iPod? Naw, iPoor – uPod

iPod SweatshopOk, so I keep returning to this topic again, and again, and again, but it’s not my fault really… people keep reporting on it, I keep responding to it. It’s a shaky system, but it works.

This time the point of focus is on none other than Apple. Like Google, I think Apple’s marketing people have done a bang-up job of promoting the company as the Little Big Guy. The company that isn’t the biggest, but always outshines their competition in being innovative. A real forward thinking company – until they sell out to the Chinese.

With Google it was (as mentioned so many times) compromising the integrity of their open-information search results. And now with Apple it’s that they’re using the abundant and cheap labour of China to make everyone’s favourite iPod.

From Macworld UK:
Apple’s iPods are made by mainly female workers who earn as little as Β£27 per month, according to a report in the Mail on Sunday yesterday.

The report claims Longhua’s workers live in dormitories that house 100 people, and that visitors from the outside world are not permitted. Workers toil for 15-hours a day to make the iconic music player, the report claims. They earn Β£27 per month. The report reveals that the iPod nano is made in a five-storey factory (E3) that is secured by police officers.

Another factory in Suzhou, Shanghai, makes iPod shuffles. The workers are housed outside the plant, and earn Β£54 per month – but they must pay for their accommodation and food, “which takes up half their salaries”, the report observes.

So, Β£27 (or about 400 RMB) per month. Long hours. Likely not too great working environment (no periodical 15 minute coffee breaks or extended health benefits we could safely assume). This, by any account, is crappy. But, and here in lies the problem, it’s common. It’s factory work in China.

The reason we get our panties in a bunch about it is because suddenly we (the West) have reason to feel guilty about it. We have a connection to it. Everytime we put those cutesy white earbuds in our ears and thumb-circle our way through our marvelous mp3 collection we know it’s because some woman in China gave up every minute of her time to make it for us, well, actually to eat, but semantics eh?

My position on this sways as to who’s responsibility it is. Is it the government’s to protect their people (creating and enforcing laws)? The people’s to stand up and refuse to be taken advantage of? The 3rd party company’s who has been contracted to handle the manufacturing and is just playing by the competative market rule book? The parent company’s who trusts that their business meetings and well-planned factory tours are honest and upfront (or at least as much is as needed for corporatate sensibilities)?

Apple obviously feels it’s a little bit their responsibility, or at least doesn’t want the guilt-feeling populous throwing out their iPods yet, not with all the accessories coming their way:

“Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” the statement explains.

The company also explains that it is “currently investigating the allegations regarding working conditions in the iPod manufacturing plant in China”.

Apple stresses that: “It does not tolerate any violations of its supplier code of conduct, which is posted online”.

This code is modelled on the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct and can be downloaded as a PDF here.

“Recognised standards such as International Labour Organisation Standards (ILO), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Social Accountability International (SAI), and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) were used as references in preparing this code,” the company says on its website.

The code of conduct includes a commitment to uphold the human rights of workers, and covers matters including discrimination, harsh treatment and harassment, involuntary and child labour, working hours, remuneration and freedom of association.

The problem, as I see it is this: Apple will clean this up, somehow. Google will clean up their mess, somehow. And in the end it just severs the connection Western media has with exposing this backwards and archaic manufacturing model. If it’s not making our Nikes, our iPods, or our Disney products… then what the fuck should we care about those Chinese workers. Let them worry about themselves, I don’t buy sweatshop products. But these are just three companies. Albeit big, they are just three in a sea of companies abusing China’s cheap labour force. But what do we know or care about XinTangJu Ltd. abusing its employees to make domestically used washing machines or FanGongQing Inc. operating a sweat shop for all of China’s high fashion.

