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A Toy Factory in China.
October 4, 2007 7:28 AM   Subscribe

25 Photos from a Toy Factory in China.
posted by chunking express (53 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, hand painting those tiny soccer balls.

I think, unfortunately, that most of those images are going to fail due to image-shack bandwidth limitations, one of them has already been eaten by the golden frog.
posted by delmoi at 7:36 AM on October 4, 2007


Thanks for the post. You know, I have always wondered about this. I designed packaging for so many "Made in China" toys and always wondered about the people in the Chinese factories. I'd daydream and imagine them all just sitting in their pink smocks, miserably painting in Mickey Mouse's eyes. And yep, they are.

Why are so many asian factory uniforms pink, anyhow?
posted by miss lynnster at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2007


most of those look a lot cleaner than the factory i work in
posted by pyramid termite at 7:37 AM on October 4, 2007


Amazing photos. Peeking briefly into factories like these really shows American consumerism from a different angle.

When I played with little cars or teddy bears or even G.I. Joes as a boy, I never thought much about where they came from, and ignorantly assumed my hands were the first to touch these precious toys, prying them in virgin condition from their airtight plastic boxes.

But no, somebody had assembled, painted, tested and boxed them, thousands of miles from me. That's the forgotten part in so much of American life: where does everything come from? It would be well for us to teach our children.
posted by dead_ at 7:39 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I am so jealous. Working with toys everyday must be so much fun!
posted by Falconetti at 7:39 AM on October 4, 2007 [13 favorites]


I didn't notice they are hosted at ImageShack. Hopefully people can see them before they disappear. I really love all the portraits.
posted by chunking express at 7:41 AM on October 4, 2007


At this point, only 2 photos are not x'd out.
posted by garlic at 7:43 AM on October 4, 2007


That is so sad, but think of the poor sex toy factory workers.

Every day, dildos, dildos, and more dildos.
posted by yhbc at 7:53 AM on October 4, 2007


Would be nice if the blog had given the photographer credit.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:55 AM on October 4, 2007


I am so jealous. Working with toys everyday must be so much fun!
posted by Falconetti at 10:39 AM on October 4


Not when you are paid on a piece work rate
posted by caddis at 7:56 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's not sad at all, it looks marvellous. I wish they'd interview some of the workers.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 7:57 AM on October 4, 2007


Yes, I'm dying to know who took those photos and are they anywhere else on the web. Cause this site will die and I will want to see these again.
posted by agregoli at 8:05 AM on October 4, 2007


I've found the photos located at this site as well. Still not sure who the actual photographer is.
posted by chunking express at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2007


(The photos on the above site are a lot lower res though, which kind of sucks.)
posted by chunking express at 8:10 AM on October 4, 2007


where does everything come from? It would be well for us to teach our children.

Wasn't that what Mr. Rogers did?
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:13 AM on October 4, 2007


The photos are by Michael Wolf and are from an installation entitled : The Real Toy Story
posted by Hutch at 8:21 AM on October 4, 2007 [7 favorites]


Similar to Edward Burtynsky's China > Manufacturing images (including the pink).

More in the Wired article, Endless Assembly Lines and Giant Cafeterias; Inside China's Vast Factories.
posted by cenoxo at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Hutch!
posted by agregoli at 8:23 AM on October 4, 2007


The shot of the woman in pink holding two toy revolvers is just classic - easily my favorite of the bunch.

I think the Onion covers my feelings on this topic quite thoroughly.
posted by god hates math at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2007


Coral cache seems to have most of the images. I also saved a local copy.
posted by zsazsa at 8:29 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good find Hutch, thanks!
posted by chunking express at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2007


so mundane that it's surreal. the workers don't look happy - yet don't look unhappy either. Aside from the image of the worker holding the two revolvers, the two images that strike me the most are the person taking a rest under the table (how many hours a day do they work? how many days a week do they work?) and the morose exit line with the sad guard looking on.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:46 AM on October 4, 2007


Stuff like this to me illustrates both the good and the bad of sites like Metafilter, if not the internet at large.

Amazing window on a world I'll never see in person, but absent any context in captions from the photographer, these photos can say pretty much what you want them to say. The long line of workers for example: waiting to punch in in the morning?; waiting to punch out at the end of the day?; waiting to use the factory's only toilet? I worked in a factory one summer where the employees would gather in exactly that configuration by the door and the punch-card time clock at about 4:55 pm every day (cause your time card needed to say "5:00" to avoid losing an hour's pay). There was no security guard, and decidedly fewer Asians in Lanark County, but the faces show the same ho-hum.

And that sacked-out worker under the table. If National Geographic did a profile of a Windsor auto plant, that photo could just as easily be captioned: "a worker grabs a 'power nap' at the end of her lunch break."

The apparent similarity of the meals in that cafeteria shot makes it look like the employer provides lunch. Free? Or does it come from the employee's "meager daily pittance of a paycheque"?

