People Believe What They Want


Not as surprised as most of the This American Life’s audience, I am quite calm after knowing the fact that Mike Daisey fabricated numerous details in his story about visiting Foxconn. The gun, the 13 years old under-aged girl worker, the abruptly dead end highway and the secret worker union, all the details of Mr. Daisey’s China experience that once shocked me and questioned by me are demonstrated as fake. As the host of the TAL show said, Mr. Daisey’s untruthful talk got a lot of attention and more people downloaded it than any episode the show has ever done. Those two episodes of radio shows also explained a question bothered me many years: where all the various biases towards China come from?

People believe what they want. I think Mike successfully hold this key point during his monologue, and used many different touching scenarios, such as talking to 13 years old girl worker in front of the factory gate guarded by armed security and showing a former Foxconn worker, whose hands are destroyed by constant over working at product line, the IPad he has assembled million times but never turned on once.  Those scenes has been imagined over and over again in lots of Americans’ mind, even though they might not even familiar with Chinese culture or so. There are people advocate Mike’s monologue, not only because of it revealed “bloody fact” about China, but also because of it told the audience what they want to hear. In their perspectives, China is far less developed, uneducated country and seek nothing but profit. They somehow lost the ability of critical thinking when they heard what they believed.

After the retraction, it really comforted me, as a Chinese, that people all over the world are caring about Chinese factories’ working condition. And there are people like Rob Schmitz who understands China tries to express it in a better way from the inside. With the globalization, China has been playing a more and more important role on earth. But I consider the interaction between China and the rest of the world as still limited. I believe with more and more foreign students going to China and Chinese students studying aboard, this problem could be resolved.

Workers in China are generally considered to be abused by factories. In some aspect, I would say yes. Compare to United States’ standard, factory asking for over 60 hours a week and pay less than 2 dollars an hour sounds like a bloody hell. However, just like what was justified during the retraction, Charles Duhigg from New York Times believed “holding them (Chinese Factories’ working conditions) to American standards is precisely the right way to look at the situation.” However, “art performance”, such as Mike’s monologue, drawn tons of attention from the public, and with its dramatic and untruthful “plot”, “artist” enforced audience’s wrong ideas about the the society, China in this case.

“Should we feel bad of this?” is questioned by Ira Glass during the talk. During the era of globalization, people living in more developed area, as the main beneficiary of the economic system, are enjoying the low price product imported all over the world. Nevertheless, at the other end of this consumer chain, all the benefits we took are squeezed from the work out sourced to cheap labor force. “The lower the price, the larger the demand” is consider as one of fundamental theory in modern economics. But how can we fight with the price? Should we simply choose the more expensive “Made in USA” products other than “Made on Earth” ones? Or should we enforce the firms like Apple to improve their oversea plants’ working condition? I do not think the problem is as simple as this.

50 years ago, Japan was the China nowadays. Millions of work were out sourced to Japan due to its growing economy and eager to develop. Gradually, Japan recognized that cheap labor force and poor working condition should not be consider as advantage of competition. So they spent the next 30 years to change the laws and regulation so that all the working condition and pay can match western’s standard, even surplus it. However, the market also see the change. After a significant price increasing of daily product, the “Japan” was found—- China.

From the history, we have enough clue to say that, even if, after all the effort, Chinese factories’ working conditions are improved and base wages are increased, the capitalists will simply give up this “Japan” only discover another “China” somewhere else in the world. As long as the demand exists,  the supply will never end.

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4 thoughts on “People Believe What They Want

  1. I think you bring up some great points in your post. First hearing Mike Daisey’s lies in the first podcast about what he found in China did not surprise me like it should have–it just fell into the stereotype that surrounds China and its factories. As an American having never been to China, I take what I hear about it as the truth because I really have no other option. I think you are right that more students need to go to China to combat these misperceptions that the world has about it.

  2. Like you I had some skepticism of the truth of Mike Daisey’s first Podcast, but I was I little more shocked at the amount of fabrication. I think you make a great point about forming a idea of something you really don’t know anything about other than what you have heard from others. I think this just shows the importance of the credibility of the sources we use.

  3. Xin,
    I think your being a Chinese citizen allows you to bring up many valid points about foreigners’ perspectives of China. Many people are so narrow-minded that they completely overlook China’s culture. While you discuss foreigners’ childish and uneducated views of China and how Mike is misrepresenting the country through his fabrications, I must admit that I believe it is necessary to include “gritty” and “unpleasant” events in the monologue to have an impact on Mike’s audience. China, being the biggest exporter in the world, takes a lot of criticism for their manufacturing. Whenever one thinks about bad labor conditions, they often think of China; however, we must not forget about all of the other sub-standard work conditions in other parts of the world too. “Blood diamonds” from Africa used to be the talk of reformists, now it is China and their manufacturing methods. I honestly do not believe that foreigners are trying to bring a bad name to Chinese culture. They just haven’t experienced China except for the product that says “Made in China” and the news stories they read on CNN.

  4. Yes, the monologue and how people hear it is shaped by their pre-conceived ideas of what China is (or isn’t, or isn’t quite).

    I am still struck by how the labor reality of high tech- all high tech, including my Droid phone- is made by a lot of very “low tech” hands. In other words, part of the current economic model is to find cost savings through out-sourcing to low-cost labor countries.

    I personally get annoyed with people who say, “well we can’t compare US labor markets to China’s. Apple is not going to pay US wages.” Of course not. The real comparison is what US or any other countries wages are compared to any other’s. Moreover, we also need to look at the dignity of work. Work should be valued and honored everywhere.

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