RUIYIN comes from Tangshan, far in the north. A stocky, big-boned woman with a ready smile. Ruiyin says she was visiting an aunt in Guangzhou (Canton) when she heard that foreign factories in Shenzhen were recruiting Chinese workers. Curious, she accompanied her cousin to a job interview, and was hired. Working under managers sent from Hong Kong, she was surprised to find that, unlike state-owned factories where some of her friends worked, toy manufacturer Kader Enterprises expected a full eight-hour day from its employees.
Ruiyin liked that approach. In Tangshan she had been a school teacher. At Kader she rolled up her sleeves and started out as an ordinary line worker. Her wages rose year by year to five yuan per day, then seven, and now 13 yuan per day. With overtime, her monthly earnings average the equivalent of $150 per month. She and her husband, who also works at Kader, have an apartment of more than 600 sq. ft. - two or three times larger than the apartment they might have gotten in their hometown.
Liu Ruiyin is a modest success story in the saga of China's effort to open up its economy to fresh breezes from the free enterprise societies of the West. The effort has gone on for 10 years, during which there have been repeated changes in official policy. But the direction, on the whole, has been consistent, despite setbacks, the most dramatic of which was the crushing of the Tiananmen student demonstrations in June of 1989.
I met Ruiyin at a factory owned by Kader, a major Hong Kong toymaker. The factory, in Shenzhen, next door to uncompromisingly capitalistic Hong Kong, has been in operation since 1982 and employs over 3,000 workers - 80 percent female.
Ten years ago, when China's senior leader Deng Xiaopin proclaimed Shenzhen a ``special economic zone'' designed to attract investors from Hong Kong and other free enterprise societies, this was a sleepy border town of 30,000. Today it has forests of skyscrapers and a population approaching 2 million. There is an ``anything goes'' atmosphere about the place, a sense that this city is spearheading China's march toward the future - despite slogans proclaiming ``Resolutely uphold the leadership of the Communist Party.''
The couple have to pay 123 yuan per month - not quite $24 - in rent. By Western standards, the amount is modest. But in China, where people pay $2 or $3 per month for state-supplied housing, it is huge. Ruiyin doesn't mind. Her earnings and those of her husband are quite sufficient to cover the rent without strain.
Wang Kwang-hua, production manager at the Kader factory, says he is constantly on the lookout for workers like Ruiyin. Wang, a Singapore citizen, was born in Shanghai and educated in Taiwan. He is eager to pass on to his Chinese subordinates the management skills he has learned. He would like to push Ruiyin as far as she is able and willing to go. It takes time, he says, and a great deal of patience.
But having worked outside of China for many years, he now feels an obligation to do what he can to help China's modernization. Already, he says, he notices a difference between the workers in Shenzhen and those at a newer factory Kader has set up in Dongguan, on the road between Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Dongguan workers are like a blank sheet of paper. They obediently do what their managers tell them. Shenzhen workers, though, are beginning to disagree and to talk back.
``Of course that makes it harder for me,'' Wang says. ``But it shows they are beginning to do their own thinking, and that is what I want them to do.''
Shenzhen is only a halfway house in China's gingerly conducted experiment of finding ways to increase worker incentives and introduce a more market-oriented economy. It's an experiment Ruiyin wholeheartedly supports. Her delight in a system that alllows those that work harder to earn more seems simple. But it is only when this delight becomes contagious throughout China that economic reform will really flower.