2011 Student-Faculty Fellows: University Of San Diego
Mentor: Yi Sun
Students: Elishia Appleton, Michael Lu, Chelsea Sosnowski
Independent Student Research in Beijing, Tianjin and Xian
Our team had a very productive experience in China. The three students undertook individual research projects ranging from the study of Chinese migrant workers, to the roles of private companies and NG0s in improving China’s environment, to the impact of Chinese press/media in shaping public perceptions of Sino-American relations. The discoveries are based on oral interviews, field observations and analysis of written survey results conducted with university students in Beijing. Each student made some interesting discoveries. Ms. Appleton discovered that there is a discrepancy between factory managers’ accounts and those of workers and floor supervisors about the working conditions for migrant workers. She also noted that the newly enacted labor law to guarantee increased wages for unskilled workers is in some cases leading foreign companies to move their operations to countries like Vietnam and Thailand where labor cost is lower than in China. Mr. Lu notes that the seven mainstream newspapers are now competing as never before for profit share and influence in China, while the degree of government censorship of these publications is diminishing. Moreover, provincial newspapers are also becoming more independent and outspoken. Ms. Sosnowski discovered the increasing role of private companies and NGOs in promoting better air quality and addressing other environmental concerns. NGOs like Global Village are encouraging the developing of rural eco-villages, building green community cities, running chemical safety, environmental health and sustainable energy programs.
My research in China focused on one-on-one human contact with migrant workers to discover their life stories and to share with others how migrant workers see the world in which they live. It is titled “Personal Voices: Studies of Migrant Workers in Factories in Tianjin.” I visited three factories—a textile factory making jeans and other clothes for export to the U.S. and Europe, a shoe factory that is a direct supplier for Wal-Mart, and a pharmaceutical factory that manufactures medical supplies primarily for the domestic market. I interviewed migrant workers, floor managers, a technician, and a secretary at the textile factory as well as company heads and managers at all three factories. I also interviewed construction workers, shopkeepers, massage therapists, painters and maids—all migrants from rural areas. I then travelled to Xian to interview employees of Micron Technology, a computer chip company famous in the region for its pay and benefits. Through my research I discovered that the jeans factory has lost several accounts to American and European brands such as Georgio Armani because these companies were unwilling to pay the rising costs of labor due to the PRC government’s enforcement of minimum wage laws. Labor is cheaper elsewhere so those companies are now moving to countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. The third factory was a local one that made plastic bottles for various medications. It was interesting to compare working conditions with the other factories which have to meet foreign standards. This factory ran twenty-four seven and even though the employees were from the area, they had to live at the factory site because of the demanding hours. The final results of my study will be based upon my interviews and written surveys designed to find out their attitudes toward migrant workers that were conducted with college students at two universities in Beijing.
My research focuses upon “Molding Public Opinion: Investigating the Role of the Media in China.” While in China, I sought to explore whether or not my perception is correct that since the end of the Maoist era the media in China has undergone several transformations that is leading it to a more rigorous coverage of societal issues that impact the public rather than simply reporting according to governmental protocol. I managed to interview seven journalists and professors who study journalism and also visited the Beijing TV station. One interviewee insisted that “countries where there is a lack of freedom of press is where journalism becomes much more invaluable. The media in China is self-contradictory, complicated yet full of infinite potential.” My research paper will suggest that the power the government once held over mainstream newspapers in China has begun to wane as more and more national and provincial newspapers battle one another for profit and influence among the Chinese public. I also will show that the primary differences between Chinese and Western journalists in their coverage of Sino-U.S. related issues center on trade imbalance between the two countries, developments in Xinjiang and Tibet, and access to information.
My research project is titled “Coping with the Environmental Challenge: Role of Chinese Companies and NGOs,” and my study was conducted in Beijing and Xian. I discovered that China has begun to undertake initiatives to protect the environment, but there are many more laws and regulations in place than actions being taken. However, a number of private companies and NGOs are making progress in educating the public, developing concrete measures to improve air quality, handling waste management, promoting animal rights protection and building environmentally friendly villages. My research paper will focus on some of these developments and companies and NGOs promoting them.