FENGHUA, CHINA—Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the "sheer amount of shit Americans will buy."
"Often, when we're assigned a new order for, say, 'salad shooters,' I will say to myself, 'There's no way that anyone will ever buy these,'" Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. "One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?"
Chen, 23, who has worked as an injection-mold operator at the factory since it opened in 1996, said he frequently asks himself these questions during his workweek, which exceeds 60 hours and earns him the equivalent of $21.
"I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I've made for them," Chen said. "And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible."
Among the items that Chen has helped create are plastic-bag dispensers, microwave omelet cookers, glow-in-the-dark page magnifiers, Christmas-themed file baskets, animal-shaped contact-lens cases, and adhesive-backed wall hooks.
"Sometimes, an item the factory produces resembles nothing I've ever seen," Chen said. "One time, we made something that looked like a ladle, but it had holes in its cup and a handle that bent down 90 degrees. The foreman told us that it was a soda-can holder for an automobile. If you are lucky enough to own a car, sit back and enjoy the journey. Save the soda beverage for later."
Chen added: "A cup holder is not a necessary thing to own."
Chen expressed similar confusion over the tens of thousands of pineapple corers, plastic eyeshades, toothpick dispensers, and dog pull-toys that he has helped manufacture.
"Why the demand for so many kitchen gadgets?" Chen said. "I can understand having a good wok, a rice cooker, a tea kettle, a hot plate, some utensils, good china, a teapot with a strainer, and maybe a thermos. But all these extra things—where do the Americans put them? How many times will you use a taco-shell holder? 'Oh, I really need this silverware-drawer sorter or I will have fits.' Shut up, stupid American."
Chen added that many of the items break after only a few uses.
"None are built to last very long," Chen said. "That is probably so the Americans can return to buy more. Not even the badly translated assembly instructions deter them. If I bought a kitchen item that came with such poor Mandarin instructions, I would return the item immediately."
May Gao of the Hong Kong-based labor-advocacy group China Labour Bulletin said complaints like Chen's are common among workers in China's bustling industrial cities.
"Last week, I took testimony from several young female workers from Shenzhen who said they were locked in a work room for 18 straight hours making inflatable Frisbees," Gao said. "Finally, the girls joined hands on the factory floor and began to chant, 'No more insane flying toys for Western pigs!' They quickly lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families, but the incident was a testament to China's growing disillusionment with producing needless crap for fat-ass foreigners."
Continued Gao: "As Chinese manufacturing and foreign investment continue to grow, and more silly novelty products are invented, we can expect to see more of these protests."
In the meantime, Chen continues to stew in bitterness. Though he dislikes his work, competition for manufacturing jobs in Fenghua is stiff and he must support his wife, mother, and 2-year-old son.
"My cousin Yuen is self-employed," Chen said. "He disassembles old computers that are acquired from overseas and extracts the traces of valuable gold and silver from the circuit boards. He asked me to join him. The work is very toxic, but at least I would not be looking at suction-cup razor holders and jumbo-dice keychains all day."
Chen added: "For now, I must refuse the job. Somehow, the only thing more depressing than making plastic shit for Americans is destroying the plastic shit they send back."