A few months ago, two Americans arrived for a meeting at a sprawling, corporate campus in Sichuan Province in China. (They asked not to be named because their work is confidential.) To get to the conference room, they crossed a vast span of cubicles where hundreds of young engineers were busy at their desks, a scene replicated on every floor of the 10-storey building. The meeting was to discuss a dense, text-heavy document, and it began with the client reviewing the day’s agenda: they’d talk until 11am, break for lunch, have nap time, and then start again at 2pm.
Lunch was in a cafeteria the size of a football field where women with hair nets and soup ladles regulated the movement of a column of people. The visitors lost sight of their hosts, so they got into line, bolted down their meal, and retraced their way to the building where they’d had their meeting. When the elevator door opened, the window blinds were drawn, the computer screens were off, and the whole floor lay in grey shadow. The workday could have been over but for the fact that people lay about everywhere, as switched off as the ceiling lights.