Thursday, 30 October 2008

Zhongguo Uncovered

Today was a day of firsts. For one thing it was the first time I've seen live turtles for sale by the side of the street. This being China, I couldn't say for certain whether they were available as pets or as food, but my guess is probably both. It was also the first time I've encountered a Chinese transvestite prostitute, towering at about 6'3" in heels and advertising her dubious wares on a corner outside my hotel - which is in a very vibrant area indeed.

More importantly, today was my first glimpse into what makes this country tick. China's strength - the reason it can boast 9% growth in the midst of a global recession - is its industry, and particularly it's clothes factories.

Touring these enormous mass production lines was more than just an insight into the Chinese miracle, it was an insight into clothing generally. I assumed, not unreasonably I thought, that most manufacturing processes were automated these days, picturing a machine assembly line where a large bit of cloth went in and a polished and embellished tshirt, shirt or jacket came out, needing perhaps a bit of hand embellishing but nothing more.

I was quite spectacularly wrong. While some processes here are fully automated, such as the German knitting machines that produce garments to spec, needing no more manpower than a supervisor, most are full on, labour intensive and require large numbers of workers.

"This factory employs 7,000 people" my guide tells me, mostly migrants from China's rural districts who are housed on-site in dormitories. I don't pause to ask her, because I am gazing down line after line - as far as the eye can see and in all directions - of neatly lined up sewing machines, each manned and piled high with fabric. As you move down the line, watching each practice their specialty, from hemming to cuffs to buttons, you see the fabric go from rough material to finished product. The number of workers here alone is staggering, let alone the output. This is just one factory, and their are thousands like it dotted round Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and all over China. This microcosm of Chinese industry, cheap labour leading to mass production, just goes to show why so many of my clothes bear the 'Made in China' slogan.

On another note, the following extract from The Londonist's halloween listings caught my eye:

Join the anarcho-pagans and witchy-lefties in Docklands, gathering outside 25 Canary Wharf, the now cold, empty building of Lehman Brothers, to dance on the grave of capitalism. 5pm to midnight, but as it’s an anarcho, don’t worry about getting there too early. This event has a Facebook page.

That sounds like a party I'd like to go to.

No comments: