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Home  /  Inside China  /  The Overlapping of Work and Personal Life – Less Freedom in the Domestic Sphere, Less Pressure in the Working Hours
The Overlapping of Work and Personal Life – Less Freedom in the Domestic Sphere, Less Pressure in the Working Hours print version
In 2010 free-market-China many traces of the communist 'work unit' 单位 danwei still exist, whether in working systems or in individual workers' mentality. When there is no distinct boundary between work and personal life, besides experiencing less personal freedom, one can also see his or her work as their life and hence maintain a positive attitude towards it.

The structure working units in China is evolving constantly. Since the beginning of the reform era, and particularly since the early 90's, the number of state owned enterprises (国有企业 guoyouqiye), is declining and the communist regime's supervision is becoming looser. With efficiency as the objective and the free-market economy as the playing-ground, privatization abundantly promoted. However, many businesses choose to preserve communist features in their enterprises. Often it is the governmental supervision that dictates such form, but some private companies actually use the old elements as a tool for promoting a more efficient work, rather than as a way to correspond to state control.

The Danwei 单位 (literally meaning 'single position' or 'single place'), 'work unit', is one of the most prominent changes the communist regime promoted in the middle of the 20th century. In such unit, all workers of the same enterprise reside in one place (with or without their families), usually adjacent to their working place. Health care, kindergartens, food and pensions are some of the benefits achieved in such a system, while restrictions in travel, resignation and obviously political freedom are implemented in a top-down manner.  

Currently in China there are many work places which preserve some features of the danwei system (such places often involve village youngsters who move to work in big cities). Such elements often include very long working hours, 6-7 working days a week, workers residence dormitories, etc. In such a system, the gap between personal life and work is often invisible. Time-wise and space-wise these two aspects of life interact and become almost one. Additional working hours on the one hand, or solving personal life problems within the work frame (or even through the help of fellow workers or employers) ,on the other, are very common.

Do you have an attitude of building a thick boundary line between your work and home, such as never taking your job with you once you step outside the office or jumping up from your chair once the hand hits 17:00? Privatization or not, in China such attitude hardly exist within the lower working class. Along with the total dependence of a worker on his employer, communist roots cannot be undermined.

While such a working lifestyle can seem to lack inspiration and personal freedom, the other side of this picture is have a working sphere which is often not treated as a burden or as a several-hours-task that should be finished quickly, in order to return the peaceful domestic sphere. When life is work and work is life, people are seldom 100% carefree but also tend to adapt to their work and not hold objections, or 'waiting for a vacation' feelings (unless such vacation's purpose is visiting one's close family), which workers in other familiar systems often share. The above statement generalizes and ignores numerous alternative cases, but is still widely representative in China's working domain.

Obviously, a working lifestyle that suppresses the existence of a work-free domestic life isn't unique to the danwei system (the overlapping of different daily functions can be also linked to ancient Daoist principles, but we won't add this complexity to the discussion now), and many families who seek to promote their own private business in the present reform era also experience long 7 working days per week, with no vacation to be seen on the horizon. Any one who ate in a family restaurant in China has met such lifestyle. One can argue whether owners of small private business (个体户 getihu) experience more pressure than common danwei workers, since the former constantly want to produce more money and improve the prospect of their offspring by another small step. 

Elements of the danwei system exist in 2011 China, even in small private businesses, where working class mentality can more easily adapt to a reality in which work and life are contained one in another. After all, besides finding time to sleep, feed and run important arraigns, who said that life cannot be satisfying within one's working hours?

Assisting Source: The Danwei: Socio-Spatial Characteristics of Work Units in China's Urban Society The Danwei: Socio-Spatial Characteristics of Work Units in China's Urban Society/ E. M. Bjorklund


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