Ten Worker Stories: Away From Home

Cover Note

This is a collection of stories centering the experiences of Chinese guest workers working for Chinese companies abroad. These stories are written based on CLW’s interviews with workers from 2020 to 2022, documenting a slew of embodied experiences of abuses including deceptions, arbitrary wage manipulations, restriction of freedom, threats and violence, poor living and working conditions, poor safety and health protections, and passport confiscation. These workers were of varied backgrounds and skill sets, and were posted to different countries including Indonesia, Serbia, Cambodia, Turkey, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; one thing that aligns their experiences is their common struggles and experiences of abuses and exploitations under Chinese employers overseas. The COVID-19 pandemic also fundamentally shaped many of these workers’ experiences. China’s COVID-related travel restrictions and quarantine requirements provided many Chinese employers the excuse to further abuse the power, restrict workers’ movements, and keep them abroad for longer than the contracted terms.


Facing abuses, a common theme running through these workers’ stories is a deep sense of powerlessness facing their employers’ abuse of power. As a few notable examples, Story Two, “Chen in the DRC” depicts an electrician’s story in the Democratic Republic of Congo that culminated in him escaping his factory facility and ending up homeless in the wild without his IDs. In Story Ten, “Liang in Indonesia: A Long Way Back Home,” worker Liang Qi grew cynical after witnessing his workplace management’s nonchalance when facing a fellow worker’s death and experiencing a slew of unfair treatment himself. His sentiment was resonated by other workers, as the accumulation of mistreatment–wage-withholding, arbitrary deductions, deceptions, workplace injuries and deaths, and the management’s abuses–finally led to Chinese workers in his industrial plant rising up to organize a strike. However, Liang’s pessimism continued even after the strike, as he observed Chinese workers’ solidarity as shallow and ephemeral. 


Yet the struggles and abuses do not define Chinese workers as individuals. In some of these stories, sparkles of hope and joy peeps through workers’ unforgiving daily existence. In story Nine, “Bian in Serbia,” regular waged worker Bian Xuqin faced a variety of mistreatments in an outsourced property management company in Serbia. Despite the exploitation, he found some nostalgia in his Serbia experience as he found joy outside of work, striving to learn a new language and looking to a better future. 


In a sense, these stories are testimonies to the reality of Chinese working class individuals’ daily experiences living and struggling in a world indifferent to their struggles. Some, despite hardship, find beauty in the world. Others, however, find their work to be exploitative and all-consuming. Yet their daily struggles point to a larger problem of labor exploitation and systemic inequality.

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