The workers of the “factory of the world”

The workers of the "factory of the world"
Guo Mingzhi, 54, has split his life in two places. One is the hometown of Xinyang, 30 years; The other is more than 1,000 kilometers away from the construction site in Dongguan, 24 years. Now, three generations of his family have been “stationed” in this city, known as the “factory of the world”, working here, opening a shop, studying, and growing old and growing up here.

Ming-chi kuo can never think of the family in this city to Ann next homes, he and most migrant workers – even if they know that a second ago also adept at work in the factory, with a friend on the wine table push a cup to change, from kindergarten to take back their grandson, or feel the belly of the movement, after a second death is stranger sense of drift.

Hometown is not so easy to go back. Guo often wonders how long it will take to rejoin his family, friends, neighbors and even the mahjong table in the small supermarket after all these years. Some people find that they have been working in Dongguan for more than 20 years, which seems to make their lives fall into the gap between their hometown and construction sites. “Now, I have no home”. He is not only a stranger in the city, but also a stranger in his hometown.

A migrant worker returns to his rented house after buying vegetables at a market in Dongguan, Guangdong province, on July 1, 2009. (Photo/Occupier)

“It is the hell or heaven for people from other provinces” — Zheng Xiaoqiong’s Dongguan

From about 7 a.m., Chang ‘an Town, Dongguan City, completely woke up. In front of the factory, seven or eight breakfast stalls stood on the roadside, steaming steamed buns on steaming steams, fried rice noodles kept warm in foam boxes, sisters holding hands, brothers on the back, lovers hugging, parents sending their children back from school… Together, they form the scene of a 24-hour factory shift in the neighborhood.

This is Dongguan in 2021, and Guo Mingzhi and his wife have been in Dongguan for 24 years.

Today, Guo Mingzhi, 54, lives with his wife, grandchildren and grandchildren in the apartment assigned by his company — a 30-square-meter apartment with a balcony in the technology park where he works. The son and daughter-in-law live not far north of the park, a ten-minute walk away. The couple get up at 7 a.m., with the wife nursing their 1-year-old granddaughter, and Guo watching the 6-year-old get dressed, brush his teeth and wash his face before cooking porridge and eggs and sending him off to kindergarten after breakfast.

“He is very good and doesn’t resist going to school until after the weekend,” Guo said, adding that his grandson would cry on Monday after playing for two days in a row and would say he didn’t want to go to school as soon as he got up. The couple could only coaxing him by telling him he could learn and play games with children in kindergarten. The most important thing is “it’s no use crying, you still have to go to school”.

“Going to school” is crucial for Guo. After dropping out of high school, his son Guo Feng came to Dongguan to work. After two years, he was tired of the monotonous work on the assembly line. Guo Mingzhi could not help saying to him, “If you had read more books, at least you could have worked as a clerk in a factory.” To his delight, according to a friend, his son, who left his job at the factory, has now become the manager of an optician shop in Dongguan. He wants his daughter and grandchildren to be freed from the migrant workforce, just like his son.

Mr Guo’s daughter, the children of migrant workers, has been attending private schools in Dongguan. “The nine-year compulsory education is almost impossible for migrant workers to enjoy,” Guo said. Without a local hukou, it is difficult for a child to get into Dongguan’s public schools, while private primary schools charge 7,000 to 8,000 yuan for a semester. Not long ago, when Guo Mingzhi went to attend the coming-of age ceremony held by his daughter’s school, he saw a girl reading questions on the playground. He pointed to the girl and said to his daughter, “This is your example. You should use every moment to study.” “Mr. Guo repeated the phrase as he handed his daughter the flowers he had bought.

The factory where Mr. Guo’s daughter-in-law works is also where Mr. Liu works. Liu Nian is a “mirror” worker who checks parts or products through a microscope to see if there are any problems. She and her husband rent a small single room with a balcony near the factory for a 10-minute commute, and their monthly rent increases by 80 yuan each year, excluding 600 yuan for utilities. Although she is seven months pregnant, she is still filled with looking at the mirror every weekday from 7 am to 6 PM. “People who work outside just want to make money,” she said.

Possession soldiers also used to work in this factory. The 47-year-old, who has been in Dongguan for 26 years, bought an apartment in the city, taking his wife, mother and son with him. With a love of photography, he has taken 1.2 million photos of workers and hopes to build a “Museum of Worker Workers” that will exhibit the images of those who worked in the “World’s Factory.”

Nine years ago, he became a reporter with Chang ‘an Rong Media Center by virtue of his photography skills. As a migrant worker photographer, he has become a regular in the media and a minor celebrity in the town. Hospital doctors and factory owners were all his friends. “Soldiers are the pride of our town,” they would say at the table of morning tea or dinner, pushing cups and changing cups. The possessed-soldier smiled and knocked a glass of wine on the edge of the table. “What kind of celebrity am I, bosses? Tell me about your success stories.”

