"Throughout the filming," says producer Sue Williams, "the man in charge of the propaganda department at SMTC was very cautious. He tried to block our access to workers who were about to be laid off. He did his best to prevent us from seeing or recording anything negative about the company."
One of the workers they tried to make off-limits to Williams was Zhang Shu-Yan, who tracks storeroom supplies for the debt-ridden company. After China's economic reforms, she found herself in a completely new work environment, forced to work more efficiently.
"Before the reforms, it was different," she says. "I could do the work or not do the work. If I wanted to do it, I did it. If I didn't want to do it, I didn't."
Zhang says she'll get left behind, without any safety net, if she is unable to adjust to the changes.
Party officials try to persuade workers to leave voluntarily. But Zhang's husband is ill, and the engine factory where he previously worked doesn't provide them with any help. "As a wife, do I abandon him?" asks Zhang. "I can't. I stay. ... With so little money, it's hopeless. I can't talk about this. It's too painful."
Over the three years of filming "China in the Red," SMTC continued to lay off workers. Zhang held on to her job, but her pay was cut from $48 a month to $36.
She tells her daughter that studying hard is her only way out of poverty. "My life doesn't matter," says Zhang, through tears. "My only hope is that my daughter can go to college and live a good life."