Simply, we don’t know … or care really. Though a lot of Chinese people are working for exported goods companies, a lot more are working in domestic companies (with real names, not like the ones above…) making crap for other Chinese people. So the question, I think, is not really where does the responisbility lie for the government, the people affected, the 3rd parties, or the big brands… I think in the end it lies with all of us. Not in a “hey, feel good about yourself, join a NGO” way, but in a way that we don’t forget just because it’s not in the Western news, or affecting our brands of choice. If we’re all going to reap the benefits of globalization (and all the inequality it brings), I think we’re all going to have to step up to the plate and educate ourselves on the effects of the NWO we now live in.

27 Responses

  1. Hey, man, I’m not quite understanding what you think we should do here. I mean, this is a huge problem, overwhelming. For instance, should I not buy Apple products? Never gonna happen. Apple’s response to the situation is good enough for me. If they had ignored the problem, then that might be different. Though, frankly, I’m a little surprised that it got that way to begin with.

    So, what, in no uncertain terms, is your solution to the problem?

    And Dave: this is Ryan’s personal web-site. He can write about whatever the hell he wants. Who are you to tell him what he should write? (Ryan, if Dave is a relative or a friend, I apologize).

  2. @Dave: Thanks for the tip. πŸ˜‰ And he read it at MacWorld, through his news aggregator, who inturn had read it via the Mail on Sunday. It’s the China news of the week my friend move past the “who wrote about it first part”, it’s a flimsy argument.

    @Stu: Dave is not family. πŸ˜‰ At least I assume not, as I don’t know anyone with a [email protected] e-mail address. Just a troll I’m afraid.

    As for what to do… great question. I left it open ended in hopes that it would inspire some talk about this here in the comments (throwing bricks, getting jade). Honestly, I don’t have many solutions. In fact, for those of us in China it’s a lot tougher to avoid than anyone else as EVERYTHING we buy is made in a cheap-labour Chinese sweatshop.

    My main point is that I think the average person’s viewship of Western media is a bit like standing on a street looking at massive house. We’ve got a guy inside turning on and off lights in various rooms one at a time … we see the contents of the room for a moment, but when the light’s off we forget what’s in there still exists … but it does.

  3. I don’t think anyone forgets that this is happening everyday around the world..even when the media isn’t flashing a light on it. Apple found out and is now doing something about it. Frankly, I think their ability to control the situation is limited. Labor laws are set by the government. When the laws are inadequate, labor organizes, strikes, and changes them. This isn’t a forumla unique to the West. Western businesses are limited in their ability to change those laws. Some would argue they lack motivation as well. Nobody wants to know the products they purchase are made in sweat shops, but I’m left wondering what exactly defines a sweatshop? Perhaps Apple and the public didn’t know the situation was as grim as it was, but what did they/we think?

  4. @Thea: It’s funny that in one comment you can argue the evils of Walmart, and then defend the people-corporate seperation in another. πŸ™‚ You’re right though, ultimately it is the people’s decision to accept this or rise up and stop it. This is likely why there were about 85,000 “mass incidents” in China last year. People protesting land claims; pollution; unfair treatment by companies, the government, etc. Problem is, these more often than not end in violence and the people are squashed, often literally.

    To not live in a country controlled by an oligarchical dictatorship and to say that the people just have to rise up is not really taking a lot of things into account. The US has never had a government with even remotely the same powers as China’s does. Nor does it have as open an ability to repress its people. At no point has America ever had 900,000,000 people … never mind 900 milion living below poverty in the often polluted and barren countryside.

    I asked my adult students one day about labour unions, and they said that they were aware that America had something like this, but in China it’s not really needed – the workers are happy to have a job. In fact, they’re illegal. There are pseudo-unions tightly controlled by the government and used to their advantage, not the workers’…. but that’s all.

    And as for better laws. The laws are there. On paper you’d think that China was the most fantastic country in the world. I mean, in principle 1949 brought with it proletarian empowerment. Communist China was supposed to do away with the imperial abuses of the past and the “bourgeois” practices of the West… bring the power to the people.

