Made in China: Feeding the Factory

Around 2,500 years ago, the phrase “min yi shi wei tian” was coined by Prime Minister Guan Zhong; there are several ways to translate it. One side of the coin takes the literal approach and says that “people consider food divine”, or “for people, food is next to heaven”. The other side of the coin looks at it as a piece of governing advice, “the government’s mandate [synonymous with heaven] is only as robust as the food on people’s plates”. Or, it could be just thought of as an excuse to procrastinate: “let’s eat first [since it is as important as heaven]”.

Which ever way you cut it, I think the saying still holds in China. So one important metric for gauging the quality of treatment of the factory employees is how good the food is, as it’s common for factory workers to be housed, fed, and cared for on site.

The food is actually quite good at some factories. The photo above is at the factory that does the chumby circuit boards. It was a mix of steamed fish, broiled pork, egg rolls, clean fried vegetables, and some pickled-vegetable-and-meat combo. Rice, soup, and apples were also provided in help yourself quantities.

One interesting fact is that every facility I went to had separate utensils and plates for guests. You can see in the above photo how my food is on a styrofoam plate with disposable chopsticks, where as the factory worker’s food is served on a steel plate with steel chopsticks. This is because I haven’t passed the factory’s physical examination. They do this to prevent me from contaminating the factory with potential foreign diseases. The food in the above photo consists of smoked fish, ma po tofu, boiled vegetables, and turtle shell jelly (for dessert). The turtle shell is very bitter and apparently it’s supposed to make you feel cooler on the hot summer days in China.

The menu is quite interesting in China. I think the menu the day I went to this factory had items on it like pig intestines, kidneys, fungus and vegetables, along with some other more western-friendly items.

Again, the scale of some food operations is pretty impressive. I heard that Foxconn–the place that makes the iPods and iPhones–consumes 3,000 pigs a day. I saw this truck of pigs going off the exit on the highway toward Foxconn, and it reminded me of that factoid.

From pigs to iPhones! It all happens right here in Shenzhen.

20 Responses to “Made in China: Feeding the Factory”

  1. jim vandiver says:

    Impressive. Thanks for giving us a powerful inside look. It’s quite a contrast with the recent expose on the plant using a cardboard mixture for the meat fillings in dumplings sold in Beijing. The expose’s can let our leaders blow off China as third-rate competition, only succeeding by massed manpower, while you show China is a superb competitor. In fact, as with Japan, we should be learning from them and you help us do that. Thanks again.

    PS: I live near Smithfield, VA, perhaps the hog processing capital of America and commonly see larger hog hauling trucks on local highways.

  2. lei chen says:

    it was actually a street vendor in Beijing who sold cardboard baozi (dumplings), not a factory/plant.

  3. mike says:

    I approve of avoiding food-borne illnesses, but based on my experience with restaurants, any proper dish-washing operation should kill anything from cholera to HIV (stainless is wonderful, because you can clean it with live steam, fun chemicals, whatever you want, almost). Which means:

    1. They’re messing with the foreigners.

    2. They’re trying to impress the foreigners.

    3. They’ve just got some guy in the back giving each plate a swipe with a rag before they use them again.

    Take your pick.

  4. bunnie says:

    Well, it’s not just the foreigners…any visitor, domestic or not, get different utensils and plates. You could work at the factory next door, and if you don’t have the company colors you can’t eat off of company plates.

    It’s not that strictly enforced. I think it’s just an interesting example of overcaution, possibly under-informed, and the attitudes toward these things. In some factories, your special plateware is called “special plates reserved for VIP”.

    But it’s not like people elsewhere in the world don’t have regulations that make no sense and are based on flimsy premises. I think we have plenty of examples of that in the US…

  5. tomatoeblue says:

    or the other way around, so the guests feel special in that they won’t get contaminated / have to endure unknown plate cleaning procedures.

  6. mikep says:

    Very interesting. You say the workers are cared for and get physical examinations. Does that mean they get complete health care? Are they charged for that? Would love to hear more about the health care if you know.

