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My Thoughts on Visiting China's "Factory of the World"

短遊重鎮厚街雜感

中國廣東省東莞重鎮厚街﹐始建于北宋徽宗宣和中期(公元1129-1125年)﹐ 具有800多
年歷史。相傳當年福建莆田王泰宦遊至此定居﹐因選址隨軍眷屬圩場後面﹐故名
“後街”。此後歷代人口增長﹐百業俱盛﹐人才輩出﹐又因民風淳厚善良﹐生活豐
足﹐故更名為“厚街”。

厚街自古以來商貿繁榮﹐物產富饒﹐莞草﹑臘腸﹑瀨粉等特產馳名中外。在中國改
革開放之浪潮發展中﹐厚街憑借著良好的區位優勢﹐逐漸發展成為珠江三角新興的
現代工業城市。二十多年來﹐厚街被國家評為 “全國鄉鎮企業百強鎮”﹑“全國出口
創匯十強鎮”﹑“國家會展名鎮”﹑“廣東教育強鎮”﹑“國家衛生鎮”等﹐並于2009年
成為“廣東省中心鎮” <http://www.houjie.gov.cn>。

我今年初次來到厚街及附近的東莞作了兩天的短遊﹐這裡給我留下非常深刻的印象。
三十多年前,我曾與香港中文大學社工隊的同學,一起到東莞參觀、訪問農民及學
校的師生。闊別多年,今年故地重遊,看到這個 "世界工廠" 地區滄海桑田的變化,看
到來自全國各地,辛勤工作為中國創造財富而收入卻不高的可愛年青人,令我感
慨萬千。但我又想到許許多多關於盛世中國的問題,包括國富民窮、工資差距、官
員貪污、一黨專政、缺乏言論自由等等…回港後看了中國禁映的 <<小兔乖乖>>
卡通片
,想得更多。儘管中國禁了這反映有關2008年三聚氰胺毒奶、新疆克拉瑪依市
文藝演出時發生火災(官員要學生坐著讓領導先走,結果官員全部成功逃生,但學生
死亡人數高達 323人)等等事件的卡通片,希望人民忘記這些事,有關當局顯然沒有
汲取教訓,例如認真監控食物安全,很多食物還是有問題。最新消息透露,國內又
發現另一種"皮革毒奶"。來港的國內遊客,搶購香港出售的外國製奶粉,不是沒有原因的。

我真希望今年兔年中國有更多社會公義、平等和民主,中國人民生活得更好、更快樂。

My Thoughts on Visiting China's "Factory of the World"

Houjie (or 厚街 "Rich Street" in Chinese) is located in the east of Pearl River of China, south of the Dongguan City, a major city north of Hong Kong and Shenzhen City. Within just one hour driving distance from Hong Kong, Houjie has a centralised location with very convenient transportation by water, air and land. Recently, this area has been globally known as the 'Factory of the World'. For example, about 0.3 billion pairs of shoes (a quarter of the world's total production), over 12 million mobile phones, 18 million computer display units were manufactured in 2009 in this area.

Houjie has a long history of over 800 years. The town started in the Northern Song Dynasty (1119-1125). Legend has it that Wang Tai, a native of a county in Fujian Province, took up an official position and finally settled down there at the back of a residential area for army families. Hence, that place was first known as 後街 or "Back Street" and then the place was later renamed to 厚街 or "Rich Street" as the town flourished into a peaceful and affluent home for the people living there. (In Chinese 後 [hòu] or "Back" and 厚 [hòu] or "rich or favoured" are homophones.). Have a look at the images of "world's factory" in this area and its development since the late 1970s.

                   Factory of the World (Replay)

 

Since the ancient time in China, Houjie has been famous for its prosperous trade and rich resources with well-known products such as bulrush, Chinese sausages and rich noodles. With the wave of reforms and opening up of China, Houjie's good geographical location and its proximity to Shenzhen and Hong Kong, have given her a leading edge to develop rapidly into a new modern industrial town in the Pearl River Delta'.

