Watch American Factory, and hope this doesn't play out in your town.....

I have finished watching the above documentary.  American Factory.  As usual, I had to break it up into two separate evenings.   But I'm glad I did watch it.  I did not know what I was in for, but having viewed it I have alot to say.  Lots of spoilers below.  It is on Netflix, and no, it is highly unlikely this will ever be released in its present form in China.

First of all, most of my viewers recently have been from outside America, so perhaps I should explain;  American Factory can be your town too, in your country as well. 

It can be Germany, Australia, anywhere.  Because what takes place in America regarding China is nothing but a hint regarding what happens in Latin America or wherever the Chinese have a large government presence.

Having finished watching this documentary, my belief that the Chinese think Americans are dumb and lazy is stronger than ever.   And my belief that way too many Americans are entirely too self-entitled is equally just as strong.

So what is this documentary about?  A company based in Fujian called Fuyao Glass went to Dayton, Ohio and took over an abandoned factory.  It hired many American workers, including many whom had previously been laid off by American automotive companies.    While this was a good thing, it wasn't too long before many American workers began to....well, act American.  That is, they began to bitch.  And then bitch some more.

Meanwhile, Fuyao Glass invested $500 million into Ohio.  So it is pretty obvious Fuyao has more then a right to recoup it's investment.  Still, many of these American workers had been out of work for at least a year.  But literally Fuyao came in to save the day.  The only problem is that well, this is a Chinese company, right?  And instead of making $29 per hour as many of them previously had with GM, they were now working for only $12 an  hour.  Quite the humbling experience. 

Add the stress of working with a foreign culture as well.   Many of them with a Chinese boss.

Now I want to stop here and say something about the American Worker at Fuyao before I start talking about Fuyao itself, whose turn indeed will come. 

First of all, no matter the job, it is simply Humbling to the nth degree to have to willingly accept an offer for only $12 when only a year or so before you were making $29 per hour.  I get it.  But if you are divorced, or have a mortgage, or have mouths at home to feed, you bite that lip and take the $12 per hour.  At least until something better shows up.  Right?

That is some tough pay, when working 40 hours a week in a factory is involved.  Many folks make more than that and never leave an air conditioned office.

But isn't that on you?  Too many of these workers at Fuyao had long stints at GM, and at the end of the day seem to have accepted their fate in life. IE, it doesn't seem like many of them ever considered leaving Dayton for greener pastures.  Take a training class maybe?

I understand working for only $12 an hour is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.  But it also seems many of the workers at Fuyao had literally hit or were close to rock bottom.   So I can't say I'm a big fan of what I saw as a desire to simply ask for "more!"

Fuyao just gave your long term unemployed ass a job, dude. Stop bitching. 

Again, $12 an  hour for a 53 year old man or 42 year old divorced woman with kids sucks.  But you took the job, right?  Because you had no other options.  Or maybe because you also didn't have other skills to bring to the table. 

And isn't that on you?  

We have seen this play before.  We really have. 

American company goes overseas, or shuts down.  Americans blame foreign workers.  Foreign company comes in to save the day.  Suddenly we Americans like foreigners!

And of the Japanese?

American workers disdained Japanese companies in the 70's, 80's and 90's.   I worked in a truck stop once, while talking to one of my customers about Japanese vehicles.  Suddenly a middle aged lady  burst out,

"I only buy American.  I don't buy Japanese."   

Well then it was the Koreans.  Now both countries have come here in spades, bringing their factories, which have jobs, and their business expertise all to America.   Nearly all these companies are in the Desolate South, but that's ok.  To these American workers a steady job is like  icing on the cake. 

Anyone ever notice the irony of a hick in South Carolina building a sophisticated BMW?

The only difference is the Japanese and Korean really didn't lay folks off.  Indeed, many folks actually consider Honda and Toyota American companies, as American sales are such a great part of their overall global revenue. 

Did Japanese and Korean executives consider Americans lazy?  Of course they did.  And probably still do.  We are just different.  Asian cultures are best equipped to build things.  They are homogeneous.  They work better as a team.  We Americans, the white, the black, the Hindu, the Vietnamese refugee order for us to build something we have to first learn how to get along.  It's a lot harder in our society to meld.  We talk back.  We make expressions on our faces.  We ask "why", too damn much.  We disagree with our bosses.  We have our own ideas on how to build things..... 

.....Which make us better creators, innovators and designers.  It's just how it worked out.

So I need to ask....why try and create a union?  Your lucky ass just got a job.  Not good enough?

Anyone remember when the Japanese started coming here in droves?  It was when we started having tariff wars in the 80's.  Not long after, the Japanese figured out the best way to avoid all this bad publicity from trade wars was simply to come to America and build a factory.  Hire people!

And that is what the Chinese will probably start doing. Fuyao may be in the vanguard, along with Haier. 

So what did the Chinese do wrong?

In retrospect they really should have studied up a bit on American Culture before coming here.   But that is hard to do when the knee jerk reaction is to just go get a Chinese(as there are so many of them) off the street to be your translator and manage the Americans.  Which is what Fuyao did. 

