Occasionally, when something relatively new breaks down, we jokingly say to each other: “yeah…made in China…” And it’s true, much of the cheap stuff we can buy here for a few RMB, are not of the best quality and sometimes barely survive the first use. But this week I realized that “Made in China” also has another meaning for me.
Our campus is located on the west shore of Lake Kunchen, and adjacent to the Mochengzhen disctrict and neighboring Louwan area, locally known as The Village. The name The Village makes it sound more picturesque than it really is; grey streets with grey, concrete buildings.
But it’s the place where we can walk to for a quick errand at the RT Market or Jimalong Supermarket, and where we have spent quite some summer evenings enjoying the street-food market. The people living and working in The Village are by now mostly used to the foreigners from United World College roaming their streets. At times they greet us with an enthusiastic “Hello” and we yell back “Ni Hao”. About the only words we know in each other’s language.
The Village is also one of the areas where much of Changhu’s textile industry is processed. Big bulks of textile enter and exit the area in what sometimes looks like a 24-hour economy. Hundreds of small sewing workshops make up the ground floor of the 3-story concrete houses and buildings. Dozens of small blue trucks drive back and forth with heaps of textile piled up on them, to be converted into garments in the small workshops. Life looks tough here, with long working days in cold or hot weather and under, in our world considered, poor working conditions. The presence of quite a few public toilets indicates that probably not all houses have their private bathroom. Compared to the wealth and comfort of the United World Campus next door, this is literally another world.
When our campus opened earlier this week, after being in lockdown for most of the weeks since Mid-February, we took the opportunity to go to the supermarket and stock up on some fresh fruits. Passing through the familiar streets of The Village and seeing the big piles of textile along the roadside, I realized that life had not stood still here while we were in lockdown. Life never seems to stand still here. From early morning to late evening, 7 days a week, we hear the sewing machines rattle, see the people bend over their work on little stools, young and old, while they slowly damage their back, neck, or eyes. Prices of clothes in shops in China reflect the reality I see here. Prices of clothes in shops in Europe and other parts of the world do too.
So yes, “Made in China” has another meaning for me now. The meaning that so many people are working so incredibly hard, under such touch conditions, to produce our affordable clothing.
Next time you read on a label in your new shirt “Made in China” will you think of them? I know I will.
These pictures were taken, with their consent, on one of my visits in the Village in the early days of 2021 and reflect the vibes of The Village and it’s people.
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