Over the past two decades, Houjie has won a number of national awards, including the awards of "Guangdong Advanced Town of Education", "National Health Town", "Exhibition Town of China", "National Top Ten Export and Foreign Exchange Earning Town" In 2009, Houjie became the "Central Town in Guangdong Province".

 

I visited this area briefly in January 2011 and captured some images. I was much impressed by the huge changes in this area. Some 30 years ago I visited the villagers here in the early 1970s, as a university undergraduate with a group of students who wished to know more about modern China. In January 2011, I spent one night in a five-star hotel in Houjie and had the feeling that China has become affluent and influential but I had not overlooked the many problems. From my contact with the people there, they appeared to be generally happy and enjoying better standards of life that their parents might not be able to afford.

Many of these young people working in the factories are migrant workers from other parts of China, some very far away from Dongguan. They may not earn too much but much better than what their parents did in their home towns or villages. The Hong Kong Economic Journal(HKEJ) reported on February 14 that according to the latest announcements of the Chinese Government, the minimum monthly wage for workers in Dongguan (including Houjie) in 2011 will be 1100 yuan, which is higher than 870 yuan for Chongqing (Sichuan Province) and slightly lower than 1160 yuan for Beijing. But such minimum wage is rather low with the soaring inflation rate. China has just surpassed Japan as the world's second-biggest economy in terms of GDP, just behind the USA but the wealth gap is very great in China.

As reported by HKEJ on February 15, the latest Gini coefficient (a measure of the inequality of income or wealth in a country; 0 = total inequality and 1 = maximal equality) for income in China is 0.415, which is higher than those of high-income countries such as France, Switzerland or the USA and even higher than middle-income countries such as Malaysia, India and Romania. So the Chinese government and a minority of people are rich but most people are poor. Despite low income of most of the workers, these young people, unlike many in other countries, can still find jobs in this area of the World's factory, which the western countries often use "cheap labour" to describe these hardworking young people. Have a look at the following slide show of the images I captured in Houjie and the neighboring areas.

                   Houjie "Rich Street" of China(Replay)

 

   

The migrant workers there seemed to be oblivious of the officials' corruption, collusion between capitalists and the officials, one-party rule, strict control and censorship of the media and the internet, but I read headline news on local newspapers from Guangdong about some of these issues and I am sure the Communist Party/the Chinese Government has been seriously trying to solve some of these problems.

In the hotel, I could watch all the four Hong Kong TV channels, BBC, CNN and Australian news channels and so on but it appeared that some news items were sometimes replaced by local commercials. Banned are such news about Liu Xiaobo or about the jailed tainted milk activist Zhao Lianhai who fought for compensation for those victim families whose babies were poisoned by the melamine-tainted milk. One interesting example of internet censorship is the banned bunny cartoon on YouTube "Little Rabbits be Good" (a version with English subtitles) created by Chinese artists for the Year of the Rabbit, which was originally posted to Tudou (the Chinese version of YouTube). This cartoon had been eagerly viewed by millions of internet users in China until it was banned by the authority. This is an example to illustrate why the Chinese authority censors the media and the internet in the name of maintaining harmony so that people will forget about what happened but this may not solve the problems. The bunny cartoon is actually about social injustice and people's grievances, including toxic milk scandal in 2008 (in which many babies were poisoned by melamine-tainted toxic milk; six babies then died and estimated 300,000 became ill), the Karamy Fire in Xinjiang in 1994 (in which more than 300 school children and their teachers died because they were ordered to remain seated to allow the officials to first leave the burning performance hall) and other tragic events in China over the past years.

I hope the Year of the Rabbit will bring more changes to China which is now an affluent and influential country that will surely become even more important as a global power in the coming years. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post concluded in its leader on 6 February 2011 as follows:

"The story of China is often told in economic terms, but the world is belatedly realising that China, in terms of its values, traditions and culture, has far more to offer than just cheap labour".

Let there be more social justice, more equality and more democracy in China, and better life and health for the Chinese people. In this way China will contribute more to the world.

 

© 2014 CY Tsui

 

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