10th Anniversary of iPhone: A witness of ‘absurbdity of life’ of Foxconn workers and Hong Kong students

The sale of iPhone X has commenced on November 3 in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the release of the iPhone produced by Apple Inc. In the past decade, the iPhone has changed the life style of mankind all over the world. Ten years ago, smartphones were considered the epoch-making technology products, which has become a necessity for most people nowadays. Foxconn Technology Group (also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) owned by Taiwanese billionaire, Terry Gou, is known around the world along with the iPhone. While the iPhone has brought earthshaking changes to the world, the model of Foxconn as a contract manufacturer has brought the model of China as the world’s factory into a climax.

 

In the past, as long as the new iPhone models were introduced to the market, the mass media also reported on protests by labor groups. After years of advocacy, people in society are no longer strange to “sweatshops” and they also know that the wages of Foxconn workers are only accounted to less than 3% of iPhone’s profits, which is much lower than Apple’s gains of more than 40%. The essence of capitalist exploitation is fully demonstrated. Nonetheless, regardless of the hardships Foxconn workers in China are enduring, it does not dissuade Hong Kongers’ from their pursuits of new iPhones. Even after sensations triggered by the series of suicide incidents of Foxconn workers in 2010, such tragedies represented merely pieces of news on the newspaper.

Early back in July 2009, a Foxconn worker committed suicide by throwing himself off a building. The victim, Sun Dan-yong, a diligently gifted student from the rural area, was a graduate from Harbin Institute of Technology, a member of the C9 League University (which is known as the Ivy League of China), along with Tsinghua University and Peking University. Other suicide victims in 2010 were all workers at their 20s and they chose to end their lives during their primes. In Hong Kong, since 2015, more than 70 students chose to commit suicide as well. The two detached groups of youth from Hong Kong and Foxconn workers shared such similarities when facing disparities, oppressions and constraints from the society.

 

When the iPhone was first launched in 2007, it was a dream for many young workers from the rural area to work in Foxconn. Only to find out that it is merely another closed prison once they work in the factories, while their value is not even comparable to a new model of iPhone. In Hong Kong, whereas youths are often labeled as ill-equipped and lack competitiveness, high property prices and student loans have also shattered the myth of ‘knowledge and hardship change fate and life’. Does this era still belong to the youth?

 

The people in power, whether they are the capitalists or the high government officials, deal with the series of suicide incidents with a dual approach. A superficial approach includes invitation of professionals (experts in counselling and psychotherapy in particular), setting up ad hoc groups, submission of reports, addition of resources and setting up care teams and counselling hotlines, etc. However, such approach is to strengthen control intrinsically. For instance, after the series of Foxconn suicides, a large number of caring centers have been set up in an attempt to identity workers with problems, such as those with emotional problems, abnormal behaviours and bad attitudes. If workers are found suicidal, they will be persuaded to resign through the help of their parents. The caring centers and counselling psychologists are simply investigators of Foxconn to identify workers with problems whom will be eventually cleared out from the factories. In Hong Kong, the government officials, with a more direct response, reckon that ‘a lack of life and career planning results in student suicides’, therefore curriculum and research on life and career planning are strengthened so that young people who are rejected through competitions in society can plan their failed life at an even earlier stage. Both Foxconn and high-ranking officials in Hong Kong have refused to understand that the way of ‘being planned’ at an early age leads to young people walking towards the desperate choice in life.

 

The young workers in Foxconn were once considered to be a part of the China Dream. Nevertheless, the cruel reality reveals that the Chinese idiom ‘when all birds are shot, the bow will be set aside’, meaning that those who had contributed to the process can be booted out once the mission is accomplished, can be best applies to the rules of capitalism. The wages of Foxconn workers, which once made other factory workers envious, were made possible only through overtime from day to night. After the golden ten years of youth has passed, wages of Foxconn workers have dropped to approximately the local minimum wage, due to the company’s gradual reduction or cancellation of overtime. A decade of youth was simply a dream in the end. In Hong Kong, young people are even deprived of the chance to dream. For the successful, experienced adults, the dream of owning the ‘Fours’ (house, car, companion, pet) was once the target of their lives. However, such has become a farfetched dream for youths in Hong Kong nowadays as the property prices are so high that most of them are not even eligible to become a mortgage slave. When the medium wage of fresh university graduate only increased by HKD 800 (from $11000 in 1997 to $11800 in 2016), the dire situation of young people in Hong Kong is pretty much self-explanatory.

When youths in Hong Kong and China acquire iPhone X, do they realize that this dream iPhone creates is in itself a dream buster? The famous actor, Steven Chow says, ‘you are just a dead fish if you don’t have any dream in life.’ However, when dreams are bounded to be ‘doomed’ at a very early stage, young people will realize such is ‘the absurdity of life which has nothing worth to live’, as Albert Camus would reckon as the roots of youth suicides.