Back in Hong Kong

Returning to HK has given me some time to examine the research I collected while on the mainland and has helped me to organize my thoughts and data in order to create some concrete idea of what I found while I was there.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience that few people get, and really helped on my insight into how a Chinese business is run, and what sort of interactions take place.

One big thing I noticed about my time in China was how receptive and open my coworkers were to me while I was there.  I was often invited to meals and shown around town, and was treated more as a guest at their facilities rather than some poor intern from America.  I was referred to as their guest when introduced to other people, and was even given my own quarters to operate while at the company headquarters.  This was especially awkward for me considering I had done nothing to qualify for my own space, all the while there were plenty of cubicles available in the main office.  However, I was their guest, and as such it was expected that I be treated well, and this meant having my own office during the duration of my stay.

One of the most important things I was able to take away from my time there was the relationship between the employees and the employer/company.  For a car company, its workers are it’s greatest asset, particularly a car company in China.  Geely Automotives has over 12,500 employees, and the workers account for over 85% of the tasks accomplished on the assembly floor.  However, this is on the smaller side for domestic companies, as one of Geely’s rivals BYD has over 160,000 employees that are responsible for over 95% of tasks performed on the factory floor.  One of the best ways I have been able to see the effects of the differences in cultures has been through the recent strikes at Toyota and Honda.  Being run by Japanese directors, those two companies are the only ones experiencing problems with their workers due to lack of wages and inconsiderate actions.  For many of the other Chinese-led Chinese car companies, this is not a problem as the workers are content with their jobs and adequately paid.  I am finding that this stems from the Confucian concept of filial piety manifested in the workplace, in which the employer is compelled to treat his subordinates well, as he would a member of his family.  There is a duty on the superior to maintain this harmonious relationship for the good of the company, through the good of the individual.  With the Japanese-led Chinese car companies, this may not be as important, especially considering how much emphasis is placed on machines in their concept of the car-making process, leading to less attention paid to the factory worker, and thus the strikes.  Harmony was not kept, the relationship was ignored, and as a result the business has suffered.  Of course, it is obvious to assume that the more you pay your workers, they happier they become and the less likely they strike, but here in China where labor, especially cheap labor, is the country’s greatest asset, many foreign companies have cut costs due to the fact that they can always find someone who will work for less.  This means that for many companies, even if their workers are unhappy, they are easily replaced.  Loyalty and respect to the worker is not an uncommon practice for many Chinese companies, but is not observed by many foreign companies.

Even talking with my fellow co-workers in the financial department, there was much understanding of the plight of the factory worker and a strong belief that they need strong support from the leadership.  They talked about the workers with an intimacy as though they were people, not a piece of a puzzle, and as though they knew them, even though they had no daily contact.  This was surprising to me because I thought these university-educated middle-class office workers would not hold such an opinion towards the low-class factory workers.  Contrarily, they had more respect for the factory workers for the jobs they performed and they hardships they endured than themselves sitting in an office on a computer.  I found this to be very interesting, and I’m trying to further flesh this out to see where it takes me.

Well, that’s what I’ve been analyzing since I’ve been back here.  It’s been a slow week so I’ve had some time to focus on my research.  Most people in the office have the week off due to the holiday on July 1st (anniversary of the handover of HK back to China), but I only get Thursday off.  And, of course, the one year they decide NOT to have fireworks on the harbour is the one year I am here, but not everything can be timed perfectly.  Oh well, guess I’ll just have to try and come back again next year.

Hope you’re enjoying the summer, wherever you are.

Ben