Like any other Chinese organisation, my joystick factory operates in the world of Guanxi transactions of gift-giving. This time last year, my friend at the factory, Xiao Fang invited me to a moon-cake gifting trip. This was a fantastic excuse to snoop into other factories, shipping companies, packaging merchants…how could I possible have resisted? I was witnessing the chain of interactions in the complex social network of manufacturing in tangible the time and space.

The harvest festival is specifically adapted over the years for appropriate ways of reinforcing the web of inter-personal bonds that is essential to trust reinforcements between business partners in the manufacturing industry of fluctuating western technologies. The earlier giver were always welcomed (mostly because their present could be re-gifted). If only I could track the journeys of moon-cakes! The more cakes a person received in business, the stronger a node he was in the Guanxi social network. Moon-cakes were the factory equivalent to one’s Twitter followers.

The cakes have their own micro-trends. The latest hits are ice-cream moon-cakes, which helpfully disappear easily in the sink if you’re an official, whose amount of moon-cakes might be linked to the level of corruption. Some companies are so conspicuous that the cakes are made out of solid gold while other confectionery companies reduce their packaging and marketing to allow the festive spirit to continue for the majority of family consumers in times of rising food costs.

I too, was presented with a box of moon-cakes from the joystick factory. At the airport, I was asked to unpack incase there were gold cutlery incased with the beautifully packaged desserts. Much to my disappointment, no one wanted to buy the favours of a speculative designer & researcher but they were delicious, thank you.

Suddenly, stock rooms were mixed-used with sitting rooms and nurseries. Even though the gifts were given between companies, these relationships still adhered to individual workers. Exchanging harvest festival moon cakes was also an opportunity for the workers to take a glimpse of the other work opportunities in the market without seeming disloyal. The billboard is displayed discreetly next to the exit to compete for staff without causing obvious rivalry.

The factory was forced to downsized since I left but had managed to keep a large proportion of their original workforce thanks to a few ‘speculative design’ suggestions which managed to keep their services more sustainable within the innovation cycle.Xiao Fang was one of the people who had to leave their jobs and accommodations. Her newborn baby had a fever last time I visited Shenzhen. I hope she is well and reunited with her family on this festive day.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

One comment

  1. I visited a factory on my only visit to China in 2002. I remember a painting setup that existed only to paint eyes onto these plastic frogs. It was disorienting in a way I couldn’t place until I was back in Hong Kong, when I realised that it had never occurred to me that in order for a plastic frog to have eyes, someone would have to paint them. It changed the way I look at everything to this day.

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