Blood in the streets: Desperate in Dongguan

I was in Dongguan on business several times in late-2007, back when life was fun and good. I wrote about an unforgettable event I saw there, and about the level of energy and excitement I saw. So much opportunity and hope. Limitless possibilities.

Not anymore. If this post is to be believed, and I have no reason to think otherwise (except perhaps that I want to not believe it), Dongguang has become a bit less inviting.

As I was out at a factory in Dongguang today I saw lines of people looking for work outside most of the factories we drove past. This is just one that we happened to stop in front of in traffic long enough for me to snap a quick photo. I counted 25 people or more outside multiple factory gates. I haven’t seen this since 2005.

Second, a security note. Two other people (who shall remain nameless), while in a different part of Dongguang today, saw a group of people on the side of the road hack another person to death (at least they think he died) with a machete. They kept on driving, sped up even, to get out of there as quickly as possible.

If you have money or are alone I would highly recommend that you DO NOT go out at night in any of the industrial areas outside of Shenzhen. This would include Songgang, Dongguang, Longgang, Bao’an, Guanlan, Shiyan, Huizhou and other areas with tons of (unemployed) migrant workers and not a lot of policing or economic development.

I’ve seen fights, I’ve seen people get robbed and beaten, I’ve seen a woman and child get run over by large dump trucks, I’ve even seen a dead body on the street (at least I think it was dead), I’ve had family tell me about kidnappings they’ve seen, I’ve had family robbed at knife point and I’ve been pick-pocketed numerous times myself. I’ve had clients tell me about huge gang fights they’ve see while making side excursions in shopping malls! I even chased down and dragged to the police station two guys who tried to steal my bike once. But I’ve never seen anything like this before.

Desperate people do desperate things. And right now in the manufacturing cities, times are as desperate as they can get. Except it will probably gets worse before it gets better. As many have said, there is no way this crisis will end without blood on the streets. The big question is whether this violence will spread from random acts of murder and robbery committed by hungry, desperate workers to an actual assault on China’s government. I think the government will be stable and will survive, for better or for worse. For some interesting perspectives on this question, see this post and its comments.

It’s going to be along, painful, frightening year. The Chinese people know that, and seem to believe their government is handling it as best they can. There’ll be more and nastier demonstrations, there’ll be more deaths and more despair. There’s won’t be a revolution, at least not from this crisis. People have planned and saved for it, and they are far more frightened of the chaos a revolution would bring than of the continued rule of a dictatorship most of the country credits with vast improvements in their lives. And again, that is not necessarily my personal viewpoint, but it is certainly the viewpoint of the man on in the street, whether in the Central Business District of Beijing or the train station in Kunming.

Silk Road link via Fool’s Mountain

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Do you mean Dongguan? There’s no place I know of near Shenzhen called Dongguang so I guess this must be a mistake. Dongguan (and Shenzhen as a whole) has been Crime-City PRC for ages. I lived in Longhua in Baoan (to the south of Dongguan) for two years (2006-2007), during which people I knew personally witnessed murders, were mugged multiple times, I had my wallet stolen twice, and my flat broken into twice, and also witnessed a wild-cat strike. What’s more people were lining up outside my office everyday looking for work during the entire time I was there – but they were finding work, so it might be different now.

All the same, the people I know in Longhua call BS on this story – they’re not reporting any great increase in crime over the past few years, and just like in every city, it really does depend where you go. I lived in a pretty rough town (but not as bad as some) and spent plenty of nights clubbing and chowing on street food without any extreme incidents. I think your man is taking fright at the usual HK Shenzhen scare-stories. Crime in Shenzhen (especially outside the checkpoints) has been rife for ages – but it seems that Silk Road has only just discovered this.

March 5, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

FOARP, not surprised to see you here. How are you?

I actually included in one of my earlier posts about my trips that I was baffled by the multiple spellings of Dongguang/Donguang/Dongguan/Donguan. So yes, I am sure it’s the same city (as you know). And yes, I know all about Shenzhen’s and the manufacturing cities’ long history of crime. This blogger refers to it as well, recounting multiple examples of the types of crimes he’s seen, and he then adds, “But I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Did you actually read the post?

I have read several of this blog’s posts recently. I do not think he would lie, though you never know. Look through what he’s written. Does he look like a “bullshitter” to you?

March 5, 2009 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

I know David Dayton of SilkRoad International and he is one of the last people on whom I would call bullshit. I have no clue as to whether what David is reporting is true or not (note that some of it is what he has heard from others), but I can absolutely assure you that he is not making it up.

March 5, 2009 @ 10:51 pm | Comment

I spend a lot of time in that area. No violence witnessed as of yet, but a lot of areas that used to be hustling and bustling with factory workers look like ghost towns with the few left behind lining up at the few remaining factory gates to try and find the few jobs still available. Everyone I talk to there says Dongguan was hit hard with a lot of factories shutting down. This article freaked me out, but since I don’t actually live in the area and just visit once in a while, I’m not too worried.

March 5, 2009 @ 11:23 pm | Comment

Thanks Dan. Andy, good to see you back the past few days.

I spent several days in Shenzhen, and never saw a single act of violence or crime. I’d have sworn it was the safest city on earth. Of course, what we see in our limited scope of experience doesn’t necessarily reflect the entire picture. I am sure Dongguan isn’t teeming with armed marauders hacking each other to death. But I do believe that you need to be very careful there now, and that the increase in out-of-work, desperate migrant workers has synchronized jump in the crime rate.

