China holds an interesting place in the American imagination. Think of the “Chinese factory worker” and undoubtedly images of quiet and docile women come to mind. The majority of factory workers in China and around the world are women. But are they as submissive as the stereotype? In recent years, Chinese workers have engaged in strikes, walk-outs, and petitions. While the major news outlets have focused on the country’s rapid economic growth, I wanted to make a film that would amplify Chinese workers’ voices. In this period of unprecedented wealth-building, what have been the social costs?
Labor issues are very sensitive in China. For the film, I searched for workers who were willing to come forward to talk about their labor struggle with a foreigner. Many refused. The women featured in RED DUST bravely did. Although the cadmium poisoning case had been covered in the China Central Television (CCTV) before I had met them, the former GP BATTERIES workers still faced intense pressure to keep quiet. I document their struggle with the aim that their story can be heard in the U.S. and around the world.
RED DUST chronicles the experiences of women in the global economy. The GP BATTERIES factories opened in Huizhou during China’s liberalization, part of the country’s economic development strategy that welcomed foreign direct investment. For the workers who worked at the GP BATTERIES factories for many years, the excitement of being independent wage earners escaping the poverty and patriarchy of the rural countryside gave way to the reality that they were disposable. This realization of betrayal and of a dream shattered have left them deeply embittered. RED DUST is a commentary not on China, but on global capitalism.
I am inspired by the courageous women I met along the way and am grateful for the mentors, family, and friends who have supported me throughout this maddening process of making a documentary.
My hope is that the former GP BATTERIES worker’s endeavors are not lost upon audiences and I look forward to the day when they will get the justice due to them.
Karin T. Mak