Emperor’s throughout Chinese history have lived and ruled from the powerful walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Only certain high-class and military citizens were allowed to grace the Forbidden City with their presence. Not many people knew the truth about the goings-on inside the city walls, and that was purposeful. The knowledge gap was a power play, and an effective one. It kept the power in the hands of certain individuals who had a certain agenda. The last emperor to reside in the Forbidden City lived there in 1912 during the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Fast forward 68 years to 1980, and direct your attention to the first of four Special Economic Zones: Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen, in the way that Mike Daisey portrays it, is China’s new Forbidden City. Its residing, although late, emperor? Steve Jobs.
Daisey talks of Jobs’ grandiose legacy from the perspective of one Apple Geek among a “hierarchy of Apple Geeks,” that idolize the image of Jobs commanding his technological throne. Although he’s widely known for his legacy as the CEO and visionary mind behind Apple’s success, his golden touch also extends to the southern shores of China in Shenzhen. Daisey calls Shenzhen a “nameless city” where “all of our crap comes from.” Shenzhen is Jobs’ Forbidden City without the prestige. And his palace within his Forbidden city? Foxconn. A fortress with violent armed guards to boot. 430,000 workers populate his formidable army of robotic, yet certainly human, workers. At the beginning of his talk, Daisey describes taking apart his Apple MacBook as “soothing.” One might imagine that this physically similar experience isn’t quite as therapeutic for the Chinese workers at Foxconn. Here, we find a similarity between the prestigious palace of Chinese history and Foxconn, most of the people residing within its walls have little of now control over their fate.
Enter the courageous Mike Daisey. With his empowering Hawaiian shirt and ethically sound intentions, he uses his business cards as keys to enter the factory fortress that is Foxconn. Just like Apple, Daisey employs a powerful facade to get what he wants. Soon enough, he has seen every square foot of the facility and learned the troubling nuances of life inside Foxconn. His entire view of Apple and its products has changed from loving adoration to a deep internal disgust. His therapeutic remanufacturing of his Apple products will never be the same as he visualizes the original people who put them together.
There is knowledge of Apple’s practices and business with Foxconn, just like there was knowledge of the corrupt governing practices of the Chinese Dynasties. But we will just as soon forget about these practices and return to the beautiful facade that is the legendary design of Apple’s brand and products. Jobs, though dead, remains on his throne. We’re left to wonder, like we might wonder about many emperors of China, did he even have a choice?