Industrial park project transforms the lives of numerous rural workers

Updated: May 30, 2023 By LI LEI in Yutian, Xinjiang CHINA DAILY Print
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Wearing a white sweatshirt, Mehtumhan Abdulkadeer patrolled a production line manned by about a dozen black-clad sewing operatives on a recent work day.

Dangling from her neck was a badge stating that the 37-year-old is a small-group leader, meaning she is highly skilled.

To avoid the team's work being unduly disrupted, she is quick to act if any of the workers encounter a technical problem.

Mehtumhan Abdulkadeer's current role at a sportswear factory in Yutian county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, is a far cry from the domestic duties performed by Uygur women in her rural family for more than two decades.

"I married while I was still a teenager," she said in slightly accented Mandarin. "My daughter now studies at a medical college in Urumqi, the regional capital," she added with pride.

Mehtumhan Abdulkadeer's career path has inspired many people, especially women working at a local industrial park, which is home to her employer.

The park was built in 2018 by the local government in cooperation with the authorities in the port city of Tianjin as part of a broader paired assistance program between wealthier eastern regions and less-developed counties in Xinjiang.

Mehtumhan Abdulkadeer and her husband used to plant wheat, corn and cotton plants on a small sandy plot in her home village, a few kilometers from the industrial park. To help out with family expenses, she also worked as a tailor, creating handmade traditional Uygur clothes for neighbors.

Things started to change early last year, when her employer, a sportswear manufacturer based in Fujian province, set up a factory at the industrial park.

Mehtumhan Abdulkadeer successfully applied for a job. Although working as a self-taught tailor for years, she had never made sweat shirts and pants, which she described as "high-end and technology-laden".

In addition, having long lived in her predominantly Uygur community, her Mandarin was too heavily accented to be understood by colleagues from southern areas of China.

"But they were patient and nice to me," she said.

She practiced Mandarin in her spare time and acquired new skills as she climbed the career ladder. In less than two years, her salary more than doubled to 4,500 yuan ($650) a month.

"I am proud to see the clothes I make with my hands," she said.

Apart from providing much-needed jobs, the industrial park helps promote ethnic unity and empowers rural women.

Huang Xiaodong, a local government official who is the park's Party chief, said that to help local employees better adapt to working in a culturally diverse environment, the park management offers free Mandarin tuition.

"We place considerable emphasis on spoken language, such as how to say "sleeves" and "collar" in Mandarin, so that workers can communicate with colleagues," he said.

The improved language skills and expertise acquired while working at the park have broadened the prospects for many employees.

"Some skilled workers even decided to quit the job to study at vocational school," Huang said.

Aygul Memet, 28, who works at a plant making protective clothing, including firefighters' uniforms, used to be a housewife financially dependent on her husband running a village shop selling daily necessities. With no income, she was bossed around by him and her parents-in-law.

Since she started work at the plant a year ago, bringing home a stable salary, she said her husband now shares some of the housework and is more attentive to her.

"He pours me a cup of tea when I come home," she added.

With a son at primary school, she aims to further her ambitions. "I will learn more skills and earn more money so that I can send him to college," she said.

Zhang Li, head of the plant where Aygul Memet works, said she has sensed a notable change among female workers — mostly housewives from traditional rural families, who had never had a paid job before.

"They used to rely financially on their husbands and other family members," said Zhang, who oversaw a number of overseas plants in countries including South Africa and Sri Lanka before working in Yutian.

"But now I see many women beaming with confidence and joy because of their work," she added.

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