With its factories now peppered throughout China, Foxconn has caused dramatic and far reaching changes in the nation’s cities and towns. But should these changes be embraced for their positive economic impact, or do they signal a turn for the worse, with the loss of traditional lifestyles? The effects of a Foxconn factory on one Henan town in particular, mirror changes which are occurring on a greater scale in cities throughout China.
Mengzhuang, a township located approximately 30km from Foxconn’s Xinzheng plant, is known as “the first home of China’s jujubes.” Villagers here have been growing the red Chinese dates for centuries, and the township boasts over 1.9 million jujube trees, with an annual output of 15 million kilograms of the fruit.
But when Foxconn moved in and began recruiting locals for its Henan operations, the lives of the township’s 40 000 residents were altered. According to Foxconn’s founder and head Terry Gou, the company’s operations have transformed the economic and social conditions of residents of local farming townships and the overall economic development of Henan.
While this is certainly true, and Foxconn’s operations now account for 48 percent of Henan’s total exports, some believe this is not a change for the better. One Mengzhuang detractor described Foxconn as ‘a giant magnet’ which sucked up all the labour force in the area.
Another resident lamented that many Foxconn workers were abandoning the jujubes: “If you go to the jujube fields now, the grass is very long.” However while harvesting dates has been a way of life, many locals actually believe working in Foxconn’s factories is preferable to the traditional farming lifestyle- the work is stable, incomes are higher, and livelihoods are not subject to changeable weather conditions and unpredictable yields.
One young villager claimed the benefits of working with Foxconn outweighed the risks associated with farming: “Although the overtime is exhausting, a step forward is a step forward.” He had previously lost nearly RMB7000 in one year when excess rains ruined a large portion of his jujube harvest.
He also said the work allowed him to live at home and avoid the inconveniences associated with life as a migrant worker. Other locals working as migrant laborers elsewhere were returning to the town to join Foxconn for the same reasons.
According to the villager: “Foxconn’s biggest impact here is that Mengzhuang farmers simply aren’t willing to farm jujubes anymore.”
While many may view the loss of the heritage and traditional way of life of a township with nostalgia and regret, China’s industrialisation means increasing numbers of farmers all over China are turning to factory work, a trend which seems set to continue. Mengzhuang’s future as the home of China’s best jujubes is uncertain, but this is a price many seem willing to pay to secure a more stable existence.