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Sunday, August 17, 2014

What is the Chinese Dream?

Over the past three decades, every Chinese Communist Party chairman, upon his taking the reigns of power, has developed a grand guiding principle rolled up into a nifty rhetorical package. Not much unlike U.S. politicians' campaign slogans, in the 1990s, it was Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" (三个代表), and in the 2000s, Hu Jintao's "Scientific Development" (科学发展观).

Soon after Xi Jinping became the top official in China, he developed a phrase that would become his political slogan: "The Chinese Dream" (中国梦). But amidst increasing amounts of both real and perceived inequality, some in China do not feel that they are enjoying the dream, especially migrant workers who built much of that dream with their bare hands.

Over at ChinaFile, Sharron Lovell and Tom Wang asked a few young Chinese people about their dreams. One of the most memorable quotes for me was from a young man who said:

"If there weren't any migrant workers, it would be impossible for China to develop this fast." ... "The place you live was built by migrant workers. What you're eating was grown by migrant workers. What you're wearing was produced by migrant workers."     
“如果没有农民的话,中国不可能发展这么块。”... “你住的地方农民工建的,你吃的农民工种的,你穿的农民工做。”
See the entire video below.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The end of newsies

Child newsies in 1906. "Midnight at the Brooklyn Bridge" -- Photo by Lewis W. Hine. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee. Ex-collection of Corydon Hine. Copyright George Eastman House Collection.
Stepping off the Long Island Railroad train, I look up to catch my bearings. Seventh Avenue is to the right, and I follow the stream of morning passengers toward the steps that lead up into the main hall of the train station.

After squeezing out of the narrow stairway, people around me seem to multiply into a enormous crowd of commuters, filling the large hallways of Pennsylvania Station. The mass of people flows like an urgent river toward the main exit up to the street level. I jump into the stream, bobbing and weaving between groggy businesspeople and office workers.

Friday, July 4, 2014

As Hong Kong Rocked in Protest, Transformers 4 Plays Chinese Politics: Critics Call Director "A Giant Tool"


A few hours ago, I was sitting in a local theater with my wife watching Transformers 4, the latest iteration of Director Michael Bay's "robot porn" series. (The fact that we paid money to see it is perhaps an admission of a guilty indulgence.)

Trying to keep warm in the chilly theater, we were enjoying that special Bay combination of explosions, CGI, and corny star-studded humor. All of a sudden, there was a cut-away scene to the Chinese Ministry of Defense in which a top official says "the central government will defend Hong Kong at all costs"!

I felt like my sci-fi escapism had been blind-sided by a Communist Party public service announcement.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Government Steps Up To Labor’s Demands: Importance of Yue Yuen Shoe Factory Strike

Photo provided to China Labor Watch by Yue Yuen worker.

This essay was originally published at ChinaFile.

On April 14, most of the 40,000 workers at the Dongguan Yue Yuen shoe factory—supplier to Nike, Adidas, and other international brands—began what would become a two-week work stoppage. While there are thousands of strikes in China every year, the Yue Yuen action broke the mold by attracting an unprecedented show of government support for worker demands.

Monday, April 28, 2014

CBC (The Current) interview on Yue Yuen strike

On Monday April 28, I went to CBC's studio in Midtown Manahattan to chat with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti about the progress of the hitoric Yue Yuen strike. The entire segment on the story can be listened to hear: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/popupaudio.html?clipIds=2452825479

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NBC News interview on progressing Yue Yuen Strike

As it entered the 40,000-strong Yue Yuen shoe factory strike entered its second week, NBC New's Alastair Jamieson interviewed me on some aspects of the protest. The full article is below.

Worsening China Factory Strike Threatens Adidas, Nike Sneakers

BEIJING - A wage dispute at a huge sneaker factory that supplies brands including Adidas and Nike escalated Wednesday, highlighting the growing problems faced by China’s manufacturing powerhouse. 

Workers at the plant – owned by the world's largest maker of sneakers, Yue Yuen – earn as little as $1.67 an hour making shoes that can sell for up to 100 times as much in the United States. 

Tens of thousands of employees have been off work for a second week, forcing Adidas to switch production to some of its other suppliers. At least one organizer was arrested by police and has not been seen for 24 hours, activists told NBC News Wednesday after a settlement offer was rejected. 

At the core of the dispute is the issue of historic underpayments for social security and housing fund contributions, but the issue goes far beyond the shoe plant. 

Workers throughout China are demanding not just higher wages but better social insurance as they face the prospect of supporting a rapidly aging population.
“The fact that something as nuanced as social insurance has led to a strike shows just how much things are changing,” said Kevin Slaten of U.S.-based non-profit China Labor Watch. “This generation of workers is a lot more aware of its rights and this problem is not unique to this factory.” 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interview on BBC World News about massive Chinese shoe factory strike

On April 15, 2014, a day after a Dongguan shoe factory strike began that would continue ont April 28 and involve about 40,000 worker, BBC World News interviewed me about the event.