A Look Into Work Culture in China
Angela Zhu | Jul 17th, 2019 | 4 min read
Last month this year, I went on a 12-day trip to my parent’s hometown – Guangzhou, China. With photos, this article will be a sort of loose, little case study based off of observation and what I already knew and assumed about Chinese work ethic, as well as some anecdotes and interesting finds.
First off: Guangzhou is truly beautiful. Known as the City of Flowers, you can understand why as soon as you step out of Baiyun Airport, which is flanked by palm trees and glorious greenery. The people are evidently proud of this, and there are always city workers out maintaining the abundant flora. When combined with the hyper-modern architecture, it seems to form a technicolor and utopian alternate reality.
During a drive, I also got the opportunity to admire the bizarre but impressive Guangzhou Circle building, home to the Guangdong Plastic Exchange (GDPE), the world largest trading center for raw plastic material. It is the world's tallest circular building, the design based on Oriental psychology and perception. The landmark reminds me of the Chinese spirit of high ambition and achievement. I have included a photo of a circular architectural aspect from a historical site to contrast with the modernity of this structure.
This makes it all the more a shame, that for the majority of my visit, there were torrential rains on top of crippling humidity. While these extremes of weather may have cultivated the incredible plant life sprawling across the city, it caused me to wither.
Despite the deluge, the likes of which I doubt most people in England have ever witnessed, it might as well have been a sprinkling for the multitudes of workers out on the streets. Since quite a large number do not own cars, many instead use bikes or mopeds to get from A to B, often with a massive load or package hiked onto the back. They soldier on with only a poncho, which I can’t imagine really does much against the assault. Although they admittedly do not have a choice, they clearly have an iron dedication to their jobs and carrying out their duty come devastating rain or shine.
The image in the header was taken by me in the village where my grandma lives, Haizhu. The neon signage, “we have been working hard”, seems a strange thing to have on a restaurant, or any establishment for that matter. It would be laughing stock in Liverpool, but there it is simply a fact that the residents work hard and likely have been for almost all of their lives; I saw numerous pensioners in the streets carrying out the same heavy labor as young workers. These same people would have started working since childhood - I know my own mum began cooking and cleaning since she was about seven years old for her mum, which puts me to shame, really.
Wherever I went, from Tianhe to Taishan, there was zero homelessness to be seen, and everywhere was spotlessly clean due to a city cleaner constantly operating. This includes inside, for instance in shopping malls
When we were shopping in one such complex, my sister and I noticed that there was a whole team of staff (who were all middle-aged women) with the same long cleaning tool, using them to wipe the plastic/glass borders lining the ceilings pictured above. We thought that it was unnecessary to have multiple people for this, or that it needed cleaning at all. Surely the staff could be given more productive tasks than this? My mum explained that it was possible that these panels were put in partly to generate more jobs for people, no matter how menial, which makes sense when taking into account the vast population.
Shop attendants and staff were all courteous and dutiful, yet we noticed that no one we saw thanked them; many barely acknowledged them. When my sister and I thanked them, they reacted with slight confusion like they didn’t quite know how to handle expressed gratitude. Meanwhile, in England where appreciating service people is fairly important, if you fail to thank the bus driver, you are henceforth a horrible human being. This is likely because the general public are too occupied and rushed with their lives, and workers are used to just doing their job without praise. Naturally, things like cultural and political factors will have shaped work ethic as well as things like this.
My culture and my family definitely motivate me to work harder, and my visit only fortifies this as well as my admiration for my parents and the diligent and persevering civilians of Guangzhou. At the same time, I am grateful that the working culture in Liverpool is somewhat less demanding and more flexible. We can all learn from each other’s cultures, countries and should do so.
I leave you with this fascinating shirt design featuring The Beatles I found in a designer clothing store. Real world fantanty indeed, whatever that means.