    I think when I go to work today I’ll ask one of the many people picking through the garbage bins looking for anything they can sell or use and see if they feel like rising up and putting a stop to these injustices. I think I know the answer though: “听不懂”, and not for my crap pronunciation.
    We live in a global marketplace, and China’s entry into the WTO includes it in that. I promise you that whatever limited ability Western business have in influencing the corporate laws of China, the people have less.

  5. ****sigh****

    I do think Walmart is evil and I avoid them. I choose not to celebrate the glorys of almighty Walmart and do everything in my power to stop them. But I don’t think the US government should change laws to stop their growth. I find it equally amusing that you defend them.

    “To not live in a country controlled by an oligarchical dictatorship and to say that the people just have to rise up is not really taking a lot of things into account”….. How so? I’m not naive enough to think “rising up” or “changing the laws” would be a matter of marching outside the government offices, holding up a few signs and holding a peaceful sit in ala Gandi, until someone in power finally takes notice. To rise up against a country with the size and power of China is bloody and horrible. Corporations and foreign governments can push for change, but then what? The real change has to come from the hearts and minds of the people….and I think that includes the man digging in the trash.

    You conclude that Western business has more influence over the corporate laws of China, but then what? After reading your first post and then your response, I’m still left wondering what you think should/could realistically happen?

  6. Ryan, there’s a number of things about this post that really irk me. Unfortunately, as usual, I don’t have a lot of time. Well, rather than do as I usually do, and put off writing a response until I get more time, and then, inevitably, never respond, I’ll just give you some random stream-of-consciousness blather.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to compare Google’s complicity in censoring search results with Apple’s inaction on it’s supplier’s factory working conditions. The former is clearly aiding the government in repressing it’s people, the latter is more run-of-the-mill exploitation. Anyway, that’s a minor point.

    I think the thing that I like least about your post is that you imply, in several places, that Western people just don’t care about exploitation of Chinese factory workers. You said:

    “The reason we get our panties in a bunch about it is because suddenly we (the West) have reason to feel guilty about it.”

    [Okay, I give up — how do I add block quotes to comments here?]


    “If it’s not making our Nikes, our iPods, or our Disney products… then what the fuck should we care about those Chinese workers.”

    Well, speak for yourself. I, for one, care, and I know a lot of other people who care. And, I would tend toward taking Apple at their word when they say that they care. In fact, I’d suggest that Western countries have a much better track record of caring for the plight of down-and-out workers (e.g. establishing a right to organize) than, for example, China. You imply as much yourself, later in the post, which makes me confused.

    And what point could you possibly be trying to make about the Western media? I think, for all their flaws, they are doing some good, by at least shining the spotlight here and there when they can. They certainly don’t have the resources to do more. If it were just up to the Chinese media, then we’d all be believing that China is a worker’s paradise.

    Here’s an interesting article that I just found, that opened my eyes to a couple of things. According to it, China wasn’t required to agree to enforce stricter labor laws as a condition of its entering the WTO (WTF??). Nevertheless, it continues, western governments are starting to scream and holler now about the unfair advantage to trade that exploitation gives.

    In the meantime, I really think that it is a good thing that the media blasted Apple over this issue, and that Apple responded. I often think of a stupid, corny line that I first heard on MASH. Someone asks Hawkeye if he really thinks he can save the world, and he says, no, just his little corner of it.

    Here’s another little interesting tidbit: just today, coincidentally, I visited a very small (150 employee) LED factory here in Shenzhen, because I happen to know one of the owners. They do a lot of international business, and I think that must affect their outlook towards their workers, at least a little. I asked my friend how many hours a day the employees worked, and she said eight. I think she was telling me the truth. Anyway, although the work looked grueling, the workers didn’t look, from their faces, oppressed. Granted, this is just one example, and yes, I might be being naive. But my point is that contact and occasional pressure from customers who put a priority on ethical treatment of workers can make a difference. I’m not claiming that it’s enough, but just that it’s something.

  7. @Thea: Would you fight for better wages if it meant you might get killed doing so? Add to this that your culture teaches you not to care much for the next guy as long as you’re getting yours (I know this is a generalization… and as such, take it “generally”), and you’re not going to get much organization for the common good. My point was that in your first comment you over simplified what would be required for Chinese people to change the system.

