He did not complain about the low pay or even the excessive work-load, which added up to 1,800 pairs of shoes a day. However on the morning of 27 July, when the boss scolded him for working too slowly, Cai retorted angrily that he only had one pair of hands. The boss then picked up one of the soles that Cai had been working on and beat him repeatedly around the face and neck.See photo from hdmnw.com below.
Cai’s response was to get up and go to the local police station in Shanyao to report the assault. In perhaps nine out of ten cases, the cops would have told him to get lost but the Shanyao police not only came to the factory, they told the boss to make a formal apology and pay Cai 1,500 yuan in compensation, in addition to the 600 yuan in wages he was already owed.
It is difficult to know whether the police were well-disposed to his plight or if Cai was particularly persuasive. In any case, the response of the police was infinitely preferable to that of the authorities in Chaozhou who in early June ignored the demands of migrant workers to arrest a factory owner who had perpetrated a far more serious assault. That inaction led to a full-scale riot and it may be that the police in Shanyao were aware of what happened in Chaozhou, and several other cities recently, and did not want a similar occurrence on their patch.
Cai’s response to the assault is also encouraging. He did not gather a group of friends or family members to enact vengeance on the boss; rather, he knew his rights and simply went to the police to demand that they intervene on his behalf.
Moreover, Cai was willing to stand up to an abusive boss and in the end got an apology, something that is perhaps even more significant than the compensation he received. For decades, factory bosses have not had to answer to their workforce at all. They unilaterally decided pay levels and working conditions and expected employees to accept those conditions without question. In recent years, however, better educated, more self-assertive and confident workers have come to the fore and forced bosses to treat them more as equals. For example, after the strike at Denso Nansha in Guangzhou last year, which earned workers an 800 yuan pay increase, workers said it became clear that the old “hierarchical mentality” of management had been erased and that employees were now on more of an equal footing.
But while the social and economic power gap between workers and bosses is slowly beginning to narrow, it is still very unusual for a boss to make a formal apology to an employee, especially a young student doing a short-term summer job. As such, Young Cai is very much a role model for the new generation of China’s workers.