NEW YORK CITY — China makes much of what the world buys. According to The Economist, the country was producing 25% of the globe’s manufacturing output by value in 2015.
In 2013, when Cheng Cheng — currently an intern on Business Insider’s graphics team — was a photography student in London, she had the idea to produce a body of work that would visualise mass production. Hailing from the Jiangsu province of China, she decided the place she came from would be the best place to do it.
Inside a toy factory in the Jiangsu province, she saw workers handcrafting stuffed-animal versions of characters whose faces they do not recognise.
“It’s cliche [to] talk about ‘made in China,’ but because it’s my hometown I have an emotional connection with that,” she told Business Insider.
Here’s what she saw of the workers’ day-to-day routines.
For a little over a month, Cheng would stay from morning until night, documenting the workers' lives. Their days started at 8 a.m. and usually ended at 8 p.m., with an hour for lunch in the middle of the day.
Most of the workers Cheng spoke with were not familiar with the characters they were creating, outside of the context of their jobs.
'They didn't know the characters they were making,' Cheng said. 'They had never seen the cartoons -- they think the production looks weird because they have no idea where these stories come from, or what exactly Disney is.'
Dormitories were available to workers who did not live nearby, and lunch, which workers must pay for themselves, was served inside the cafeteria. 'Their whole life is in the factory,' Cheng said.
Nap time is also an important part of the work day. 'They have this policy that forces them to sleep for one hour,' Cheng said.
While those who had an assigned dormitory would sleep there, locals who didn't have time to go back to their homes for a nap could sleep in the plush toys.
'They're soft,' Cheng said. 'Since (the employees) don't have a proper bed, they need to crash anywhere that's comfortable.'
'(I want) people to really think about what they consume ... If you see (the) people working for your children's toys, it maybe feels a little different,' she said.
'The price of the labour is more than just the price on the tag. It's someone's family depending on these kinds of jobs,' Cheng said.
Photographing and exhibiting this series of work back at her school in London made Cheng question her experience with photojournalism.
'After I finished this project, I showed the work in London. Viewers came to my show, they had champagne ... it's such a contrast (to the work),' she said. 'I'm sort of consuming their stories.'
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