China’s Generation 2000s – The Generation of Bucket Lifters

  • Foxconn hires over 1,000 workers each day during peak season.
  • Over half of the 2000s drop out of school before university.
  • Most bucket lifters will end up coming back to Foxconn.

Foxconn never lacks for a labor force. For Foxconn, if they can’t get enough workers for $3.57/h, the easiest solution is to make it $3.72/h. During this past September, right before the launch of the iPhone 12, over 1,000 new workers joined Foxconn Zhengzhou every day, at $4.62/h. Among them, some are the 2000s. This generation is already a growing labor force. According to a government report, over 40 million 00s entered the labor market right after high school.

Young people waiting to be interviewed in Foxconn.

Compared with the 80s and the 90s, these 00s bear the same pressure on the assembly line. However, lured by consumerism and frustrated by social class barriers, they don’t want to stay too long. They call themselves “bucket lifters.” Their life is contained in a bucket, with minimum clothes and daily necessities inside. Once they get paid, or simply when they feel exhausted, they’ll lift their bucket and run away. From one factory to another. Coming at a peak season and leaving when it’s not. Their only goal is to earn enough money and never come back again. For most of them, however, every September, they just keep coming back.

No small talks at the assembly line.

Unlucky newcomers will be assigned straightaway to the night shifts, instead of being rotated there in a month. At the peak season, the assembly line runs 20h a day, everyone there has to go through night shifts. Huang Ya was overwhelmed after his first night shift, “it’s simply too exhausting.” His job was to screw nails that are smaller than half a grain of rice on the iPhone 12, a basic task for newcomers. He needed to screw 1,300 nails in each night shift. Huang ran away, which means he couldn’t get back his salary for the past month.

Foxconn canteen offers cheap meals.

“If they can tolerate the first week, mostly they’ll stay. But less than half can do it.” After a night shift, Zhou Ming found out that 10 of his colleagues had disappeared, all of whom were 00s. At Foxconn, each dormitory bed has changed hundreds of owners. Zhou knew of a 00s came in with only a schoolbag, and left the next day during lunch. Another guy came here to avoid debt, and left complaining it’s worse than running away from debt collectors.

Workers commute between dormitory and factory.

In Henan, Foxconn is a city on its own. With three plants together, there are over 250,000 workers. But except for cheap restaurants and snack shops, this small city shows no trace of business diversity. The closest shop unrelated to food is a barbershop located two blocks away.

Working 13 days without any break at peak seasons, Zhou doesn’t have time to experience a richer life either. “I feel like a robot,” like his other 00s colleagues. In fact, Foxconn has been trying to substitute them with real robots. In 2017, 40,000 robotic arms stole the jobs of over 60,000 workers in Foxconn Kunshan. Robots don’t need to eat. Robots don’t complain about night shifts. Most importantly, robots don’t need a life.

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