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Enterprise: Town-run toy factory offers women a chance for advancement


AUGUST 7, 1995

Enterprise: Town-run toy factory offers women a chance for advancement


SHEN VI, China–Cute, cuddly toys sold in stores across America often bear the legend “Made in China,” But few customers would  have heard of the Beijing Shuntian Toy Co Ltd.

Located in the town of Shen Yi, about 20 miles northeast of Beijing, the factory is unique for two reasons: Out of 600 workers, 558 are women between the ages of 18 and 30, and it is the largest  manufacturer of toys in North China. Its turnover in 1993 was 19 million yuan –the equivalent of about US$2.5 million-and its toys are, exported to more than 20 countries.

The factory is a town-run enterprise and was started in 1991 with capital from the township as well as from a company in Hong Kong, in a joint venture deal. In the last two years more than 2,000 designs for toys have been produced here.

Li Bao Zhen, director of the factory, said that there are 27 towns in the county of Shen Yi and there are more than 2,000 factories making goods, of which 300 are joint ventures.

Another unique feature of the factory is its space: long, sunny rooms with huge windows and

long tables where the young women work at various jobs from cutting cloth to sewing. This is no sweatshop. Nor is there a frenzy of activity or a manager hurrying the workers along. Instead each team of workers has its own group leader.

Zhang Yurong is a 23-year-old woman who joined the factory two years ago. Her father is a worker in a factory and her mother looks after the farm.

“I am the assistant director of this workshop,” she said “For me this does not mean power but responsibility.” The other women respect  her and, have a sense of self-motivation, she said.

“I like my job and am familiar with the work and want to work here for some time and make more of a contribution,” she said. “I would also like to take part in the management training program they have here,” Zhang added.

 One conspicuous feature of the enterprise is the two-year management training program for

the workers who show leadership qualities and are likely to become managers. Of a management staff of 45, some 39 are women and  only six men. The factory has seven workshops and five offices, which, are all staffed by women except for one. “We have campaigns to promote production and improve the literacy levels of our workers,” said Li.

“We run senior high school classes for workers, and 98 students have already graduated. 

They are taught management techniques and spend half of every working day studying, for which they are paid.”

The students are trained to become administrators, and the programs are organized to meet the needs of the workers as well as the needs of the factory and production. To increase literacy levels, workers are encouraged to study on their own and are given access to a library.

Li said, “The majority of women come from the town itself, with about 40 percent coming from different provinces in China. The job pays well, over 500 yuan a month plus bonuses. Women work six days a week for eight hours.”

Most of the workers save their earnings and eventually return to their provinces to get married. But the ambitious ones stay on as they see· themselves as future managers in this growing enterprise and the pay is good.

Liu Chang Hong is one of the latter. She is 30, married, with a 6-year-old daughter. Her husband works in a local beer factory. She has been working here for only a year, but the senior staff saw she had potential and gave her a lot more responsibility.

“I work with samples and my job is to select samples, keep records and display the samples to buyers,” said Liu. ”I really enjoy my job because I get to meet with customers and I like working with toys because they make children happy. I would also, like to become a manager one day,” she added.

The economic reforms of China have not only created thousands of new job but have especially benefited women say Zhangand Liu. Now for them and their families, the sky is the limit.