    I do think this is China’s problem, and I should be clear about that. It’s hard to have much empathy for a country that has made a point of screwing each other over every chance they get for thousands of years, and that’s brought them to this point now. Sadly, the people that are usually screwed are the poor, and that’s a crappy place to be. If I had solutions I wouldn’t be writing somewhat non-directional blog posts, I’d be solving world problems… thankfully that’s not the case.

    To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Walmart. I don’t defend nor attack them. I use Walmart like I use a car. I could walk or ride a bike and the world would likely be a better place, but it’s just not practical.

    @Chris: My comparison between Apple and Google is limited to the fact that they both have the favour of the public as being anti-corporate corporations and they both, in their rush to grab a piece of the Chinese pie, compromised some things. I’ve argued similarily as you about Google and Walmart in previous comments. πŸ˜‰

    That first link you gave was a good read. The ILO report was a LONG stream of euphamisms that basically said little. Did you notice that 2/3rds of those conventions were ratified by a government that no longer exists “in” China? I think it’s all bunk man. As for your friend’s factory, I’ve been to a couple nice multi-national joint-ventures (teaching their employees) and I agree, some of them look very nice and very modern. The employees look like they have to work hard, but they also seem to not be “oppressed”.

    As for yourself and your friends that care about Chinese workers, fair enough. However, I honestly and truly believe a publicly traded corporation cares for these types of things only as far as their bottom line goes. It’s a bit cliched to say I know, but in my opinion it’s the absolute truth. I’ve said this before, corporations are not people, they are machines for making money and if that means having high standards for supply chains because public opinion demands it, then that’s what they do. They don’t have ethics or morals… these are human things, companies aren’t human. And now, production means so little when it comes to products. If the brand fails, the company fails. The money is in the name, so however much or little it costs to get made becomes less important than the public opinion of how it is made. Of course cost is always an issue, as it trims up the machine’s efficiency even more, which is why companies move their production lines to developing nations. It just baffels me that a company would ever assume that by doing so they are not exploiting the poor of a country. Of course they don’t assume this, we assume this because we listen to the PR when they act surprised and confused that this could happen.

    If Apple came to China and paid them all Western wages, then we’d have something to go on… but the fact is they entered China knowing that they’d be getting a better deal on the manufacturing because people don’t “need” that much to live here. Truth is, people do need that much to live here, they just don’t have it so they go without. Electronics, cars, and now new homes are all nearly the same price as they are in Western countries. Sure your neccessities are cheaper… but life isn’t neccessities, and if we’re content with buying things in exchange for providing the makers of such things just enough to get by… I dunno, that seems a lot like slavery, doesn’t it?

    Again, I have to express that I have no answers (now the third time I’ve mentioned this in these comments)… I should have emphasised that in the original post. My point about Western media wasn’t at all a slight against it, it was to draw attention to our own allowed ignorance about it because if it’s not in the Western media we tend to forget that it’s happening. How many people thought about sweatshops the day before the Apple article hit print? I know I didn’t. What I was trying to say was that we shouldn’t rely on Western media to remind us, because if we do that it’s going to wait on companies in the West to fuck up, and that’s going to happen less and less for all the reasons listed above.

    Anyway, as illustrated by this OVERLY LONG comment-reply, I could go on and on about this… and it’d be so much better if you guys were here and we could do it over a few beers (few things I like more than a couple of beers and some good debate). If you survived that, and you’re now staring at the Comment: box…. feel free to do so.

  8. I think I’m going to start reading your posts at the end of my day as opposed to the beginning of day over coffee and voicemails in the office πŸ™‚ ….

    @ Chris’s comment….Thank you for taking the time to write that lengthy response. I completely agree.

