Two weeks ago I watched the new documentary American Factory (美国工厂) on a long plane ride. I had read a few reviews but wasn’t sure if I would like it, but it turned out to be excellent. The film, distributed by Barack & Michelle Obama’s production company, tells the story of Chinese automotive glass company Fuyao buying a closed down GM factory in Dayton, Ohio and re-employing 2000 local workers – at half their former salaries… The local American workers are taught glassmaking skills by Chinese that are relocated to Ohio for 2 years.
As is to be expected in such a setting, the culture clashes start immediately. It becomes clear quickly that the Americans are very happy to have jobs again but that they only work for money. There is no pride in their work, in the company or in the products they make. The Chinese on the other hand will sacrifice everything for the business and can’t understand that the Americans are so lazy. The 2 groups try to integrate, but although a few superficial friendships develop that’s about it. For the Chinese the only thing that counts is good quality products and a higher output, even if that means working day and night to get it done.
Once the Chinese billionaire who founded and runs Fuyao comes to visit it is clear that he has a very different management style than the Americans are used to. He micromanages and he wants to decide everything, which is typical of self-made Chinese business men. But it’s something that’s difficult to understand and accept for the American workforce. Very recognizable to me after 13 years of working in China and now over 6 in North America.
Things get really interesting when workers want to unionize, something the Chinese can’t relate to and of course won’t tolerate. Lots of food for thought about the excesses of capitalism, the state of the economy in (rural) US, but also more generally about the meaning of life in different cultures. Work to live or live to work?
Highly recommended, also if you have never lived and worked in China. It shows an important reason why the US is on the decline and what you can expect when China will start to take over the world.