Taipei, Taiwan – In one of the many small factories near Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, about 30 schoolchildren sit in front of traditional sock rings to learn how to knit from a bygone era.
It’s the same method that Andrew Wu’s grandfather, Nai Yang, used to make socks in Japanese-occupied Taiwan in the 1930s: Thread is pulled onto a hook with a needle, attached to a ring, and cranked over. 200 times.
In Nai Yang’s time, a worker could spend 6 to 8 hours on a pair of high-quality socks. It was a luxury item at the time, selling for around 4,000 New Taiwan dollars ($135) in today’s currency. But at Wu’s Wufuyang Socks Museum, tourists can knit their own sock, water bottle holder, stuffed animal or scarf in just an hour while learning about the history of sock manufacturing in Taiwan. You can also see how today’s processes are done using advanced machinery.
“Our DIY class teaches you how to thread everything,” Wu told Al Jazeera. “So they really know how long it takes to make a sock, so they value theirs more.”
Wu’s “Tourism Factory” is part of an effort by Taiwan’s Economic Development Bureau to boost local tourism by channeling funds into factories, the infrastructure that already exists.
Taiwan, once considered the “world’s factory,” has moved some of its factories locally, rather than following the international trend of relocating its industrial tourism initiatives to China and Southeast Asia, where land and labor costs are cheaper. We hope to encourage them to continue operating.
Twenty years of efforts have resulted in over 150 government-approved “Tourist Factories” and “Manufacturing Cultural Centers”, as well as up to 100 independent examples. Curious tourists visit the museum for shoes, robots, suitcases, pencils and even condoms, and take home his DIY products as a memento of their visit.
In an increasingly competitive international market, the focus on service rather than manufacturing is expected to boost brand loyalty and trust in Taiwanese companies.
“This is a sustainable concept. [idea of] A traveling factory is more like a remodel than a construction,” Susan Lin, professor of museum studies at Hugen University, told Al Jazeera.
“At a tourist factory, people have to be educated on the procedure to make the product. They see how [for example] Storing healthy and safe food. “
Guo Xuemei’s first Barbie doll came from an aunt who worked every day at the Mino factory in Taishan, just outside New Taipei City, producing toys for export. All the other kids were jealous – Taiwanese could make Barbie dolls for export but couldn’t buy them domestically.
Workers were given a Barbie doll as a New Year’s gift from the factory. I had no choice but to take it home.
“I don’t know if the Barbie doll my aunt brought was taken away or given as a gift,” Guo told Al Jazeera. However, these dolls and their beautiful dresses inspired the rest of her career, first as a dressmaker and now as a volunteer and teacher at the Taishan Barbie Doll Industry and Cultural Center.
During Guo’s aunt’s time, the small town of Taishan was known as Taiwan’s “Barbie Town”.
At its peak, more than 8,000 workers were employed at the Meining factory, producing half of Mattel’s Barbie dolls in the world. In addition, a third of the city’s population became subcontractors for more detailed work such as mending loose threads and tightening bows in his home workshop.
“People in Taishan had a saying, ‘We grew up with Barbie,'” Guo said. “Barbie is the best representation of Taishan.”
Taiwan’s economic miracle of the 1970s and 80s is largely due to factories like the Meining Doll Factory in Taishan. Its success as a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) earned it designation to produce products exclusively for one contractor, like Mattel in Taishan’s case.
Taiwanese SMEs, often family-owned and operated, accounted for the majority of Taiwan’s exports at the time and became experts in supplying foreign companies with goods and components at competitive prices. I was. They thrived in the 1950s as lax government regulations, strong land reforms, and US economic aid poured into Taiwan’s economy. Economic growth averaged 10% a year in the 1970s, but some estimate that in the mid-80s, he had one company for every eight adults in Taiwan.
“The strength of most Taiwanese companies lies in their ability to build demand through design, marketing and branding, but supply products to companies that do not have the capacity to produce products at market-bearing prices,” said Shelly Riger. I am writing. 2021 The tiger that guides the dragon.
Today, this strength is best demonstrated by companies such as Foxconn and TSMC. These companies provide phones, chips, and other technology to the world’s largest technology companies.
However, the opening of China’s special economic zones in the 1980s made it possible to produce low-tech products like Barbie dolls overseas at low cost. Taiwanese companies moved operations across the strait, driving China’s economic rise. By 1987, Mattel left Taishan for China and Malaysia, leaving Taishan workers behind. Taiwan’s annual economic growth rate fell to 6.3% in the 1990s.
“The impact was huge, and it wasn’t just about work,” says Guo.
Six years after the Mino factory closed, the mayor of Taishan has moved to keep Barbie culture alive through Barbie-related classes and cultural activities, including DIY classes led by former factory workers themselves. Today, as many reach his 70s and his 80s, Guo has taken over the role. Taishan’s Barbie Industrial Cultural Center is one of Taiwan’s few industrial tourist destinations and no longer produces exhibits.
Companies that decide to keep manufacturing in Taiwan, even as other industries move overseas, aren’t typically driven by tourism profits. Some fear that their intellectual property will be stolen if operations move to China. Some see staying local as a long-term investment that hopes to bear fruit in the local market. To survive today’s competition from China, they focus on smaller orders and niche markets where they can make more money.
“We all know the museum part isn’t really the part where you can make a lot of money. Some industries can be in the red,” said Wu, a sock maker. “You don’t see results in a year or two. It may take an entire generation, maybe 10 years, for children to become familiar with the brand name.”
The first time Jessamine Lai learned about the local culture of Yilan, a county in the northeastern part of the island, at school was on a field trip to Orange Country, a kumquat candy factory that has been offering tours since 1979.
Lai’s classmate and lifelong friend, Ding Guan Lin, was the son of those factory owners and the grandson of a kumquat farmer who sold the fruit to a local factory for candy. Witnessing China’s economic growth, Lin’s parents opened their own factory and gave tours to show customers how they used new and modern methods of drying and preserving kumquats. decided to provide. He proudly claims that his parents founded Taiwan’s first “tourism factory.”
But when Lei and Lin were in school, as a result of the ruling Kuomintang’s 30-year martial law period and the strict imposition of Chinese education and language, they learned nothing about where they came from. was. Trade restrictions targeted at democratically controlled islands that Beijing considers its own territory.
“Our textbooks, geography, were all in mainland China,” Lai told Al Jazeera. “Taiwan was about two chapters. Where is Taipei, where is Kaohsiung?
Under the management of Ding-gang Lin, Orange Country added a cafe and DIY class. For Lynn, the priority is not to attract more customers, but to connect people with what he sees with the fading local culture.
“I always invite my friends and classmates so that the locals can understand and feel what our culture is. It’s our home style,” Lynn told Al Jazeera.
Guo has a similar attitude. Barbie has become an integral part of Taishan’s identity, but since she began working at the museum and cultural center in 1993, she has strived to make Barbie a more accurate reflection of the people of Taiwan.
At the museum, Barbie dolls in Sakizaya, Ami, Atayal, and Sediq dresses (some of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous peoples) occupy entire two display cases. Later this summer, in cooperation with the Hakka Research Center in Taipei, we plan to hold a Hakka costume class for dolls.
“At the time, people were only making Barbies for export,” Guo said. “So when I started teaching classes, I wanted to create a Barbie doll with Taiwanese characteristics.”