    @ Ryan…..In regards to your comments to my post…I think your generalization is way off base and a little inflammatory. Would I risk my life for better wages? Now who’s over simplifying?? There is no way to respond to your inflammatory question/statement. If the problem was only better wages we wouldn’t be having such a lengthy debate. The problem is far greater then better wages. The problem (as you pointed out yourself) is much deeper and complex.

    I live in a country where I have the right to protest without fear of death. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about other people who lack that right.

  9. @Chris: One thing I forgot to mention… here’s a quote taken from another Chinese blogger’s site, Sinoseptic, that I think goes right along with the Hawkeye quote:

    One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a figure in the distance. As he got closer he realized the figure was that of a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t possibly make a difference.” After listening politely the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

    You can do blockquotes the same way you normally would <blockquote></blockquote> – they don’t show up in the Live Preview though.

    @Thea: πŸ˜› How’s that for inflammatory. πŸ˜‰ Naw, sorry.. honestly, it wasn’t meant to be inflammatory. And just to be clear when I said “you” in the “your culture”… that wasn’t to your culture, but a generalization about Chinese culture sorry if that was interpreted wrong and insulting, or wasn’t interpreted wrong and is still insulting, as it’s insulting to Chinese people… and I’m sorry for that too, but not as sorry as they should be.

    Let me re-clarify my above statement. You said:

    Labor laws are set by the government. When the laws are inadequate, labor organizes, strikes, and changes them. This isn’t a forumla unique to the West.

    So, the laws in China are inadequate, but if labour organizes or strikes or generally tries to tell the government what to do … it could very likely mean death. My point was just to draw attention to the fact that unless the government wants the change, the people aren’t going to change it. Why would they risk their lives for better working conditions?

    What we’re debating here are really just semantics, all in a way of avoiding the issue that has no answer. If it had an answer we’d all be like, “Hey… yeah.” Re-reading these comments and my original post I don’t think we actually disagreed with each other strongly at all – we’re just using small disagreances to piggyback a point we want to make. Not much of a debate, and not much result.

    So, in summary we have:
    1) Companies can’t make much change
    2) The people can’t make much change.
    3) Companies are only as motivated to make change as it affects the buying publics’ opinion of them.
    4) People are only as motivated to make change weighed against the possible outcomes of trying to make change.
    5) No change is going to be made and we’re at square one.

  10. “Electronics, cars, and now new homes are all nearly the same price as they are in Western countries”

    Really? Tell me which Western country and I’ll go and live there. Our house cost us 258,000 RMB. My son has just bought a very similar house in England (although with a considerably smaller garden) and if you do the conversion he’s paid 4,500,000 RMB.

    Our brand new car (although a humble ‘mian bao’) cost the equivalent of 2500 GBP. You’d be lucky to get a small motorbike for that amount in England.

  11. Sorry Phoebs… definitely should have specified foreign-made cars… or cars that will not crumple if hit by anything larger than a small dog. Of course Chinese cars are cheaper, they’re also death traps.

    As for the house. An average apartment in Dalian will run you damn near what it would cost to buy one in my Canadian hometown. Granted, my hometown isn’t a big city and Dalian is. Of course, we do have clean air, health care, social security and a load of other things that might justify the price.

    Are you going to try and make the point that the cost of living and the average earnings are as balanced in China as they are in Western countries?

    I’m not going to continue to defend this post, honestly… it’s easy to pick it apart, it was open ended and made sweeping generalizations. I’m not saying you’re not welcome to pick at it… there’s lots to pick at… but it’s not very productive (then again, what about this all needs to be productive… pick away… if you can’t further the debate, we can at least make it run circles until we’re tired of it).

    The point about the costs being similar is true. I bought a Chinese-made laptop and the price difference with foreign brands was minimal. Any quality electronics are still foreign brands, and they’re all as expensive or more expensive than elsewhere.

    Chinese real-estate is completely out of wack with the cost of living, widely reported and easily seen by all the shiny new empty buildings. I don’t think it’s any surprise that land costs in England are high, like Japan, I think it’s an unfair comparison. Using the States or Canada is a bit more suitable.

