Pearl River Delta

By Tom Miller

When the global financial crisis began to batter China’s exports, some Chinese officials saw it as a useful opportunity to dispense a large dose of bitter, but necessary, medicine.

Wang Yang, the Communist Party boss of Guangdong province and a confidant of China’s president Hu Jintao, clearly relished the chance to fulfill the province’s long-held ambition to replace low-end manufacturing with something bigger, more advanced and more “modern”.

“Without the current serious economic situation, it would be much more difficult for Guangdong to accomplish economic restructuring,” Mr Wang informed the local press.

Mr Wang called the plan to dump labour-intensive manufacturers and replace them with higher-value heavy industry and services “emptying the bird cage for new birds to settle down”. It sounded like a fine idea – so long as the new birds were ready.

At Galanz’s main factory in Shunde, an industrial town an hour’s drive south of Guangzhou, hundreds of blue-shirted young men bend over 200m-long trestle tables, drilling screws into a line of shiny new microwaves.

Galanz, a household name in China but still unknown in much of the world, makes one of every two microwaves found in households across the globe.

This scene, repeated in thousands of factories lining the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, is an example of what the “factory of the world” does best: marshalling millions of migrant workers to produce cheap consumer products in dizzying quantities. Galanz’s 47,000 workers have the capacity to produce 28m microwaves per year.

But if countless media reports are to be believed, Galanz – along with thousands of other export processors in the PRD – should be in its death throes. With export markets collapsing across the developed world, thousands of manufacturers are teetering on the verge of collapse.

And with government statistics indicating that more than 60,000 factories shut their gates last year alone, armies of unemployed migrants are preparing to rampage across southern China, leaving destruction in their wake.

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