“If you happen to drop in on any given weekday, you might find the seamstresses’ children playing in a little nursery set up for them. At lunchtime, workers gather in a sunlit room to eat and chat. Many are close friends, having worked in this factory together for decades. They visit each others’ families during Chinese New Year. When someone is out sick, coworkers stop by that person’s home with hot food. . .”
This is a community of friends and family that work in one of several CSR and relationship focused factories in China. While such a scene is unique for Chinese factory life, it is paramount to realize that not only do such factories exist and thrive in China, but as China progresses to achieve the objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 13th Five Year Plan, they continue to grow in number.
As explained in Segran’s article, “made in China shouldn’t imply ‘low-quality’ or ‘sweatshop’.” Such ethical and sustainable qualities like those found in the aforementioned QingPu factory are paramount for many companies such as Les Lunes, a fashion enterprise based in Paris and San Francisco. Les Lunes’ founder, Anna Lecat has located with ease factories that value sustainable and ethical practices in China’s manufacturing industry. Benefit will come not only from the prioritization of CSR practices at these factories, but also from the ensuing product quality; Lecat explains that higher quality manufacturing is often tied to better working conditions. Many other Western fashion ventures – including Grana, Ellie Kai, and Caraa – “shed light upon a new generation of Chinese factories that pay workers fairly, offer pleasant working conditions and reasonable working hours, and produce beautifully crafted clothes, shoes, and accessories.” No one knows how long it will take for the vast majority of Chinese factories to ultimately match western standards; but according to Aron Luo, the founder of Caraa, “it is important to note that the Chinese government is trying to do something about it.”
This is evident not only within Chinese government, but also within private Chinese enterprises; many Chinese businesses push for a prioritization of social issues in their business plans. In China, it is viewed as common knowledge that companies must place solving social issues as a priority in order to thrive as a business. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, recently said, “A great enterprise must solve social issues” including – but not limited to – pollution, quality of life, disaster relief, and water quality. More and more Chinese companies – including Chinese factories – are beginning to view such social issues as opportunities not only to better society, but also as opportunities for new business growth. Such business implementation reflects China’s dedication to the SDGs in economy, environment, human rights, and social development. Such goals are also reflected in China’s 13th Five Year Plan which promotes Chinese enterprise transformation and sustainable development. In summary, it can be increasingly observed that CSR practices within Chinese businesses – including Chinese factories – are being amplified through goals which prioritize corporate strategy, ethics, sustainability, and overall business growth. As the Chinese manufacturing industry progresses towards these present goals, more manufacturers such as those in found in Shanghai’s QingPu district will emerge.
On the streets of Shanghai, the air is chilly, leaves are changing, and warm sweaters are making their appearance. It is mid-October, just the start of the Autumnal season and my favorite holiday, Halloween. Back home in the United States, Halloween is on the minds of children both young and old. Friends at home are busy carving pumpkins and planning costumes. At your local American clothing store, you would find children shopping for little witch and vampire costumes; you would find the children at heart not far behind, looking to add a little fun to their October 31st. It is the one night of the year any one of any age can don a mask and play pretend. It a night of friendship: the exhilaration for little kids to traverse darkened streets asking strangers for candy, the exhilaration for children at heart to bar hop with friends whilst like their favorite monster. But, for me, the best part of this holiday is not found in the free candy or spooky costumes; it can be found on the streets during the weeks leading up to Halloween. Store fronts of all shapes and sizes are decorated with spiderwebs, carved pumpkins, and orange lights. Cafes and restaurants don orange and black hued decor all of which is highlighted by the orange and red leaves falling from trees on the street; the air takes on a scent of hot apple cider and cinnamon; one cannot help but feel a warmth only associated with this autumnal Halloween season.