    The costs of goods in China is rising a LOT faster than the average cost of living. The people that make the stuff can’t afford the stuff but the people that can afford the stuff are more than happy enough to buy the stuff at a cheap price because it’s made by the exploited people that can’t afford it.

    My point in this response and in my response previous is thus: critique the post all you want. The wording could be changed, the point clearer, bla bla bla… fuck… it’s just some post on a blog, it’s not a UN document. But that doesn’t change the theme. And that’s what everyone seems to be avoiding, picking apart my words doesn’t forward the thought, doesn’t add to the idea and doesn’t promote real discussion about any of it…

  12. No need to be so defensive, I was just stating a fact. We all know that the things we buy are made using cheap labour. (British spelling). When I went back to UK last year I was so surprised at how cheap the clothes were, of course, all made in China. But if you want to buy clothes in the UK there’s very little choice, it’s Chinese of nothing.

    I’ll say no more.

  13. Sorry Phoebe… I knew it was going to come across that way, and I meant to edit the comment to better reflect the tone I had while writing it… as it wasn’t meant to be defensive sounding. I was just trying to make a point that it’d be great if we could move past nitpicking the details and perhaps create some discussion about the actual issue.

  14. No probs. I do understand what you’re saying, we all do, but things aren’t going to change in a hurry in China. It’s hard to imagine, but my own father was born in a poor Welsh mining village, and was out of school and down the coal pit at the age of 12. China will catch up eventually, but at the moment this country reminds me of a drunken adolescent driving a Ferrari.

  15. Phoebe’s comment was wonderful! Thanks for the laugh!

    @Ryan….I hope I didn’t cause you to get your undies in a bunch! You know I have been reading forever, silently watching as you begged for comments at various points in your blog. I finally get motivated to right someting…and BAM! Trouble!! πŸ™‚ You know that wasn’t my intention. I agree that we’re not that far off. I always enjoy your perspective, even if I don’t agree 100%. I read earlier this week that something like 72% of email readers take a different meaning then the writer actually intended. As you said earlier, this would be much easier over a beer (cosmo for me). πŸ™‚

    One last thought, which you don’t need to respond to since this comments thing has gotten lengthy. You mentioned the affordability of property and goods skyrocketing in China. Do you have any idea what the affordability index is for property or goods? Just curious really. SoCal real estate has been out of control forever, but in recent years has moved to astronomical proportions. I have friends who have a 40 year mortgage, and banks are introducing a 50 year mortgage. A few months ago I read that the affordability index in SoCal was at about 83%. Meaning that 83% of the people living here could not afford to buy a home. Just curious if you had any numbers or further insight into this.

  16. Thea: My panties are always in a bunch… damn tight Chinese underwear! Top of my shopping listen when I go home are properly fitting underwear.

    Does “buy a home” mean purchase it outright? As that doesn’t surprise me, I’ve never met anyone that’s purchased a home outright. But if it means people can’t afford to buy a home (even with a mortgage)… where the hell are those 24 million people living? I realize it probably is neither of these, but rather just a figure created so we can wrap our heads around these massive financial concepts.

    I wish I could find the AI in China, but after a bit of an online search, I didn’t come up with anything. I’ll admit though, I only spent about 7 minutes on it… economics in conversation is thrilling to me, but in writing… makes my eyes blur.

    40-50 year mortgages … that’s just mad. I will throw out what figures I know to add a bit of perspective to this. Of the 1.3 (maybe 1.5?) billion people in China, about 900,000,000 (yep, three times the pop. of the US) lives in by what most counts would be considered poverty in China’s countryside. You couldn’t measure a good number of these people’s homes in an Affordability Index because it’s often just some hollow brick enclosure with a tin roof held down by stones and some twine. Families often share a single bed in a room used as a living room, bedroom and dining room.

    I’m pretty sure 83% of SoCal can afford these homes πŸ™‚ This drags the comments back to my earlier point about our standards just being completely different when contrasting the West to China.

