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Reporter Explains China’s Rapid Industrialization

The international economy is being affected by China's rapidly developing industries. James Fallow, a reporter based in the region analyzes China's economic growth and its impact on the world stage.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    "Made in China," three words that appear on so much of what we buy these days, from the highest end of high-tech to the cheapest of low-tech baubles. What's behind those words and what are the implications for China and for us? The writer James Fallows is exploring those questions in China in a series of reports for the Atlantic magazine.

    His first article is called "China Makes, the World Takes." He joins us now from Shanghai.

    Well, Jim Fallows, the first thing that comes through in your article is just the enormity of it all: 100 million workers, factories, even cities that barely existed not so long ago. Give us some sense of what you've seen.

  • JAMES FALLOWS, Reporter, The Atlantic:

    There are many things which are surprising to visitors to China, but in a way they're not surprising, because you're prepared to think that everything is out of scale here.

    I was really finally sort of taken aback when I went down to the Pearl River Delta, north of Hong Kong, especially the city, Shenzhen, where I spent the most time, and just how fast the manufacturing economy is. The way that Europeans must have felt when seeing Chicago or Detroit or Pittsburgh a century ago is the way that I felt in seeing this, where almost as far as the eye can see, for miles and miles and miles, there are tens of thousands of little factories.

    There's one I saw the outside of — I couldn't get in — where one-quarter of a million people go to work each day. And simply to feed these people, the caterers at the canteen have to slaughter 3,000 pigs every single day to feed them. That's the biggest one, but there are a lot of other ones, too.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And who are all these people? And what are their lives like?

  • JAMES FALLOWS:

    I think, you know, there is an image in the United States of these truly slave-labor sweatshops in China, and certainly there are some of them. There's this hideous scandal going on now in China dominating the news here, about genuine slave labor in some of older, primitive factories in the north of the country.

    In the south, where most of the things that we get in the United States come from, it's a quite different story. The factories are all relatively recently built; over the last, say, five or 10 years has been the boom. And the typical person who works there is often a young woman who's come from the provinces, from Sichuan province or some place else remote. She comes from a farming or rural family, where people have basically no cash income.

    And she goes to work in one of these factories that are producing, you know, radios, TVs, notebook computers, everything else you buy in the United States. Her life is, she typically spends maybe three or four years in this factory town. She makes about $125 to $135 U.S. per month. She works 10 to 12 hours a day. She lives in a company dormitory, which is pretty crowded. She gets three meals a day at the company store.

    She goes home once a year to see her family with a couple-day bus ride. And at the end of three or four years of this, she's basically been able to save enough money, by Chinese standards, that she can go home and she's on a different plane of life. And so it is a very arduous situation, as manufacturing booms tend to be, but it essentially is a way that peasant people, by the tens and probably hundreds of millions, have gotten onto a different plane of life.