Chinese factories good? Chinese factories bad? These same photos could make your case either way.
posted by Mike D at 8:51 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm old, and when I was a kid most of my toys were made in the US, Japan or Taiwan. I wonder what those factories looked like, if they were any different. I'm sure the hours were slightly better, perhaps even the wages, but the work had to be similar. No wonder no one seems all that happy.
posted by tommasz at 8:58 AM on October 4, 2007


If you're interested in this sort of thing, here's my factory visit to Shenzhen in 2005. Point to note, there's a waiting list for people to work at these places, and they're more like complexes than factories. They sleep, eat, play and live on gigantic estates for their tour of duty (which can be 3 to 4 years).

Apparently they make enough during that time to set themselves up nicely on their return home. Maybe that's why there's such a demand for the permits to work in these trade areas (yes you need a permit to move to Shenzhen or the other areas from your home town). Predominantly young girls by the way!
posted by Duug at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2007 [6 favorites]


I have to say that these factories looked a lot better and the workers a lot more cheerful than I'd expected. Mind you, I've seen some Brooklyn sweatshops that were horrid so my expectations were set pretty low...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2007


I find that no matter if it's considered good or bad or a little of both by the workers, it's still a jarring reminder that the objects I buy and am surrounded with are prepared and created in factories like this.
posted by agregoli at 9:19 AM on October 4, 2007


Expecting far worse, I'm now curious how many factories the photographer was given access to, and how many were declared off limits.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:20 AM on October 4, 2007


Duug - your factory tour page is great - deserving of an fpp of it's own (or a sidebar, hint hint).
posted by arcticwoman at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2007


The sadness that bring children happiness. Or does it?
posted by four panels at 9:39 AM on October 4, 2007


Yeah, I've got to agree, I was totally expecting an environment much worse than that. I had imagined dirty malnourished workers toiling away some grimy Dickensian workhouse, literally chained to their jobs by an overzealous foreman trying to meet an unfeasible production quota set by a brutal and uncaring corporate America. Oh, well. I guess the products I buy are just that much less interesting now.
posted by tracert at 9:39 AM on October 4, 2007


Where's the machine that coats things in lead?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:56 AM on October 4, 2007


He's right here.
posted by itchylick at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2007


the workers don't look happy - yet don't look unhappy either.

True, but as someone who has worked in factories, offices, and retail shops, I think I can safely assert that this pretty much describes workplaces everywhere. (At least in the US.)
posted by quin at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2007


I wonder why the gaiter like devices worn on the arms in some of these pictures. Anyone know? They don't seem to be for protection as they aren't wearing gloves with them.
posted by Mitheral at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2007


I don't understand all the fuss about these photos. They say nothing to me. They look like normal people, doing typical assembly work in rather clean and modern factories. They look about as bored as your typical Western office workers. Maybe this is the point?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:31 AM on October 4, 2007


Thanks Arcticwoman, it was a genuinely interesting trip. The guide we had on the bus from Hong Kong to Shenzhen was also a mine of information on things like HK dweller's views on the future of Hong Kong under Chinese rule (apparently they're hoping that it's going to be fine. "A lot can change in the future" was her comment).
posted by Duug at 11:10 AM on October 4, 2007


The point of the pictures, for me, is less about the working conditions and well-being of the workers (we can't really tell much from the photos) than it is about the sheer volume of plastic crap being produced to feed the hunger pangs of our own out-of-control consumerism. Nobody needs any of that shit (or probably even wants it, really, until it's sitting neatly-packaged on the shelf under our noses), and in 10-20 years, it'll all end up in a landfill. It's a sickness, and these pictures are a grim reminder of just how sick we really are.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mitheral writes "I wonder why the gaiter like devices worn on the arms in some of these pictures. Anyone know? They don't seem to be for protection as they aren't wearing gloves with them."

Those are really common in Japan: they're just to keep your arms from getting dirty. Not "protection" in any serious sense, but, for example, teachers wear them all the time when grading papers, because otherwise swiping your forearm over page after page of papers results in getting graphite all over your arm.
posted by Bugbread at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2007


I wonder what they could produce if their efforts were directed towards original art instead of dollar store crap.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:28 AM on October 4, 2007


Atom Eyes writes "The point of the pictures, for me, is less about the working conditions and well-being of the workers (we can't really tell much from the photos) than it is about the sheer volume of plastic crap being produced to feed the hunger pangs of our own out-of-control consumerism."

Actually, we can't really tell from the pictures much about the sheer volume of plastic toys or out-of-control consumerism, either, unless you think a picture showing maybe 1000 dolls for a world population of 6 billion is an example of out-of-control consumerism. The pictures show what they do. Some people want to put that together with their perceptions of how Chinese labour conditions work to see the pictures as some sort of statement about working conditions. Some people want to put that together with their perceptions of purchasing toys to see the pictures as some sort of statement about out-of-control consumerism. In either case, the pictures show little enough that what people see in the pictures is more the people making the observations than the contents of the pictures.
posted by Bugbread at 11:29 AM on October 4, 2007


Bighappyfunhouse writes "I wonder what they could produce if their efforts were directed towards original art instead of dollar store crap."

