan Hewitt

By connecting and cooperating with Europe and America, this thriving consumerist culture can constantly grow and become more and more powerful as a nation.

China’s ancient and rural regions, however, are still making a great impact on the country. China boasts a vast countryside of mountains, rivers and some of the best views in the world.  Not only are these fantastic travel destinations, the countryside is also essentially what feeds the nation. ‘In a sense, it is rather ironic.The countryside, after all, is where China’s economic reforms really got under way in the years after the Cultural Revolution…’  

Yellow Mountain (Mt. Huangshan)

Despite China’s growing cities, populations and power, their truly great advantages are their history, their culture and their countryside. As these, ultimately, are why people travel to China.

How is The People’s Republic of China portrayed in our media?

China, more specifically the Communist party of China, is widely condemned by western media and the international community for its stance on human rights. Issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and political freedom are all attacked on a regular basis.
Anyone within China who attacks or criticises the government is accused of disrupting their ‘harmonious society’ and can expect to be arrested and charged with dissent or subversion. One well known example of this is the political activist Liu Xiaobo who was first arrested in 1989 after the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison for his involvement in the protests. Later, in 1996, he was again arrested for speaking out against China’s one party state and this time he was sent to a re-education labour camp for 3 years. In 2009 he was again arrested for ‘subverting state power’ and sentenced to 11 years in prison; in 2010 (whilst still imprisoned) he was awarded the Nobel peace prize for his non-violent struggle to promote human rights in China. Despite all of this almost no-one living in China will have heard of him – simply because the state is adept at managing what its people see in the news, it exercises strict controls over what appears on television, in newspapers and what can be accessed on the internet.
Another story which our media often reports on is the ongoing dispute over Tibet, an area which has shifted in and out of Chinese control over centuries. Many Tibetans see the Chinese government as suppressors, subduing their right to freedom of expression and worship. One of the main causes of tension is the fact that China has exiled Tibetan Buddhists spiritual leader – the Dalai Lama. This is also one of the reasons that the Tibet-China relationship is so well reported in the media, since his exile in 1959 the Dalai Lama has travelled the world advocating a non-violent road to independence for Tibet. Despite this there have been, and still are, uprisings which have been violently suppressed by the Chinese government. News stories like these and countless others about poor working conditions, low wages and forced abortions paint a very negative image of China which I wouldn’t say is entirely fair.

China is also routinely labeled as a communist country in the western media and as the ruling party is called ‘The Communist party of China’ this seems fair enough. However, the word ‘communism’ is a loaded word when used in the west, mainly because of old soviet states and the cold war it has attracted very negative connotations in peoples minds, especially in the US. But is it fair to label China as communist, is China really still a communist country?
In its purest form communism is a political ideology where no-one owns anything and therefore there is no class system, everyone is equal and everyone works toward the common good, there is no private land, businesses or property. Of course this system has many problems; not least the lack of motivation to work hard if it does not directly benefit the individual. Modern China is so far from this ideal that it is hard to still consider it communist at all – it may have been something close to this many years ago under Chairman Mao but that system is long gone. In today’s China people can start their own business, put their money into private bank accounts and buy luxury goods. That’s not to mention the huge amounts of foreign investment which go into the country every year. The government still technically controls the distribution and redistribution of land but recent laws have been passed which enhance private property rights and make it harder for the government to intervene. So China has kept some elements of communism but it also has something close to a free market which brings it a step closer to a capitalist ideology. Of course the government still considers itself to be a communist government but is it fair on China that we refer to it as communist even with all of the negative connotations?
All of this makes it hard to precisely label the Chinese political ideology, I think something like social-capitalism would be a bit closer to the truth.

Of course there are also positive news story relating to China in our news. We often hear of their booming economy which is growing at an unprecendented rate and how this is bringing prosperity – lifting millions out of rural poverty and enabling the Chinese government to introduce legislation regarding improved pay and conditions for its workers. China has also started its own space program and is planning to send up its first manned aircraft in the near future.

All in all the way China is portrayed in our media can be quite negative but the more their economy grows the more positive stories i believe we will be seeing. As the country gets richer and richer more money will be used to look after its citizens which of course can only be a good thing.