|Cao Fei, My Future is Not a Dream, 2006, from the series Whose Utopia, |
digital video 20 min 6 sec, image courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space
This social revolution has been documented in Leslie T. Chang's wonderful book 'Factory Girls'; in the documentary film, 'Last Train Home', that recounts the arduous journeys of some of the 130 million workers travelling home for Spring Festival, and in contemporary art. Cao Fei's award-winning SIEMENS Art Project of 2006, What Are You Doing Here? traced the daily lives of workers at the Osram Light Bulb Factory in Foshan. One element of her ambitious work is a video entitled Whose Utopia, for which she invited the workers to perform a dance to the music of their choice, against the background clatter of the assembly line. The video closes with portraits of individual workers gazing straight at the camera, defying us to see them as mere cogs in the machinery of China’s economic miracle.
Now, however, the 'miracle' is souring. The London Financial Times has produced a powerful series, 'The End of the Chinese Miracle', examining the impacts of a slowing economy, an aging population, and a dwindling labour force. After three decades of economic growth, and carefully targeted social and economic policy, China has completed its transformation from an essentially agrarian nation to an almost entirely urban society. But now, with factories closing (or relocating to Vietnam) due to changing markets and the pressures of higher wages, some of these migrant workers are returning to their hometowns. The implications of this metamorphosis, for China and for the world, are enormous. Check out the series HERE. And watch this fascinating and timely doco.