Leslie Chang on Respecting the Preferences of Chinese Workers

As a quick follow-up to the earlier discussion about Foxconn factories and Chinese workers, Leslie Chang has a fantastic brief piece up for the New Yorker on the perversity and egoism of American consumers thinking they know what’s best for Chinese workers. Key quotes:

The simple narrative equating American demand and Chinese suffering is appealing, especially at a time when many Americans feel guilty about their impact on the world. It’s also inaccurate and disrespectful. We must be peculiarly self-obsessed to imagine we have the power to drive tens of millions of people on the other side of the world to migrate and suffer in terrible ways. China produces goods for markets all over the world, including for its own consumers, thanks to low costs, a large and educated workforce, and a flexible manufacturing system that responds rapidly to market demands. To imagine that we have willed this universe into being is simply solipsistic. It is also demeaning to the workers. We are not at the center of this story—we are minor players in theirs. By focussing on ourselves and our gadgets, we have reduced the human beings at the other end to invisibility, as tiny and interchangeable as the parts of a mobile phone. […]

Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods. They choose to leave their farming villages for the city in order to earn money, to learn new skills, to improve themselves, and to see the world. And they are forever changed by the experience. […]

Across China, there are a hundred and fifty million migrant workers, a third of them women, who have left their villages to work in the factories, restaurants, hotels, and construction sites of the cities. They represent the largest migration in human history; their experiences have changed the way they work and marry and live and think. Very few of them would want to return to the way things used to be. Should you feel bad? I don’t think so. But whether you do or not is peripheral to a much larger and more important story.

It’s worth giving the whole thing a read.

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1 Response to “Leslie Chang on Respecting the Preferences of Chinese Workers”


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