Instead they got a ball licking ass kissing “Chinese American” who was far more interested in agreeing with everything  the  Chairman said, rather than standing up  for or trying to represent the American workforce.

The Chinese goofed by thinking too highly of the Americans.  When you start a factory in a depressed town  for $12 an hour you are only going to get those stuck in that town that have no options for leaving.  In other words,  those stuck on a sinking boat because they don’t know how to  swim.

Ohio donated alot of tax breaks apparently for Fuyao.  Seems they didn't demand Fuyao give a proper wage in return.  

The Chinese simply transferred people to Ohio that had never met Americans, and couldn't speak English.   And for some reason the Chinese felt Americans(and everyone else) must work as hard as they do.  

One understands now why American companies love China.  

The Chinese are fast and nimble.  But we really are comparing Apples to Oranges.  Afterall how can a 52 year old man compare to a 25 year old girl that has already worked there for many years, and understands not only the ends and outs of the job but realizes she has vastly little job protection or recourse(just like us!!!) should the powers that be want to fire her.

This documentary is about the disappointment, one would say cultural arrogance even, of the Chinese, towards the Americans.  While entirely missing the irony that if the Chinese workers got what the Americans asked for, maybe, just maybe, they suddenly wouldn't feel the need to work as hard, or as recklessly in marginally safe areas.  Remember, this is a glass company.  And glass breaks.

And this is why this really good documentary will probably never be shown in China.  Because if it was, it might cause rifts in what Chinese mgt calls “social harmony”.   

Chinese factories are full of young kids.  Often single, saving money for marriage to buy that apartment.  Or married parents far, far from home.  One female worker complains she can only see her child once a  year.  Actually she is not really complaining.  Just stating a reality she understands she will not be able to escape anytime soon.  Americans? 

Well they kinda sorta have a life after work.  Work is a means to make money.  But the Americans have mastered how to balance.  In China, there really isn’t that choice. Which is pretty common actually.   The Chinese also work OT every day.  That is because unless OT is available many Chinese won't even work there. 

In short, the Chinese value themselves differently from how Americans do.  And when American values don’t mesh with Chinese expectations, well then, Americans must be “lazy”. 

Cultural arrogance anyone?   

No, you cannot "force" Americans to work on Saturday.  No, this does not mean they have a bad attitude.  Fuyao is a place to work.  It is not a Family.  It seems all the Chinese coming to America really should've underwent an American cultural education class beforehand.  

Chinese workers are focused.  There is a goal. The goal isn't to have a union.  It's not to have a beer after work, and it has nothing to do with a 401k.   

A bit silly to think Chinese Management actually thought they'd be hiring a bunch of docile kids that would act and think like Chinese kids.  The only folks left in Dayton are those with a mortgage and alimony to pay.  In short, and this will sound callous, Fuyao didn't get America's best.  And yet they seem disappointed to realize that. 

Fuyao's solution?  Systemically fire the old, the "slow", while maintaining the young and energetic. The better to mimic the work force back home.

The Chinese management seems flabbergasted a union can come to a vote so easily within America.  The Fuyao Chairman seems shell shocked.   American workers are fired.  Apparently unjustly it now appears. 

Another fatal flaw is the Asian habit of what seems to be complete and utter deference to the leader.  In the documentary I felt there were times when someone could have stood up and said something to the Chairman, such as when  on planning to fire striking workers.  

As I've seen so many Chinese factories do, a Chinese face was brought on board to soothe the fears of the Chairman while massaging his ego time and time again, stating the root cause of the factory's birthing pains is simple:  American workers suck.   

Fuyao eventually begins to solve this problem by mechanizing parts of its assembly line, even boasting how it will soon be firing workers as a result.  Job training anyone?  While American factories also have robots, the  inevitable result of  which is plain to see, it is nothing American management would ever brag about or even mention on camera. Disdain and contempt for the American worker was present everywhere in this film, like water continuously running downhill over a rock. 

We must remember this was filmed up to 2017.  Methinks by now Fuyao has learned alot.  Enough to pass on to other Chinese companies that will also surely be surging to America to escape tariffs.  

I was just unhappy to see Chinese management so predictably time and time again, when things weren’t working out, to so casually use American Labor as the crutch.  In a way, how does this film encourage the Chinese to alter their opinion or perception of America as a spent force on the global scene?  A country, a society so ripe for the picking?

It doesn’t.  


  1. Interesting post, and I am about to watch the docudrama. But isn't the opinion of America as a spent force itself an agonising cliche? I acknowledge you only suggest it is internally held. The PROC can't invade ROC - or anywhere over water that isn't uninhabited. The tragic shallowness of maturity and capability speaks to the continuing relevance of the US which, for all it's faults, doesn't have to spend hundreds of billions on an internal police state to prevent civil uprising. So, if that cliche is clung to internally, what does it risk besides overreach and destruction for PROC? Asking for a friend.

    1. Well, tell your FRIEND that the cliche hits up against logic. Because the rise and fall of a nation is based more and more on technology. It is possible that a nation ahead now, if it's technological innovation is still fundamentally solid, will only widen the gap. And I suspect that is what America is doing now. I do believe China and Japan will widen their lead over Europe though.

