This book talk focuses on the life and death struggles of a new generation of Chinese workers who produce our iPhones, Kindles, and Xboxes. Between the rash of employee suicides in 2010 and the outbreak of coronavirus at the end of 2019, my colleagues and I engaged with Foxconn workers through interviews as well as their shared poems, songs, open letters, photos, and videos, supplemented with meetings with managers and government officials. Taiwanese-owned Foxconn is the world’s largest electronics manufacturer and China’s largest exporter. During the period of rapid business growth in the wake of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, Foxconn workers and interning students were transferred between factories to reach ever-higher productivity and profit goals. This reflects an emergent pattern of massive, corporate-led forced migration. From a broader perspective, the fluctuation of orders, coupled with tight delivery requirements, shifts production pressure from global buyers like Apple to Foxconn and smaller suppliers in transnational manufacturing. In key nodes of globalized electronics production, large-scale labor strikes can send important messages to the Chinese state, to Foxconn, and to global brands. Should workers at Foxconn and elsewhere succeed in organizing and mobilizing effectively, they would inspire many more to strive to make a better future together.
Jenny Chanis an assistant professor of sociology at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and coauthor, with Mark Selden and Pun Ngai, of Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers(2020). She also serves as a management committee member of the university’s China Research and Development Network and a vice president of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Labour Movements. She is the principal investigator of the project entitled “Internships, Informal Labor and Vocational Skills Training in China,” funded by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong’s Early Career Scheme (January 2018 – June 2021).
Mark Seldenis a Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program, Cornell University, and at the Weatherhead Institute, Columbia University. He is the editor of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focusand of a number of book series at Rowman and Littlefield and Routledge. His work centers on the modern and contemporary geopolitics, political economy, history, and societies of China, Japan, Korea, and the Asia-Pacific with particular attention to themes of war, peace, revolution, inequality, the environment, world social change, and historical memory. Since 2003 he has edited The Asia-Pacific Journal, a peer-reviewed online publication providing critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific and the world. The Journal explores the geopolitics, economics, history, society, culture, international relations, and environment of the modern and contemporary Asia-Pacific region.
This lecture is part of the 2020-2021 annual lecture series on "Chinese Social Policy from Comparative Perspectives" co-sponsored by the Columbia China Center for Social Policy and Weatherhead East Asian Institute and supported by the Columbia School of Social Work.