Gu the Shanghai tailor shows entrepreneurs can thrive in China
Not long ago a Chinese seaman on his way to Burma walked into Gu Dehua's tailor shop and wanted to have a pair of trousers made in a hurry. Young Mr. Gu accepted the woolen material the sailor had brought, took his measurements, and promised the trousers would be ready the very next day. (State-owned tailoring shops require a month for such work, and even Mr. Gu usually asks for a week.)Skip to next paragraph
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Unwrapping the material after the seaman's departure, Mr. Gu was surprised to find 60 yuan ($30) in its folds. The next day, when the seaman called for his trousers, Mr. Gu returned the money to him, taking only 5 yuan ($2.50) as his standard tailoring fee.
''I'm not in private enterprise just to make money,'' he told the surprised and delighted customer, who apparently had carelessly left the bills on the wrapping table in the store where he bought the material.
''I have to get a moral satisfaction out of my work as well.''
This is the kind of service that has made Mr. Gu's tailor shop a roaring success in a city where government and collective-owned enterprises still far outnumber private establishments.
Shanghai is a city of nearly 12 million people, over half of whom live in the central urban area. According to municipal foreign affairs official Wang Mingyang, the city fathers have found work for 11/2 million young people since 1977, the year after the fall of the ''gang of four'' and the official end of China's 10-year-long Cultural Revolution.
One million are employed in municipal organizations in Shanghai, and half a million in collective enterprises run by neighborhood committees and the like. Only 30,000 young people are in private enterprise.
The city is encouraging private enterprise, Mr. Wang said, but apparently many young people still either lack the required skills or prefer the ''iron ricebowl'' of work in a state-owned factory or office.
Mr. Gu is more fortunate than many of his friends, he freely admits, because his father is a tailor and taught him all the skills he needed to get his business going. He can make Mao jackets, of course, but he is also good at ''three-pocket suits'' - in other words, Western-style suits, which are increasingly in demand among young people, especially for weddings. (Mao jackets usually have four pockets.)
The Gu tailor shop, a cramped, one-room affair, is on a fairly busy shopping street in the Luwan district of Shanghai. Chubby-faced, stocky Mr. Gu has been in business since 1980, four years after he graduated from high school.
''The 'gang of four' was still in power when I graduated,'' Mr. Gu said, ''but I didn't have to go to the countryside, like all the rest of my classmates , because I was still recuperating from an illness. Since there was no work for me, I just stayed at home, cooking meals and keeping house for the family. My father and mother were both working, and so was my older sister, while my younger brother and sister were going to school.''
In fact, even today, that is the situation of the Gu family, although Mr. Gu is about to take a bride. Of that, more later.