Another Type of Factory-Gate Indicator: Dumpling Sales – China Real Time Report – WSJ

Whether it is the cold drizzle, factory economics or the annual exodus of migrant laborers ahead of Lunar New Year, Lin Xinge is selling fewer dumplings.

Ms. Lin is chief dumpling wrapper, waitress, cashier and dishwasher for Fujian One Thousand Li Fragrant, a tiny restaurant she owns with her husband in an industrial zone of Shanghai. Just over a fence, her neighbors include iPhone maker Foxconn Technology Group and other giant industrial groups that employ legions of workers she counts as customers.

“The workers earn less salary so fewer people come here and our restaurant isn’t doing well,” says Ms. Lin. She says that during the three years she has run One Thousand Li Fragrant, she’s had periods when every seat at her eight tables has been filled. Not lately.

Like her customers who come for $1.50 bowls of noodles and dumplings, Ms. Lin is a migrant worker. On a recent day she was sitting on an orange chair in the restaurant gripping a hand-warmer and thinking of her native Fujian province, where as a young woman she sang opera in the local dialect.

“Our Putian is more comfortable,” she says referring to the ancient city in Fujian where she was born. Though only 34 years old, Ms. Lin said singing in a traveling opera troupe is for the young and made less sense for someone like her, a mother of two.

In the Shanghai factory zone called Songjiang, One Thousand Li Fragrant was among the few restaurants that remained open ahead of the Feb. 8 Lunar New Year. Wind and cold rain whipped across tables placed on the sidewalk that would have been inviting in balmier times. Ms. Lin said the other dozen or so restaurants, also run by migrants and for migrants, had shut a few days before, as their owners departed for the holidays.

China’s mass people movement for Lunar New Year officially began a week ago. Beijing predicts 2.91 billion trips between January 24 and March 3. Ms. Lin’s family will join the throng in coming days.

Economists will be watching how China’s slowdown affects the mass migration. During past years of economic boom in China, until the mid-2000s, cash-rich factory workers returned to interior villages for the holidays, but quickly flooded back to the industrialized east, often along with family members willing to work for low pay. But in more recent years, the monotony of factory work has proved less of a draw, leaving employers to scramble to hold workers, with higher salaries or benefits. This year, jobs themselves are the concern.

Migrants interviewed outside factories in southern Shanghai and northern Zhejiang province this past week provided a mixed picture. Some suggested the economic slowdown is hitting factories. Some noted that workers were sometimes being encouraged to leave for holidays earlier this year while some factories shut outright. Truck traffic in the zones appeared light and some facilities were shut.

Speaking outside some factories, many veteran workers used the word for nothing special, “chabuduo,” to dismiss any suggestion they see dramatic changes this holiday season.

As heavy rain fell in the Zhejiang province industrial city Jiaxing on Friday, a group jostled and pushed an assortment of fancy suitcases, canvas bags and industrial buckets into the hold of a bus. The group was embarking on a 10-hour drive back home to the Henan province city of Nanyang. The mood was upbeat.

One woman, who works in a garment factory, said she was toting gifts for her family, including 100 rice balls. A worker, who said he drives on a construction site, reported he had a pretty good year. They said bonuses had been paid as usual.

Source: Another Type of Factory-Gate Indicator: Dumpling Sales – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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