The company has an edge to it that perhaps reflects the youthfulness of the founder, who by all accounts seems to be a relatively forward-thinking and idealistic individual. The company is now the top Chinese company in the dirt bike industry and a proud sponsor of a national Shineray motor cross team that represents China in world championships. The factory grounds include a track for mx competition, for bike testing, and for training riders.
But this particular factory defied all of my students’ expectations about Chinese factories. Truth be told, I have only one other first-hand point of comparison—from a visit to a Nike factory in Canton about 13 years ago, which would have been right about when Shineray was founded. At that time, Nike factories were receiving a great deal of attention for their workers’ conditions in Asia. The manager— from Beaver, Utah—was clearly edgy and on-guard as he showed my husband and me around the place despite the fact that the Guangzhou factory was considered a model factory. Though he spoke about the safe conditions for workers there, the place seemed to me to be a miserable place to work, with many detailed tasks requiring repetitive motions in hot rooms with noisy machinery and the stench of chemical fumes.
The Shineray factory seems to represent an evolution in the model factory, clearly in a separate category from the Nike factory of over a decade ago. Like most Chinese factories, this one depends on human labor for tasks that have become highly automated in the U.S. It employees 1500 people, but the workshop itself is spacious and airy. It's a well-lit space, but not from harsh fluorescent lighting. One of my students pointed out to me that the lighting was "green" coming primarily from long skylights cut into the ceilings high above. The space was noisy, but it was the noise of engines revving up as young employees hopped on bikes fresh off the lines and raced them over to inspection stations, clearly delighting in the fact they had foreign kids as an audience. A student also noted that none of the employees on the line were wearing safety goggles or work boots, but I was actually impressed that they were all wearing either sneakers or crocks: footwear I could imagine choosing if I were standing on my feet all day.
A couple of other things about the factory that my colleague noted: the company keeps a great deal of inventory on the factory floor itself, in contrast to the American factories which move inventory out quickly, utilizing efficient transport lines, to maximize their use of precious real estate. She also noted that much of the equipment on the line looked like what we would have seen in American factories in the 1970s—not necessarily that the equipment itself is from the 70s, but this particular factory wasn't utilizing robotics in production in the same way as American factories. She cautioned me about generalizing from this one particular factory to all Chinese factories, as she did hear a report back from a student who visited a highly automated automobile factory in Chongqing last spring.
After our visit to a hall exhibiting the company's products and history followed by our tour of the factory floor, we were then taken to a large and bright reception room with chairs clustered around small tables. There we were served bottles of water (with Shineray labels) and we watched a video promoting the company. Shineray's treatment of its workers and its efforts at community engagement are clearly an important part of the articulated mission and public representation of the company. The video was in Chinese with English subtitles and showed employees gathered around a birthday cake and noted that every worker's birthday is celebrated, creating a warm atmosphere for migrant workers. It also said workers reside on site in an “Earth Village” equipped with exercise facilities and gardens, which grow "environmentally friendly" vegetables that are served in the cafeteria.
Community engagement was also highlighted in the film. Shineray dispatched hundreds of motorcycles after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the eiders were able to bring emergency medical and rescue supplies to hard-to-reach areas. The company has also founded a school for children.