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Ruiyi Zhu

Second Prize

A Chinese Mining Factory in Mongolia

A Chinese worker is pictured handling the chemical processing of fluorspar, Mongolia (Ruiyi Zhu, 2017)A Mongolian assistant accountant runs a makeshift barbershop in the workers’ dormitory in her spare time, Mongolia (Ruiyi Zhu, 2017)Mongolian mechanics feel relieved after spending three days fixing the engine of an extractor, Mongolia (Ruiyi Zhu, 2017)As spring arrives in 2017, mining, the pillar industry of the Mongolian economy, is also warming up after a few years of market gloom. Located in Sukhbaatar province, 400 km east of Ulaanbaatar, this fluorspar mining and processing factory is owned by a private Chinese enterprise, which recruits and manages both Chinese and Mongolian workers. With the increase in capital investment, labour migration, and introduction of work disciplines, the Chinese presence is insidiously transforming the landscape of eastern Mongolia, where herding and agriculture have played a major role in local socioeconomic lives, and memories of Soviet industrial influence have remained extant.

During my time at the factory in the summer of 2016 and April 2017, I was intrigued by the experiences and perspectives of Chinese workers regarding the natural environment, economic engagement, and sociocultural interactions in Mongolia. With an average age of forty-five, these Chinese workers seek to remake themselves by earning higher salaries abroad. However, faced with language barriers, cultural differences, limited amenities, and little labour protection, they often contrast the ‘rough’ life of the Mongolian countryside with the economic and social development in China over the last four decades, projecting national pride.

From top right:

A Chinese worker is pictured handling the chemical processing of fluorspar in the factory. Most technical procedures at the factory are controlled by Chinese workers, whereas the Mongolian workers do the heavy lifting or assist the Chinese as apprentices. However, their distinctive identities are somewhat obscured by the impersonal industrial production process.

A Mongolian assistant accountant runs a makeshift barbershop in the workers’ dormitory in her spare time. She worked as a professional hairdresser for three years before finding a job at this Chinese mining factory.

Mongolian mechanics feel relieved after spending three days fixing the engine of an extractor. Before the steam announced the success of repair, involved Mongolian workers were scolded by the Chinese engineer for their lack of discipline. Since the company imports all mechanical parts from China, machine maintenance requires extra care – even dropping a screw could result in a serious delay.