    In regards to the comments… I definitely appreciate the comments, but it’s taking a while to get used to…. like a month ago I was all alone in my little bubble… and now I’m sharing it with people… it’s cool… really cool – no worries.

  17. “Buy a home” means purchase with a mortgage. I don’t know anyone who pays cash for a home and that includes the wealthy. People rent houses, apartments and condos because they can’t afford to purchase. The result is that rent prices are crazy too. A woman I work with pays $1600 a month for a two bedroom apartment in a far from desirable neighborhood. And when I say far from desireable, I’m not just being my snootty self. Think graffiti on walls and some home boys hanging with their 40’s on the corner.

    Do the vast majority living in the country own the land they live on? My guess is no, that’s it’s probably owned and controlled by warlords, etc. And those shiny empty new buildings in the city…who is expected to buy and live in them? I wish you had pictures!

    I’m not an econo freak by the way. Just intrigued by real estate things. I’m always figuring out how we can sell our house and move elsewhere.

  18. Thea & Ryan, me and Rich bought a house in UK and paid cash, and the one here we paid cash for too. As you know, we’re not filthy rich by any means.

    As a matter of interest, it is my understanding that in China no-one can own land freehold. Even if you buy a house, you only buy on a leasehold basis, maybe 50 or 70 years lease on the land.

  19. @Phoebe: That’s definitely the way to do it… problem is a starter home is next to impossible to buy outright. If you’re coming from owning another home, especially one that you’ve invested in for years and have paid a lot of the mortgage off, it’s much easier to sell and then use that cash to buy another home. Bit harder for a 20-something who just graduated to go out and buy a $100K home outright.

    And I’ve never seen the actual law, but that’s my understanding of land ownership too. I heard the lease was 70 years… but really that’s about as valuable as a ESL contract or so much 手纸. If the government wants the land, they just take it. If a company wants to build on your leased land, they just pay off the officials and take it.

  20. Also, (I swore to myself that I wouldn’t add to this post, but just need to say this):

    Okay, I know I’m pretty old, and you’re pretty young. But in England people (ordinary ‘working class’) never really got into buying houses until probably the mid-seventies. Prior to that only rich people owned houses. I just get the feeling that China reminds me of England in the 1950’s in a lot of ways. I just don’t understand why you feel that China should be like the so-called developed countires in the West. It will all take time. I know they don’t have the same voice that we have in the west regarding workers’ rights etc, but then again, neither did we, the first unions were illegal, and many people died for their rights.

    I love China, it’s very dear to my heart, and I want to see it do well, but please, you must see that it will all take time.

  21. @Phoebe: They’ve had 5,000 years and wont hesitate to tell you so.

    Honestly, I know what you’re saying, and I know how easy it is to argue that they’ve just recently (relatively) shucked off the trapings of an imperial system and all that… and you’re right. I just refuse to treat China like a teenager when they keep telling me how old and wise they are. They can’t have it both ways. Or maybe they can, but I don’t have to like it πŸ˜‰

  22. I know, it’s so frustrating. On the one hand they tell you about the 5000 years, and on the other hand they say they’re a developing country. However, developed enough to send a man into space and copy and reproduce and kind of electronic equipment, or anything else.

    Maybe the difference between us is that when you talk of China, you are maybe talking about the government and the state, whereas I think of people like my gardener, Mr Xing. He loves to watch our cable telly, and can’t understand why we, although we are from a different country, can understand what Americans, Canadians, Australians and Irish people say are saying. We grossly overpay him for sitting drinking Coa Cola and chatting to Rich, and he says he’s saving up to buy our house when we go home. Believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t. He collects all out plastic, cans, bottles and cardboard, and many other cast-offs, and is constantly foraging the neighbourhood rubbish tips for anything he can sell. He’s not doing it out of necessity, he’s just like most Chinese people round here, he’d skin a flea for sixpence and ruin a shilling knife. You’ve gotta love ’em.

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