As my time in Shanghai approached October, I developed a growing concern that I would not be able to experience this annual Halloween season while abroad. On my walks through Wujiaochang, the French Concession, and even down Nanjing road. I saw signs of Halloween here and there, but nothing in comparison to what exists in the United States. Such observations encouraged me to develop a hypothesis about the Shanghainese and Halloween: While many store fronts in Shanghai display Halloween decorations, the Shanghainese possess a general lack of knowledge about the holiday, and few celebrate the holiday. I came to this conclusion in early October for two reasons. First, whenever I entered a shop displaying Halloween candy and decorations, few people seemed to express interest in purchasing any of the products. The second reason involves concepts of Westernization. Halloween is such a uniquely Western holiday with decades of history. I assumed that – at the very earliest – Halloween made its first presence in China in the 80s. How could the Shanghainese know about or be willing to fully embrace a holiday so new and foreign to China? To prove – or disprove – my hypothesis, I decided to traverse the streets of Shanghai and capture images of Halloween decorations and expressions throughout the city. At the same time, I decided to ask people on the street what they though of the decorations and what they knew about Halloween. What a wonderful way to see the city, learn about Westernization in China, and experience Halloween in Shanghai! After collecting photos and interview responses, I was able to categorize the locations I visited: cafes, convenience stores, malls, grocery stores, and bars. In the end, I found the results of this fieldwork to be somewhat surprising.
One of the most enjoyable places I was able to observe Halloween decorations were cafes. Due to my poor WiFi in my dorm, I often travel to cafes in the French Concession to work. Two of my favorite locations, The Antique Garden Shanghai and Sproutworks, have beautiful Halloween decorations. The Antique Garden Shanghai, founded in 2006, is a quaint little establishment with mostly Shanghainese patrons. It is decorated year round with antique furniture, lamps, and upholstery. This decor emits an autumnal presence even without the pumpkins and spiderwebs. What a wonderful Halloween location that I will definitely return to. Sproutworks, on the other hand, is a western restaurant with mostly western patrons and was decorated with paper pumpkins and orange string lights. The main difference between these cafes and American cafes during Halloween exists in the food and drink options. In the U.S., It is quite popular to serve Halloween themed, seasonal food and beverage, the most popular of which being “Pumpkin Spiced” food and drinks. I found none of these options at any of the cafes I visited; Not to say that I miss such food and beverage options; however, they do remind me of home. While I took many pictures of the Halloween decor, no one else in the cafes I visited seemed to be very interested in the orange and black decorations. This seemed to support my initial hypothesis: the Shanghainese do not know much about Halloween; but before I made any final decisions, I decided to head over to a local convenience store.
On walks to class, work, and the gym, I frequently walk past convenience stores such as Family Mart, Lawson, and 7-Eleven. Most of these shops are decorated with similar Halloween decorations. Posters with cute halloween cartoons displayed in the windows, plastic jack-o-lanterns filled with candy, paper ghosts and pumpkins hanging from the ceiling, and Halloween candy lining certain food aisles. It was quite a display of Halloween spirit. Interestingly enough, decorations in all of the convenience stores I visited appeared to be sourced from the same supplier, I imagine corporate pushing this western holiday upon the Chinese, an immense new market that, if willing to accept Halloween into their yearly celebrations, would include Halloween candy and other similar products into their yearly purchases. Such companies would amass immense income from this new Halloween inventory. After returning to the same convenience stores a week after my first observation, it seemed like this corporate Westernization plan had already been established. Halloween candy that had been fully stocked the week before was now half gone. I had initially assumed that the Halloween candy and decorations were for show, that no one would know what the pumpkins and ghosts were meant to represent; When I first arrived at the convenience store, no one seemed interested in purchasing the Halloween products. But now that a week has passed, it appeared that I was incorrect. My hypothesis about the Shanghainese and Halloween was slowly unraveling. As to conduct further observatory research, I made my way to my next observation post, the mall.
Taking line 2, I made my way to to a mall near Jing’an Temple. Even before I entered the mall I was faced with tent after tent of outdoor vendors selling Halloween regalia as shown in. I was shocked! My Chinese teacher from middle school had informed me that no one in Shanghai celebrates Halloween. Either much has changed since seven years ago or Shanghai is a Chinese city unique in its Halloween practices. As a continued walking towards the mall, a saw a sign posted outside. The mall was having a Halloween sale! This surprised me especially considering that as I walked into the mall, none of the shops had any Halloween decorations. This was probably due to the fact that all of the shops were name brands such a Balenciagia, Nike, and Gucci; however, due to the sign posted outside, the Halloween spirit was present. I decided to go to a different mall to see if this observation remained the same.