They all seem to have found a foothold in the city, leading very different but fulfilling lives. “This is where I make money. I will definitely go back to my hometown when I retire.” In his opinion, home is only one place, hometown. Occupy soldier is different. He sees himself as a “drifter” — he left his hometown and moved to Dongguan. After 26 years of struggling in the city known as the “factory of the world,” he finds that “now, I have no home.”

The workers of the "factory of the world"
Workers check the recruitment information at the gate of a factory after the Spring Festival in Dongguan, south China’s Dongguan, Feb 6, 2017. (Photo/Occupy Soldiers)

“Life is so long that I must leave the ruined town” — Zheng Xiaoqiong, Sichuan Guizhou Highway

Before 1978, Dongguan had nothing to do with the word “factory”. In July 1978, the State Council issued the “Trial Measures for Developing Foreign Processing and Assembly Business”, and Dongguan became one of the pilot projects to develop the processing of supplied materials. Two months later, Taiping Handbag Factory, the first “three to one supplement” enterprise in mainland China, was established in Dongguan. With the development of intensive processing industry model, this city gradually became the “world factory” of “traffic jam in Dongguan and global shortage of goods”.

In 1997, Guo Mingzhi, a former soldier in Xinyang, Henan province, was working for a local police force, earning about 400 yuan a month. His wife worked in the family farm, but the rice and wheat he grew were just enough to feed the family. Guo Mingzhi remembers that there were many people in the village who had returned from working in Guangdong, wearing suits and shoes, smoking cigarettes for four or five yuan, and not caring about spending hundreds of yuan on dinner parties for classmates. He himself smokes only one yuan and works on the farm with his back to the earth and his clothes are still patched.

“At that time, I thought, I’d better come out, I can make more money out of it.” That year, Guo Mingzhi, 30, quit his job, left his 6-year-old son with his mother-in-law, and traveled to Dongguan with his wife by train for a day and a night. On a bus in downtown Dongguan heading south to Chang ‘an town, Guo Mingzhi saw many people wearing similar camouflage jackets and carrying large and small colored woven bags. “It looks like they are all working here,” he said. Outside the window, people dressed the same. Guo Mingzhi thought, “The ‘suits and shoes’ I saw in my hometown are probably customized for their return home.”

The closer he got to Chang ‘an, the more frequently factory dormitories appeared outside his window. Every ten minutes, Guo Mingzhi could see one or two dormitories six or seven stories high. He was impressed by the off-white workclothes hanging on the balconies of each floor, with no holes in the hanging poles, “so dense and spectacular,” and though he could not imagine the factory, Mr. Guo thought he would be living in such a place in a few days.

Two years before Guo Mingzhi came to Dongguan, the possessive soldiers also came to Dongguan with the purpose of making money. Before that, he was a soldier. He heard from his comrades that when he was working outside, his fellow workers would buy Coca-Cola and Jianlibao to drink after work, a bottle of which cost about 3 yuan. Possession soldier’s monthly allowance was only 37 yuan, “even with all the money to buy Jianlibao, how many cans can I drink a month? But they get it every day.” Possession soldiers describe the mood at that time: the more material aspects of the lack, the more care.

The workers of the "factory of the world"

Eighteen years later, Liu Nian, born after 1990, also came to Dongguan and entered the factory assembly line. She didn’t come solely to make money; she wanted to leave home and make her own living. She was born in Guangxi in 1995. Before leaving home, her mother almost “can’t see” her, only cook for her brother, buy fruit only for his brother to eat, her father did not look down on her, but “at home said not to count.” “As soon as I graduated from junior high school, I wanted to get out and live on my own.”

For Guo Mingzhi, the city is not full of opportunities. “Two people riding a motorcycle, one driving, the other in the back seat waiting for the opportunity to grab the passers-by’s backpack, walking a little attention to things will be seized, if not let go, people will be injured.” He just settled in Dongguan, he thought it is better to be at home, the local local society is not so complicated.

He remembers that the first meal he had with his wife in Chang ‘an was two stir-fried rice noodles, each costing less than two yuan, and an extra 50 cents for eggs, which he couldn’t afford. He is not willing to live in a hotel, with his wife to seek refuge in the factory work of the students, in the students’ dormitory to make do for a night. After a few days, they still rely on fried rice noodles to fill their stomachs, classmates occasionally pack some food for them from the canteen, the two squatted on the roadside to eat in the cool wind, until the classmate introduced him to the work of security guard, to his wife to introduce the work on the assembly line, the two settled down. But in the beginning, the salary as a security guard was only four or five hundred yuan, about the same as the income back home.

To make money, support the family, step by step, see step by step, is Guo Mingzhi’s plan for working life. He didn’t think about how many years he would work or how much money he would earn before returning home. The same is true of the occupying soldiers, “anyway, there is no way out in their hometown, at the beginning they wanted to come out to earn some money to go home to build a house, and then find a girlfriend to marry”.

They did not expect that this journey to work, a walk more than 20 years.