  7. Jim Smith says:

    What bunnie is saying about the different plates and utensils is kinda similar to my experience when I worked in a japanese factory while living there with a working holiday visa. There were many other companies working inside a larger outsourcing factory for major car manufacturers. We were given a different set of credits towards cafeteria meals then the regular factory workers. At these chinese factories the food looks much better.

  8. learnsigma says:

    […] Feeding the Factory: Like Google and other high-tech employers, Chinese factory-cities attract the best workers by offering food. Factory cafeterias aren’t the same as the Googleplex’s gourmet chef. Chinese factories run a little like factory farms, isolating new members of the cohort to prevent the spread of disease: guests eat off disposable plates and cutlery to stop them passing germs on to the factory’s live-in, eat-in workers, who are subjected to intense medical scrutiny to prevent factory disease outbreaks. […]

  9. Taylor says:

    hi nice post, i enjoyed it

  10. Seth says:

    hi i enjoyed the read

  11. Impressive description of the process of getting a product manufactured. I was most impressed with the dedication shown when the microphone problem was being resolved. Some questions – about how long does an employee last in that business and what kind of salary do they make (converted to US dollars)? Do employees burn out quickly or do they like the work, make it career, and move up the management ladder? Are most of them women? And do most send money back home? Finally, what kind of social life does the average worker enjoy?

    What is the average person’s view of the US?

  12. Hector Cassola says:

    Hector Cassola, Dip. Pol. Sc. Dip. Eng. (TQM), MIQA, TELF. OSJ.

    Financial Controller & Administrator
    Malta Representative for European Business Assembly
    Trustee and Fiduciary Services

    Address: 40/3, St. Dominic Street, Valletta, VLT 1602, MALTA.
    24/7 Office Telephone: +356-21231409
    24/7 Fax: +356-21231409
    24/7 Mobile: +356+99820952

    24/7: Available day and night all week

    We wish to pursue further our intentions for mutual co-operation in the field of financial services and trusteeship of your financial assets.

    We are a financial institution, on the bases of acting on behalf of our beneficiaries abroad, with our office in Malta: a country; (A Full Member of the European Union), where we receive payments of goods exported from your country’s factories and business organizations.

    We offer our services as Fiduciary Agents and Trusteeship. Your customers around the world may send to us payments of their orders that you ship to them, and we deposit these payments in our bank account in Malta, held on your behalf. We then receive instructions from you what to do and how to invest your money. You may also instruct us to pay your raw materials for your factory production from this bank account in Malta; this is your money that comes in from your customers. We have such arrangements with Chinese factories already and they find that our financial administration saves them many expenses. Administrative costs of a factory or organization may cost between 25-30%.

    Chinese companies pay us only 10% commission for this service.

    Therefore, you can me more competitive in your production and sell much more in this competitive world of globalization.

    We can offer you this service for yourselves and you may appoint us your Fiduciary and Trustee Agents in Malta by a written agreement. You can also recommend our financial administrative service to other factories and organizations in your country, with whom we can work on the same basis.

    We kindly solicit your reply with thanks for mutual co-operation, as well as, with confidentiality and trust.

    Yours sincerely

    Hector Cassola

    Financial Director

  13. Shijir says:

    I was cheated by Fuxingtrade company! I was purchased HTC phone, but they are sent to me sunglasses. So I don`t believe and trust.

  14. Kelly says:

    what did you do about the sunglasses? did you send them back? did they fix it? I’m considering ordering from them.

  15. Oana says:

    I was also cheated by them.. I ordered a mobile telephone and they have send me a t-shirt..

    Isn t there anything we can do to them ?

  16. Frankie says:

    I was cheated as well by these people. I paid for a laptop and the sent me a fake Ipod touch, and a fake watch.

    They never reply my emails anything!

  17. Dave says:

    I kind of agree. I wonder what will have to change though for that to happen.

  18. sandra742 says:

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  20. “housed, fed, and cared for on site”, sums it up!
    Work hard. Eat well.