Every time I come to China, there is always something new to see. The skyline changes at a pace that makes most of the rest of the world appear to be asleep. But even with a reasonable amount of prior experience, I have been a little surprised by what I have seen in Dongguan.
I really don’t want to make any political comments or get involved in disagreements and negotiations between continents and countries, so I would like to make my position quite clear. I primarily regard myself as pro-human. The world will be a better place when every person on the planet has the same chance for good health, happiness, and the opportunity to achieve their potential. Employment certainly plays a part in this, and as far as I am concerned, the goalposts moved for me today.
I have made more than 30 visits to China over the past 12 years, and I have always been impressed with the governmental policies that have helped living standards improve so quickly. Advances in technology certainly move very fast over here. The policy in China is to encourage business and technology with a view of improving employment opportunities for all.
Figure 1: Huawei development, Songshan Lake.
In the U.K., the national news has featured ongoing concerns over the hardware manufactured by the Chinese company Huawei. It has been mentioned often enough that most of the time, the BBC newscasters now have the pronunciation of the company name similar to how it would be pronounced in Chinese. To my ears, it sounds like “Wah Way.”
I knew a little about Huawei before today, and I have previously checked out their smartphones. The current models definitely seem to keep up with other manufacturers of similar devices. Based on this, I assumed they were a decent-sized company with nice facilities.
The reason all of this appeared on my radar today was because I had a free afternoon with my wife, and I wanted to visit something new while we were in China. I have a reasonable excuse for doing this because occasionally, I need to look after a customer while they are visiting this area, and I always like to show them something they have not seen before. My good friend, Mr. Jermin Wang, has looked after me in China for more than 12 years now, and he came up with the idea of visiting Songshan Lake. I was promised beautiful views and the opportunity to cycle around the lake. While we were on the way to the lake, which was around one hour from our hotel, Jermin shared that Huawei was in the process of building a new facility there.
Figure 2: The church.
Songshan Lake is a pretty large area. We drove for a while, admiring the views from the car and looking for a place to park. At one point, the design of the buildings changed notably to a very European style that reminded me of Germany. We drove further, and the design changed a little and became a little more French and then Tuscan. Jermin told us that all of this European-style development was owned by Huawei (Figure 1). The sheer scale of the development and the quality of the environment being created was staggering. I am not super confident about the figures I was given, but I was told that 20,000 Huawei workers have transferred to this site so far. The amount of construction currently underway suggests the final figure will be a multiple of this number.
Figure 3: Tram station.
It was impossible to guess the purpose of each building, and I am sure some of the structures are more industrial than they appear from the outside, but at a glance, we could have been in Europe. An example of this was a building that appeared to resemble a church (Figure 2).
We proceeded with our plan for a gentle cycle ride around the lake. My wife Linda is not a cyclist, and a little persuasion was needed to get her on the back of a tandem we hired from a local kiosk. I am glad the path was pretty level because there was not much added power coming from the pedals at the rear. Every wobble was accompanied by a little shriek from behind my left ear and smiles and laughs from the locals who were happy to stop and watch us make our precarious progress.
The whole area is pretty idyllic and rivals most of the parks I have visited in Europe. If I had to make a comparison, I would probably pick Bourneville, which is near Birmingham in the U.K. John Cadbury, a Quaker and philanthropist in the mid-19th century, built a “model village” to house his workers and carry out his business of confectionery manufacturing. His primary consideration was the health and well-being of his workforce. Cadbury is still a world-renowned name today after more than 100 years. This long-term success may be at least in part due to the way the company looked after their workers. There are definite parallels with the Huawei development at Songshan Lake, although the latter dwarfs the scale of the former by a considerable amount (perhaps 50,000+ residents compared to around 1,000 in Bournville).
Figure 4: Tram into town.
The Songshan development is undoubtedly a very attractive place to live and work. There were plenty of people relaxing and enjoying the fresh air and fine weather and well-maintained landscaped gardens. The landscaping and planting are quite beautiful, and the facilities look like they have been very well thought through. Further, there is a tram system extending across the whole Huawei complex with regular stations (Figures 3 and 4).
Of course, there is also a level of security that prevents the casual visitor from wandering in. At every entrance, there was a manned checkpoint with polite and friendly security guards who were happy to explain that it was possible to tour the complex but only in the company of a member of Huawei staff and with prior arrangement (Figure 5). We checked with a friend who works for Huawei in Shanghai, and he confirmed that he would have been able to show us around if he had been present.
In this case, with no available escort, we were limited to taking a look at the areas still under construction (Figure 6). Even the security points were built to fit in with the architectural plan. I would be very happy to take up residence in a building like that!
Figure 5: Security gate under construction.
We retreated to a coffee shop for a cool drink to consider what we had seen. It seems pretty obvious to me that Huawei is planning for the long term. This is a company that wants to attract the best staff by offering a working environment and employment conditions that are the very best possible by any standards.
Figure 6: Buildings under construction.
I can’t help wondering if some of the reason that Huawei has been singled out for close scrutiny on the international stage is because of the strength of their long-term business model and ambitions, which must be quite a serious threat to the established leaders in the field, including a lot of American companies. Could there be an element of protectionism involved in some country’s current foreign policies?
If there was a public hotel amongst the complex, I would seriously consider booking my summer vacation in the new Huawei town next year. Taking a gentle wander through representations of various regions of Europe. Spending the morning sipping a coffee in a French coffee bar followed by a short tram ride to Tuscany for a lazy afternoon stroll along the lakeside with a spot of fishing. Heading to Bavaria for the evening to enjoy a cold beer and pork knuckle meal. Of course, I am imagining what it may be like inside the campus, but if the internal arrangement is a fraction of the external facade, then it would be impossible not to be impressed.
Marc Ladle is a director at Viking Test Ltd.
This article was initially published in the July 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.