“Betty” (her adopted Western name) is a fascination and an inspiration. I was introduced to Betty while I was touring a plastics factory in Shenzhen, about forty miles west of Hong Kong in Guangdong Province. As mentioned earlier, Shenzhen is part of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) established by Deng Xioping. Now, twenty-five years later, Shenzhen’s population is roughly ten million. About six million of these people are migrant workers who return home on the weekends and live in factory dormitories during the week. Shenzhen is the largest migrant city in China.
Betty was born and grew up in northern China where the native language was Mandarin. Her parents were rural farmers, but they insisted she go to school and study hard. Betty was a good student, hardworking and smart, and she was interested in many subjects. She studied Russian in elementary school, high school, and college, along with math and science. After college, Betty relocated to Shenzhen to take a “factory girl” job, where she assembled electronics for about US$80 per month. There, she had to learn Cantonese, the language of southern China, by studying at night in the dormitory and practicing with her co-workers and supervisors during the day. Eventually, she became fluent in Cantonese and was able to get a better job at the plastics factory at a higher salary and with better dormitories.
When I met Betty, she was the supervisor at the plastics factory, overseeing the production of semiconductor trays, medical device parts, and other plastic components, plus several hundred workers. As we toured the design and production facilities it was obvious she was in charge, being treated with respect by the employees. Her cell phone rang several times and she exchanged conversations and seemed to give instructions in Cantonese. After being introduced to several American and Western European visitors, Betty decided she should learn English to improve her chances for promotion, so she started taking English in night school. A few years and a couple of promotions later, she returned to Shenzhen University for her MBA, so she could understand more about Western business.
I was astonished that she would study graduate business administration (and that Shenzhen University would offer this degree) in the context of Chinese Communism. After all, an MBA is the most pro-capitalist education you can get anywhere in the world. But what we all come to realize is that China practices a kind of economic capitalism together with governmental communism. Business is done with a profit motive always in mind. In thinking about Betty, it seems that studying capitalism fits perfectly with her desire to have a successful business career. Profit has become the motive in China, and the tremendous growth throughout Chinese manufacturing over twenty-five years is the result. Betty is a good example of the surprises in store for you in sourcing and manufacturing in China. Any preconceived notions about what is and isn’t happening in China and about dealing with the Chinese are probably, at best, inaccurate and typically completely wrong.
When you come to China, expect the unexpected.
(c) 2012, Rosemary Coates.