TIME names “The Chinese Worker” third runner-up for person of the year; now, all I want for Christmas is a Chinese worker

December 21, 2009 § Leave a comment

Just wanted to share something silly I came across in TIME’s end-of-the-year issue… It is not silly that “The Chinese Worker” was in the running for TIME’s person of the year. That just makes sense. China’s rapid economic growth has made it into an impossible-to-ignore-nation when it comes to any world matter—economic, military, environmental, etc. And as TIME so astutely points out, that economic growth would not be possible if not for those spirited Chinese factory workers.

What’s silly is that TIME’s gushingly romantic portrayal of “The Chinese Worker” is considered professional reporting when it reads like a product of China’s state-controlled media; or closer to home, it follows an American tendency to over glorify the average ol’ American worker (recall Joe the Plumber?) in a way that makes invisible the true struggles faced by workers, and takes attention off of the governmental and economic system that creates and sustains social and economic immobility, low wages, and poor working conditions. It reads like a pat on the back to Chinese workers: keep on doing what you are doing because you are among “the people leading the the world to economic recovery”.

TIME graciously credits China’s booming economy to the millions of diligent Chinese workers, meanwhile failing to discuss any institutionalized and systemic maltreatment faced by Chinese laborers. TIME profiles five factory workers from Shenzhen, all of them non-complainers, expressing relative satisfaction with their work.

Li Chunying, age 34, moved from Shaoyang, Hunan to Shenzhen for work. Li is quoted saying: “When was I happiest? I don’t know. There were so many times here that I’ve been happy.”

TIME says this about Cao Bin, age 2o, originally from Chengdu, Sichuan:

While most migrant workers long for home, Cao Bin is glad to be gone. He left Chengdu…two years ago and hasn’t gone back. Chengdu is one of the most pleasant cities in China, but Cao thought it was boring. “That town is too lazy,” he says. “I wanted to go somewhere where life is faster.” In Shenzhen, where the economy grew by an average of 27% annually from 1980 to 2006, he found the furious pace he was looking for.

I have no doubt that there are workers in China who feel content, even happy, with their current state of employment. But in a culture where losing face can be losing everything, and where dissent is seen as ingraciousness, I doubt the accuracy of TIME’s portrait of  “The Chinese Worker”.

But while they fall short on their written report, TIME compensates with a photo story, depicting real-life, ordinary-Joe  Chinese factory workers. See the photo above: Li Chunying, dressed in her worksuit and holding a screwdriver, appears to be having fun.

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You are currently reading TIME names “The Chinese Worker” third runner-up for person of the year; now, all I want for Christmas is a Chinese worker at Kim Leung's Blog.

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