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Expect the Unexpected – Betty’s Story
“Betty” (her adopted Western name) is a fascination and an inspiration. I was introduced to Betty while visiting a plastics factory in Shenzhen, about forty miles west of Hong Kong in Guangdong province. As mentioned earlier, Shenzhen is part of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) established by Deng Xioping. Today, twenty-five years later, the population of Shenzhen is around ten million. About six million of these people are migrant workers who return home on weekends and live in factory dormitories during the week. Shenzhen is the largest migrant city in China.
Betty was born and raised in northern China where the native language was Mandarin. Her parents were rural farmers, but they insisted that she go to school and study hard. Betty was a good student, hardworking and intelligent, and she was interested in many subjects. She studied Russian in elementary school, high school, and middle school, as well as math and science. After college, Betty moved to Shenzhen to take a job as a “factory girl”, where she assembled electronics for around US$80 a month. There she had to learn Cantonese, the language of southern China, by studying at night in the dormitory and practicing with her colleagues and supervisors during the day. Eventually, she learned to speak Cantonese fluently and was able to get a better job at the plastic factory with higher pay and better dorms.
When I met Betty, she was a supervisor at the plastics factory, overseeing the production of semiconductor trays, medical device parts, and other plastic components, along with several hundred workers. When we toured the design and production facilities, it was evident that she was responsible, treated with respect by the employees. Her cell phone rang several times and she exchanged conversations and appeared to be giving directions in Cantonese. After being introduced to several American and Western European visitors, Betty decided she needed to learn English to improve her chances of promotion, so she started taking English at night school. A few years and promotions later, she returned to Shenzhen University for her MBA, to better understand Western affairs.
I was amazed that she is studying business administration (and Shenzhen University offers this degree) in the context of Chinese communism. After all, an MBA is the most pro-capitalist education you can get anywhere in the world. But what we are all coming to realize is that China is practicing a kind of economic capitalism alongside governmental communism. Business is done with a profit motive always in mind. Thinking of Betty, it seems like studying capitalism fits perfectly with her desire to have a successful career in business. Profit has become the driving force in China, and the tremendous growth of Chinese industry over twenty-five years is the result. Betty is a good example of the surprises that await you in China sourcing and manufacturing. Any preconceptions about what is and isn’t happening in China and relations with the Chinese are probably inaccurate at best and usually completely wrong.
When you come to China, expect the unexpected.
(c) 2012, Rosemary Coates.
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