“American Factory”—Melt Chinese Culture with American Culture

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Photo//NYTimes

How can America successfully attract foreign investment?  How should we deal with the management, culture and even personality differences in a company?  The Netflix documentary “American Factory” tried to answer these questions. It debuted on August 21, 2019. It is the first documentary produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. The documentary is directed by Academy Award-nominated directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert.

The story began with another General Motors factory closing in Dayton, Ohio on December 23rd, 2008. More than 2,400 people working for the plant lost their jobs that day. The local government of Dayton decided to attract foreign investment to try to increase tax income.  According to an interview with the Chinese investor Cao Dewang, the founder, chairman and CEO of the Fuyao Glass Industry Group, the company was visited three times by the officials from Ohio. Moreover, the director found the closed GM factory for him and afterwards, Cao Dewang acquired the factory as the American headquarters. Chairman Cao re-opened the plant and called it Fuyao Glass America. He hired 1,000 locals and brought along 200 experienced Chinese employees to oversee the production.

Although the Chinese investor adopted the mindset of “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” culture crashes still happened. In the beginning, everything was promising. As the former GM employees finally regained their jobs after seeking employment for many years, they were grateful for the Chinese investment. On the other hand, Chinese workers migrating to the United States began their honeymoon stage. They started to socialize and interact with American coworkers in intimate settings. For instance, American employees invited their Chinese coworkers to spend holidays with their family.

However, conflicts started occurring as time went on and the documentary became heavy to watch. Later on, the American employees started to complain about the long working hours and low safety standards. They also wanted to vote to be unionized. On the other side, Chinese managers thought American employees were too slow and lazy. They didn’t want to unionize the company. Moreover, automation has replaced more and more jobs, so more and more American employees were fired. Fortunately by the end, Fuyao Glass America employed 2,300 workers in early 2019 and promised to hire about 300 more. According to the company, starting hourly wages are $14 per hour, with the average wages running over $17 per hour.

As former president Obama said: “A good story helps all of us some sort of solidarity with each other.” “American Factory” tells us a good story of people from different cultures working together. I firmly believe that different cultures can, should and will understand each other. My experience as an international student makes me hold tight to this belief even more. During my studying, I get a lot of help from my American professors, friends and even some strangers. The understanding, trust and support from them inspire me to do my best every day.