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In China's Cities, a Turn From Factories

Dongguan, a dreary expanse of gray, concrete-block buildings in the Pearl River Delta, has long had a reputation for aggressive cost cutting. Its companies have reputations as egregious offenders of workplace standards. About 1 million jobs are vacant here alone, according to the provincial government.

The Daojiong Hequn fake hair factory occupies a two-story building amid dozens of others, on what had been village fields before the manufacturing boom of the past two decades. Its 50 workers share two toilets, sleep eight to a closet-sized room in bunk beds and are forbidden to use radios or watch television in their dorms in order to conserve electricity.

Yang Weng, a villager from outside Chongqing, has returned home jobless after failing to find decent factory work in Guangdong, a southern province. (Peter S. Goodman -- The Washington Post)

___ Who Runs China? ___
In the run-up to the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, this series has examined some of the different institutions and people who wield power in the world's most populous country.

Under Jiang, Party Changed to Remain in Power By John Pomfret (November 7, 2002)
Bringing Revolution to Chinese Villages By John Pomfret (September 15, 2002)
Lines Crossed in China By John Pomfret (August 17, 2002)
Chinese Leader Throws a Curve By John Pomfret (July 21, 2002)
For China's Local Bigwigs, New Money Means Power By John Pomfret (July 7, 2002)
Band Hits Sour Note in China By John Pomfret (June 10, 2002)
With Carrots and Sticks, China Quiets Protesters By John Pomfret (June 2, 2002)
Chinese Oil Country Simmers as Workers Protest Cost-Cutting By John Pomfret (June 30, 2002)

The plant needs 10 more workers, a company executive said. Production has dropped by one-fifth, and a major customer has been lost -- a Shenzhen factory that makes dolls. With raw material prices up as well, profits have plummeted from about $37,000 a month to about $7,000, the executive said.

But instead of raising wages, the executive said the company tries to lure workers into the plant with the promise of monthly pay as high as $100 if business is good, knowing they will only pay about half that. Most workers leave within a few weeks, the executive said, but the factory keeps replenishing its work force by tricking new arrivals.

Some factories use recruitment agencies that scour far-away terrain for workers. Yet even in areas where economic opportunities remain scarce, word is spreading that Guangdong is a place to avoid.

Last December, Yang Weng, 31, left her village near Chongqing, beneath bamboo-covered mountains that drop down to the Yangtze River, and headed for Guangdong to look for work. Her husband stayed behind to take care of their 8-year-old daughter.

She and her husband had made their living growing vegetables. Last year, the city government took their land for a real estate project, giving them a one-time payment of $2,000.

"I knew I would miss my daughter, but what can I do?" Yang said. "We have no land and we have to live."

She rode three buses and an all-night train, arriving in Dongguan two days later. She did a stint in an electronics factory, another at a printing plant. Both times, she quit after a few days, frightened by warnings from other workers that she would be paid far less than the $90 a month she was promised. She returned home in March and is now helping her mother grow rice and oranges.

"The factories all cheat you," she said. "Everyone there is a liar."

Special correspondent Jason Cai contributed to this report.

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