The Chinese Triangle of Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong: Comparative Institutional Analyses

By Alvin Y. So; Nan Lin et al. | Go to book overview

7

OF FLESH AND BLOOD: THE HUMAN CONSEQUENCES OF ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING ON WOMEN WORKERS IN HONG KONG

Chi-Kwan Ho


THE CHANGING ECONOMY AND EMPLOYMENT PATTERNS

The rapid metamorphosis of Hong Kong from an entrepôt into a laborintensive, export-oriented industrial economy by the late 1950s epitomized its incorporation into the world division of labor and dependency on overseas markets (Wilber and Jameson, 1992; Mok, 1993). During this period of industrial takeoff, women, many still in their teenage years, were massively absorbed into the labor market for the first time. Working mostly as production workers, these female laborers provided local industries, especially the manufacturing sector, with the backbone that it needed and contributed substantially to Hong Kong's subsequent economic growth (Salaff, 1983). By the late 1980s, Hong Kong had become part and parcel of a regional process of economic restructuring within Asia. As export-oriented industrialization started to give way to the transfer of both capital and factories to less-developed countries in the region, a process of deindustrialization began in Hong Kong.

This process of deindustrialization, marked by the drop of its share of Hong Kong's gross domestic product (GDP) from 22.3% in 1986, to 15.2% in 1991 (Tsang, 1998), is also evidenced by the 30% decline in the number of manufacturing establishments from 50,606 in 1988, to 33,863 in 1994 (Hong Kong Industry Department, 1994) and the elimination of close to 500,000 manufacturing jobs between 1987 and 1995 (Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, 1988, 1996). Parallel to the decline of the manufacturing sector in the late 1980s was the blooming of the service sector, which became the largest employer. However, employment in the wholesale, retail, restaurant and hotel sector, which rose rapidly in the early 1990s, started registering the smallest growth in employment and the biggest reduction in vacancies among the nonmanufacturing industries by 1994 (Suen, 1995). Within this process, the

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