March 5, 2009 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

Talked to a colleague who went to Dongguan roughly two weeks ago. He said the same thing as AndyR: Whole parts of town look like a ghost-town, with everything boarded up. Though he also said that he saw other parts of town which seemed to be hustle-and-bustle as usual.

March 6, 2009 @ 12:36 am | Comment

I’m sure he’s not lying, but I’ve heard way too many Shenzhen crime stories (usually recounted by HKers talking down Shenzhen) which later turned out to have been recounting something out of the nineties. I guess I should also add that, if you replace the machetes with samurai swords and scratch the kidnapping story, it pretty much matches my experience of a year living in Mile End and Wilsden Green, London.

March 6, 2009 @ 2:18 am | Comment

Right now, discussing the state of the Chiense economy is a confusing affair:

Some people are totally convinced that the country is down and out, that there is a real estate glut to end all real estate gluts, that all of Guangdong manufacturing has pretty much shut down, etc.

Yet just as many other people keep insisting that all considered, things are not particularly bad at all, that China has always suffered from overinvestment and overcapacity, and will always continue to do so, that restaurants are full, factory orders are picking up, the mood is improving as we speak, and and and.

All these people are on the ground, dealing with Chinese companies, walking through Chinese city streets every day. Yet they can’t seem to agree if things are reasonably fine, somewhat worrying, or downright apocalyptic.

For some reason, that sort of “diversity of opinion” never seems to exist with respect to the US, Britain, Germany or Japan.

China is somehow different, as always.

March 6, 2009 @ 2:46 am | Comment

China is discovering some of the less publicized joys of mass industrialization. Take many millions off the land and don’t give them an option to go back? You’d better keep that wage employment going (well, unless you are a Western country, then you’d just give them credit).

That China is likely to experience a surge in crime is not all that surprising, but like others here I don’t think that spells political chaos. Many countries can manage healthy crime rates and a decent level of political stability at the same time.

Maybe, just maybe, China will not turn into the giant Singapore that so many seem to think. It will probably end up like Brazil, South Africa and so on- Will do fine as a political state, but socially be an extremely divided world of haves and fenced-in have nots.

March 6, 2009 @ 10:46 pm | Comment

PB, you make some valid and scary points. I think far more people agree with the Brazil/S. Africa scenario compared to the giant Singapore one. It’s pretty much there now. And talk about fences – there’s one industry (fence production) that will do fine in China no matter how acute the recession is. Anywhere you can put a fence, they put a fence.

March 7, 2009 @ 12:10 am | Comment

@Richard – it would be nice if you could link to Silkroad’s latest post on this issue explaining how in his opinion some have misunderstood the original piece.

March 8, 2009 @ 10:56 pm | Comment

FOARP, please feel free to include the link here and comment on it. I don’t have the time to put up a new post on this now. Thanks.

March 9, 2009 @ 12:01 am | Comment

Here it is:

Money quote:

“[after explaining that the events described took place over the last decade in Taiwan, Bangkok, and multiple mainland cities] . . . you can see that it’s not all Dongguan. It’s not all Mainland China. And it not all this last couple of months. So yes, be careful, but don’t see the end of the world in this (in the US stock market, maybe, but not in Dongguan). The violence is certainly bad here but it’s NOT getting worse, from my perspective. And it’s NOT worse in Dongguang compared to other industrial areas either. Unemployment is bad now and it’s always been dangerous in the outskirts of Shenzhen; I dare say it’s risker now, but I’ve not personally seen a big change in the last year. Hong Kong news has been reporting things like this for almost 20 years now.”

March 9, 2009 @ 2:33 am | Comment

I’ve been living in Dongguan since 2006, first teaching English in a training center in the central city, now in the HR department of a hotel in one of Dongguan’s towns. I’d like to offer what I stress is just my own limited view of the situation.

First, the name is Dongguan, no G. It has never been otherwise. I don’t know this person who writes the Silk Road blog, but the most sensational story (about the people hacking a man to death with “a” machete–did they watch long enough to see them pass it around?) is not something he witnessed firsthand. Rather, “two other people” saw this. Color me skeptical.

That said, street crime in Dongguan has always been an issue. When I arrived three years ago, people told me that Dongguan was the most dangerous city in China. Now, I grew up in Miami and had just arrived from Washington, D.C., so it was difficult to take this very seriously. It still is. A women who worked for our center was mugged by motorcycle-riding purse-snatchers, as was another female student, but this was about as bad as it got.

I was told that one particular town, an industrial town south of the central city, was especially dangerous. When I started to teach at a factory there on a contract, I was somewhat surprised to see, as I was being driven home after 9 p.m., young women and men walking the streets alone without a care.

Does that mean, in the town I live in now, that I would feel safe walking around with thousands of kuai in darkly-shaded sidewalks? Of course not.

Still, there’s an element of the reporting, The Economist, the Washington Post, and others, that the global economic downturn has turned China’s factory workers into a mobs of starving criminals.

As for the economic situation here, Dongguan’s big. You can find anecdotes to support anything you want. From my position at a desk in a department of human resources of a reasonably large employer: We have been hiring non-stop since Spring Festival ended, and just put out a new round of advertisements this past week. People have been responding, but hardly a crush. While the people are waiting to interview, they often stand outside the office building. So you could easily get a photo much like the one used on the Silk Road blog.

For what it’s worth.
mikexcite, at gmail

March 16, 2009 @ 1:59 am | Comment

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