Taking line 10 to the IAPM mall, I did find a similar situation: high end shops lacked the Halloween spirit; however, I did come across an illuminated Halloween display in the mall’s City Super grocery store. It is first important to note, that this grocery store was very Western in style. It reminded me of home not only because of the grand Halloween decorations but also the general layout. The orientation of the City Super reminded me of a Whole Foods or Wegmans, two popular grocery stores in my hometown. These grocery stores not only have wide arrays of poultry, produce, and dairy products, but also Western snacks, liquors, and kitchen products. It seemed to be another demonstration of Westernization. It was the first time in two months I felt at home, and – humorously enough – this feeling occurred in a grocery store. At this time of year Whole Foods and Wegmans would have displays similar to what was seen in City Super, and would even have events such as Halloween cookie decoration similar to what is advertised in store. Fortunately enough, I just happened to walk past a model kitchen during which one of these events were taking place: little Shanghainese children about five or six years old dressed in new, shimmering Halloween costumes gathered around kitchen tables decorated with orange and black balloons, spider webs, and carved pumpkins. With smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes, these children were decorating Halloween cookies and cupcakes while their parents shopped nearby. This scene even further disproved my initial hypothesis; why would parents dress up their kids and bring them to an event that they did not know about? Curious about the situation, I asked a nearby a store worker about perceptions of Halloween in China. She explained that “in general, Chinese people may not know about Halloween, but Shanghainese definitely know about Halloween.” Further disproving my initial hypothesis, the mother of one of the children taking part in the festivities explained to me that “Shanghainese children all know about Halloween, they celebrate the holiday in school. They do not go trick or treating in their neighborhood, but their teachers organize trick or treating events at their school.” So it starts in the schools, I thought. According to a friend of mine that graduated from Shanghai University three years ago, this makes sense. After conducting my first round of Halloween observations, she explained to me the that “most Shanghainese know about Halloween. I celebrated Halloween when I was in college. I carved pumpkins with my friends in an activity organized by student union.” She believes that the Shanghainese started celebrating Halloween in the 90s and it began with the younger generation through their school environments.
The younger generation holds influence not only in the schooling environments but also in nightlife. Walking towards Jing’an Temple, I passed a few expat bars perused by young foreigners with Halloween decorations. I saw a jack-o-lantern in the window of Swing a Western bar near Jing’an Temple. Wishing to find a way to celebrate Halloween with fellow foreigners who wished to indulge in the spooky festivities from back home, I used an app to find events occurring nearby that targeted young foreigners. While such events were not targeted at the Shanghainese, they do perpetuate the Westernization practices in Shanghai. Soon, Shanghainese bars will hold similar events for the young Shanghainese.
In conclusion, I learned that Halloween is a more popular holiday in Shanghai than I first believed. I was anticipating to witness the Westernization of Shanghai through Tricks and Treats, but it seems as if this Westernization has already occurred. My hypothesis was proven incorrect: the Shanghainese know much about Halloween and enjoy its associated festivities. Any businesses involved in such Halloween Westernization wiIl reap great benefits: with such a large Shanghainese population, let alone Chinese population, this is a great target market for the sale of Halloween goods. I believe the Chinese people benefit as well. They get to enjoy a holiday that I have grown up with and love immensely. It is a wonderful way to get closer with friends, for parents to spend more time with their children, and for children to have an excuse to dress up and get free candy! If I were to continue my observations, I would be interested in traveling to a different city such as Beijing or Xi’an as to witness similarities and differences between how they and the Shanghainese celebrate Halloween. Hopefully, in a few years I will be able to return to Shanghai in late October and participate in what I imagine will be even more festive Halloween activities and witness even more extravagant Halloween decorations. Until then, I will be satisfied with enjoying the Halloween spirit displayed in Shanghai’s store fronts and my own decorations in my dorm.
This upcoming August, I will be traveling to Shanghai for a study abroad experience. I am looking forward to so much: walks on the Bund, new classmates, diverse fashion; but most of all, I cannot wait to get my hands on some baozi (包子). These delicious little pouches can be filled with anything from pork to red bean paste. These tasty little guys are hard to find in the US, so you bet that in Shanghai, the first thing I’ll grab is a steaming hot baozi! 很好吃！