In book III, Ho Wei went to some factory towns in southern China. He found a bra ring factory in Lishui. Unlike the dying villages in northwest China, these south towns were full of energy and opportunities. People rushed in, factories sprout up. Even mountains can’t slow down the change of landscape.


At that time, young people were looking forward to working in big factories. They thought attending school was a burden and it’s better to start factory career earlier. Since some jobs were paid by hours, workers preferred a job without vacation and offer overtime. Works wanted to make enough money to start their own business. But people are not machines, news about Foxconn’s staff suicide almost appear every year1.

Works wrote self-help slogans on dormitory walls to inspire themselves. Self-help books are always popular in China. I remember a thin bestselling book called Who Moved My Cheese?. The character in the book write slogans on the wall just like the workers, maybe workers did this because of the book. If you enter a bookstore in China, you probably will see lots of self-help books and health books. And if the bookstore is near a school, there will be full of textbooks and workbooks.

The relationship between works and bosses is quite interesting. When a boss poaches a worker, he will invite the worker to several luxury banquets first. The worker will change phone number, make some excuses to leave his former boss. A mysterious worker called Liu Hongwei, he changed at least four bosses by a blueprint which was drawn secretly from his memory. If the business is bad, the boss would not pay the salary for a few months to prevent the key workers fleeing the factory.


Most bosses and workers didn’t have much education. But that won’t stop them. The two bosses of the bra ring factory drawn the blueprint of their factory on a crumpled piece of paper in about one hour. And they pushed the gas canisters while smoking. Due to this lack of education and cheap labor resources, Chinese factories are hard to move beyond low-margin products.

Boss Wang and others told me that they wanted applicants to be young, inexperienced, and uneducated. They didn’t want distinctive hairstyles; they didn’t want people with hobbies; they didn’t need opinions on the work floor. But the truth was that even the most pragmatic boss was susceptible to a strong personality.

Boss Wang’s ideal worker was an inexperienced; lack of education; lack of personality; young girl. He might think this kind of worker should be more controllable. But on the second day when they haired enough workers, boss Gao compromised with an ideal worker to fired her. The boss would never reckon that this inexperienced girl could bring her whole family to the factory. And when they planned to move the plant, the boss had to negotiate with this family about the salary.

Development Zone

Local government bought rural land but sold it at an urban price.

Lishui had bought land for one million and then, in the span of three years, flipped it for thirty-seven million.

They built development zones to attract investors. This expansion of city brings more tax to the city. The government took out loans from state-owned banks for the construction; if investors and migrants don’t come, then it’s the next government’s problem, that’s why China has some “ghost cities”2. As for farmers, they have to take the settlement money and go, they don’t have the legal right of the land.

She described Chinese cities as resembling corporations, with the mayor serving as the CEO. “Their goal is to make money, obviously,”…“Every five years you change the local government officials,” Wang said. “So they know they have a limited opportunity. Do they worry about the next generation of leaders? They have to get it while they can.”

Lishui’s cadres bombed mountains and filled valleys to build the development zone, very impressive.

Back when many American towns had been founded… A local newspaper often began printing while people still lived in tents. The first permanent buildings were generally the courthouse and the church…

In a Chinese boomtown, though, it’s all business: factories and construction supplies and cell phone shops…No private newspapers, no independent labor unions—such things are banned by the Communist Party…There weren’t any law firms or nonprofit organizations.

It looks like someone doesn’t like NGOs3.

Many southern towns are notorious for one kind of product. Such as “Button City”4. If your town doesn’t have one, you better hurry up. Local cadres recently want to get more budget from the central government by a “specialty towns” campaign5, I think the “happy town” is special enough6, who gonna compete with that town?