Er...the same thing that any group of 100 random people would produce if they worked on original art instead of whatever else they're doing: a whole shitload of bad art, and one or two good pieces.
posted by Bugbread at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2007


I think that you can approach these pictures on many levels, but they are more powerful in the context of the original installation, where they were featured along with over 20,000 toys "Made in China" culled from second hand stores and flea markets around California. Plastering these toys to studio walls along with the images of the workers who made them is visually stunning and can be taken as a critique of North American consumption, a critique of Chinese working conditions or alternatively an homage to the Chinese worker. Or even as just a really colorful way of decorating a room (it helps that the toys are in such fantastic colors). The piece to me is slightly ambiguous, and like bugbread says, lets the viewer interpet it according to their own prejudices.
Personally, my prejudices result in the exhibition making me sad, which is ironic given that its made of toys.
posted by Hutch at 12:11 PM on October 4, 2007


I have worked in factories and machine shops since the seventies and that did not look so bad but I imagine the stuff I did not see, hours and pay, chemical exposure, and overseer attitudes sucks.
posted by Iron Rat at 1:22 PM on October 4, 2007


I couldn't help but notice the seating arrangements, like this.
Impressive balance.
posted by agentofselection at 1:47 PM on October 4, 2007


Iron Rat writes "I imagine the stuff I did not see, hours and pay, chemical exposure, and overseer attitudes sucks."

Actually, the pay seems to be pretty good:

Duug writes "Apparently they make enough during that time to set themselves up nicely on their return home. Maybe that's why there's such a demand for the permits to work in these trade areas (yes you need a permit to move to Shenzhen or the other areas from your home town)."

And speaking from my very limited experience in my wife's former boss getting very small loads of garments made in China, the overseer attitudes are pretty lax, too. The hours probably do suck, though, and given that the problem du jour is lead paint, I'd say it's fair to say the chemical exposure situation is pretty bad, too.
posted by Bugbread at 3:52 PM on October 4, 2007


Stunning. Epic. I'm speechless. One of the best sets I've seen since ____.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2007


Stunning pictures. Is it my imagination or was that a group (with notable exceptions) of really rather good looking people, or what?
posted by TinkleBerry at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2007


I visited and spoke to a migrant women's welfare centre in Shenzhen for a magazine article a few years back. The young (and some not so young) women I spoke to told a quite nuanced story - there's loneliness and long hours, poor pay and dehumanising strict discipline, also far worse health and safety conditions in many factories than seen here (and Shenzhen would be usually better than many smaller places). Yet the experience was also empowering for women from often deeply patriarchal rural backgrounds, both in terms of independence and in terms of becoming breadwinners and changing their status in their family. Also, women do by far the bulk of the hard work on most family farms, so they weren't exactly leaving lives of bucolic bliss behind.
There seems to be a growing labour shortage in the Pearl River Delta now. A number of explanations have been advanced (there's some in the linked article). One I have seen that strikes he as being credible is that recent reforms to agricultural policy (abolition of various taxes etc) have reduced rural push factors, whereas poor conditions and static wages aren't making the factories any more attractive.
There's a whole host of interesting resources online, particularly from labour organisations in Hong Kong the China Labour Bulletin and the Asia Monitor Resource Centre do good work. Look for the work of Anita Chan too.
I used to be in regular contact with the Migrant Workers Document Handling Centre in Panyu. Their magazine 工友 Gongyou, as well as practical advice etc, used to have a lot of interesting material on the lives, hopes dreams and aspirations of migrant workers. Lots of the kind of ephemera of the lived experience of a great nation in a time of change that is absent from bald statistics (also what makes phot essays like this so good).. I translated a few other first person accounts of migrants tales on my short-lived (and now moribund) blog that's linked in my profile if you're interested.
posted by Abiezer at 2:12 AM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


I also spoke to women at the centre, though social activism here does often feel like you're talking to a brick wall. Ahem.
posted by Abiezer at 2:17 AM on October 5, 2007


It is sad to see pictures like this. If people weren't so into consumption, we wouldn't need to have factories like this.
posted by LarryGDVD at 2:50 PM on October 5, 2007


Yeah. Those factory workers could all be...I dunno, subsistence farming, or panhandling, or something.

The problem isn't that we're into consumption and thus provide factory jobs, it's that we're into cheap and massive consumption that results in underpaid factory jobs. If we were all into small-scale, high cost consumption, these people could have high paying factory jobs and we'd have a lot less pollution and waste.
posted by Bugbread at 5:14 PM on October 5, 2007


Weird. Several posters have responded with sympathy and mild shock. When I see these pictures, I think of the American manufacturing base, and how an individual used to be able to achieve something resembling a middle-class life by working in a factory like the one pictured here.

No, this isn't a screed about offshoring or stealing jobs or any of that stuff.

I know that the factories in China aren't a romp in the park; work rarely is, and all signs indicate that Chinese manufacturing plants have a long way to go before they treat their workers with respect. But instead of seeing a bunch of people oppressed by Western Consumer Culture I see the beginnings of self-sufficiency and a budding middle class, and maybe one day an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

I think maybe that's just my working-class union-family roots doing the thinking.
posted by lekvar at 7:32 PM on October 5, 2007


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