Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, was “amazed” and “enthralled” by Chinese who rise at 3am for work. He praised it as a manifestation of talent and a good work ethic. Truthfully, that praise and statement about China, no matter its motivation, is nothing more than a round of applause for the atrocities inflicted by dictators and the spiritual anesthesia of their victims.
“There’s just a lot of super-talented, hard-working people in China that strongly believe in manufacturing,” Musk said in an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday.
“And they won’t just be burning the midnight oil, they’ll be burning the 3am oil,” he added.
Talent is an exceptional natural ability, especially in a particular activity. Although rising early might be related to a strong work ethic, it has nothing to do with talent. In the context of Chinese workers, it is also unrelated to their work ethic and is likely linked with unjust labor policies.
As someone who has spent half my life in Chinese-occupied East Turkestan [Xinjiang] and has countless relatives and friends being oppressed in forced Chinese labor camps, I can say that if Musk is speaking of Uighur workers in Chinese factories, their early working hours are related to the “crime” they are being charged with and has nothing to do with their talent.
In the case of Han Chinese workers, this is likely connected with their lack of rights and not a strong belief in manufacturing.
Why are Chinese rising for work at 3am?
If the workers at Musk’s company are Han Chinese, their motivation might be higher pay, full benefits and nice treatment by a US company. These are unheard of at domestic companies, which afford workers no rights and no way to oppose regulations — they must do whatever factory owners want.
In China, there is no independent court to appeal to when a worker is fired, and there is no free press to report when irregular work hours cause health problems or interfere with family life.
According to Business Insider, the “996” culture — which refers to the brutal work schedule of 9am to 9pm six days a week — “has been blamed for making a work-life balance impossible, causing unnecessary stress and even killing workers at some of China’s leading tech companies.”
Musk defended this notion, saying that he expects China to produce “some very strong companies” because of the country’s workforce.
Given that most of the prominent companies in China are state owned, the strengths to which he refers stem from a lack of rights for Chinese workers.
As human beings, Chinese want regular work schedules. A punishing work schedule is neither their dream, nor a source of joy.
This is why tens of thousands of Chinese citizens line up for visas every day in front of US and European embassies. Most of these are rejected because they all want to go abroad for asylum and not to spend the money they made with their “talent.”
Hundreds of thousands of human rights advocates are being held in Chinese prisons, in part because they tried to save people from excessive working hours.
By comparing US workers to Chinese workers, Musk insulted members of the US labor force.
For example, he said: “They [Chinese workers] won’t even leave the factory, type of thing, whereas in America, people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
Working is not humanity’s purpose — the goal is to have peace and prosperity. Thus, over the past 200 years of industrialization and modernization, people have established an eight-hour system of work. Modern laws prohibit exceeding set hours and norms.
Although Americans did, at one time, show such “talent” — they would not leave factories and farms — the result was long-lasting struggles and high personal costs.
Musk should not forget that if Chinese moved to the US and became naturalized, they might not want to get up at 3am for work, and if Americans moved to China and lived without freedom, they might soon develop a “talent” for working a brutal schedule.
Musk has never mentioned the darker workings of the Chinese government, such as the killing of Uighurs, the persecution of Tibetans and the suppression of Hong Kongers — as well as its increased aggression toward Taiwanese.
To the contrary, Musk opened an office in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, a day after US President Biden signed a bill banning Uighur forced labor.
The average person can easily identify this dark side of Chinese society, but Musk either does not see it or does not want to see it. His priority is not the talent or work ethic of Chinese, but simply the number of electric vehicles he can sell to the Chinese market.
Musk owes an apology to Uighurs, Chinese and his US workers for his toxic statements about “talented workers” and his flattery of the Chinese Communist Party.
Kok Bayraq is a Uighur American.
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