  2. Keep them coming up. Another great post of yours.

    Interesting, not only Asians, but as well Americans are hardworking by our European perspective.

    Americans have only like two weeks off per year.

    I worked as unqualified labour in German factory to get money for uni. 12 USD brutto, 10 USD neto. Had 5 weeks paid holidays plus 20 national days off paid too.

    So like 9 weeks of working days off per year. Had 14 salaries per year. One extra for summer holidays, one for Christmas holidays. Standard deal, by basic labour law.

    So basically being paid 14 months for 10 months of work.

    These days I work a bit with European factories in Austria, Germany owned by Chinese. Chinese have ability to learn fast, they learnt fast is better to follow law.

    HR offices are run by locals. Chinese bosses overseas give approve for more important positions. Chinese mostly do project coordinator jobs and engineering jobs. CEOs are locals with sharing function for Chinese bosses, who come visit few times per year.

    It seems to me they bought access to market and don't really care how factory is run.

    Yea, is a huge culture shock for Chinese. Last time I had to explain to Chinese boss, why Anice is gone for 16 months. She is on governmental paid maternity leave. Which is paid close to 100% of her salary. His jaw almost drop.

    Only way to protect western worker is to have tariffs on Chinese goods.

    It will work... at least for some time.

    1. Thank you for this comment. It reminds me of the Japanese in the 80's. They thought Americans(and everyone else )was so lazy, but as I believe I've more than hammered into everyone's consciousness by now, it's how SMART you work that counts. The Europeans, the Latino's(Esp the latino's) will get eaten alive by the Chinese.

      Well....weren't the Japanese in Latin America in the 70's? etc....they didn't chew up the Latino economy and spit it out....correct. Because the Japanese didn't create an eco system in LA. Or anywhere else except in a comfortable city. The Chinese are so, so much different.

      They come from the Chinese countryside and are tough as nails. They can really 吃苦.
      The Japanese stayed for a few years and went home on rotation. Not these people. They will spread and grow. They will plant roots. Chinese society is too rigid for them and too competitive, without rules. Wherever free thinking is allowed, Chinese like water seeping into porous concrete, they will create their own existence.

      All of us better learn to fucking compete, or we will get eaten alive.

      America's only advantage is it can still think "smart". The Chinese are still just working hard.

  3. Technology is the only thing keeping America ahead. There will be for the foreseeable future an elite group in America doing well, and China as of now cannot compete with them. However, the problem is with the "other part" of America who will continue to sink as you mentioned in your previous post on the future of the white man in America. The reality is technology is simply moving too fast, and public institutions, and American society has not been able to keep up. Anytime some mentions this reality, there are immediately branded a crazy Luddite is who against technology. That is not the point at all. Simply, there are a large group of Americans who will always be working class. Germany, for example (Japan too)has understood this and created a technical trade route for a large part of its society so that they can have a successful future. On the other hand, America has an educational system set up a 100+ years ago based on the Victorian model that is totally irrelevant to the world today. It needs to be totally reformed and America has to admit to the reality that the so-called America Dream doesn't really exist for most people. But if does then it will not only surrender one of its main ideologies, but the 1% and other elites will be forced to actually help provide for the rest of society which they don't want to do.

    Separately, no doubt Chinese and Indian work harder than others. They will always see Americans, Europeans, etc. as lazy. Unfortunately, working harder only gets you so far, than you have to work smarter. The current Chinese society has not figured this part out, and it is the base issue of the trade war. The Chinese want free technology to copy and outproduce American, and Trump and more importantly the intellectual viewpoint behind his policies wants to shut off spigot, as they know China cannot compete as of now.

    1. I find this a very good and insightful comment. We indeed need to do MUCH better training the class of folks that will be made obsolete the moment an educated Chinese or (name your own nationality) comes streaming ashore. Tech school is THE route to go. As such, I can see a future a generation hence where the elites are populated by Chinese and Indian, while the middle class white man from now and in the past is basically their employee.

      He who has the innovation will bring the jobs. That country which is NOT open to immigrants will just rust away. I give you Japan. Perpetually dwindling in population and perpetually racist. Not welcoming of foreigners to their shores. One by one Japanese powerhouses such as Hitachi, Sony, lose their dominance.

      Working smarter is the hard part. It is an ethic we have to teach our kids. It is in conflict with the American ethic we've all learned, ie "work hard to get ahead". Not anymore. Not good enough.

  4. While I don't have a Netflix account to watch this myself, your description reminds me of another documentary from 2011 called "Empire of Dust". It follows a Chinese construction manager and his African interpreter around the Congo as he tries to organize materials to construct new infrastructure. It touches on your theme of a clash of cultures, the Chinese manager constantly berates his African underling throughout the film. You can watch a trailer here;

    1. I watched it.....Jesus....winning hearts and minds isn't he? That Chinese fellow's Cultural IQ shall we say....needs improvement.

  5. I read your blog on daily basis. This is really great and informative post. Thanks for sharing.
    China Watch Factory


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