Shenzhen, a metropolis built on hope and despair (photos)
by John Ai

Journey into the economic heart of southern China. The megalopolis attracts millions of migrant workers. Its factories offer dull jobs in demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions. The factories tend to create corporate "mini-cities" where workers spend their wages, putting money back into corporate pockets. Young cynics look for day jobs and spend time in Internet cafes and bingo halls.

Shenzhen (AsiaNews) – The city of Shenzhen, as window of China’s economic reform that began 40 years ago, accumulated numerous wealth rapidly. Diligence and hardworking are seen as the first rule to get rich and people expect to realize their dreams through competition, but now some discouraged young people have lost confidence.

As the most vibrant area and the financial centre of south China, Shenzhen attracts laborers across the country and the toil of workers piles up the prosperous megacity. Amid the slowdown of China’s economy and the trade war between US and China, Shenzhen is still an option for migrant workers who seek better life. 

Shenzhen Sanhe Human Resources Market in suburb Longhua District is a major hub for people who look for jobs in labour intensive industries. Near Sanhe, dozens of employment agencies are also thriving. IT manufacturers including Huawei and Foxconn set up advertisement there to recruit laborers for assembly line. 

Factories dispatch buses parking outside the employment agencies every morning. After registering their identity card, job seekers get on board and buses will drive them to the factories that are totally unknown to these people. 

According to Huawei’s recruiting advertisement, only people below 30 years old with at least high school diploma are accepted. An employment agent in Sanhe said that job seekers must pay 60 yuan to apply for the job and if the job seekers fail to pass the interview, the money will not be refund. The agent emphasized that the large possibility of enrolment with true diploma and relatively high salaries in Huawei, finally, he added that laborers above 30 will be fired, unless they promote to higher hierarchy. 

The series suicides in Foxccon years ago raised the concern about the work condition. Workers who quit their jobs from Foxccon complained about the fast pace of assembly line. The company claimed that the work condition is largely improved these years. We see high-rise apartments for Foxccon employees that look tidy, with countless clothes to be dried hanged in balconies.

Factories of thousands of workers with business facilities within the industrial parks form small Foxccon cities. Although many workers prefer overtime to earn more, online comments say that, “you earn money in Foxccon and you spend money in Foxccon. You cannot take away anything”. 

Splendid buildings and luxurious service are within labours’ sight but out of their life. Here, the neighbours offer almost the cheapest prices catering people’s daily life, from meals, to guest houses and internet bars. It becomes the basin in this exorbitant city, sheltering the subsisting people. 

When the night coming, owners of guest houses begin to solicit passers-by. A bed only costs 15 yuan a night, less than two euros. Some just sleep in the street.

Different from the older migrant workers in the beginning of economic reform, younger generation do not like intensified and monotonous work condition. Long working hours and low wages make young laborers change jobs frequently, and factories post recruiting advertisement all year long. Youths came with hope, however lacking education and skills, they failed to have decent life. They gave up striving finally and embrace the lifestyle of “cynicism”.

Youngsters roam around in the street nearby all the day. Discouraged by the factories, they choose a leisure life: looking for temporary work that is paid by day, and workers will get cash immediately after finishing work. Play games in internet bar or sitting in lottery shop and chatting are their ways to kill time. When they use up their money, it is time to look for another temporary work. The cycle repeats and copies to other young people who come to Sanhe. The group is called “Sanhe Dashen (gods)” in Chinese cyber sphere. 

The evasive state is regarded as self-protection by those young people: they complain the harsh, sometimes risky working condition. Usually, many employment agents do not tell the truth because they say that the wages and actual condition is not beautiful as the agents promised. 

Some of those young people borrow usury or get addicted with gambling. Mobile phones are the most valuable thing among their belongings. However, they may sell their phones then lose contact with family, even sell identity cards for more money.

“Work one day and play for three days”, once the slogan displayed outside employment agencies has disappeared after media reported. Police cracked down unlicensed agents that made fewer temporary jobs available for those young people although illegal agents still exist. 

Discussions online intertwines mockery and sympathy towards “Sanhe Dashan”. Some argue that individual commitment gives little chance to raise people from poverty in the society of economic inequity. Did the young people give up themselves or were they abandoned by the society? Should everything be attributed to their laziness? Those questions are worthy to fathom.