The city grew rapidly
Dirty dirt streets rolled into asphalt, village shacks settled to the ground with dust and dust - and in their place, residential high-rise buildings grew up, from a bird's eye view similar to identical shoeboxes, giant factories bristling with pipes, and skyscrapers shining in the night - palaces of glass and concrete, the roofs touching clouds.
With investor money and a nuclear mixture of Chinese perseverance and hard work, in just 37 years, it has turned from a fishing village into an industrial metropolis with a population of 14 million. From the "fishing" past, only the name remained - Shenzhen - "deep boundary".
Shenzhen at night © depositphoto.com | gyn9037
Shenzhen is the fourth largest city in China, the most populous country on Earth, the greatest industrial empire of our time. His example is indicative. If in 37 years this country has built a city that can compete with the infrastructure of the largest centers of the financial world, it should not be surprising that for several years Chinese smartphones have been at the forefront of the mobile revolution.
We visited the heart of ZTE, one of the largest Chinese electronics manufacturers, and saw how this revolution is being forged from the inside.
Shenzhen is located in the south of China: high humidity, heat and other delights of a subtropical climate. It is a large modern metropolis and is home to the giant manufacturing facilities of many Chinese companies, their factories and offices.
ZTE was born here, the company's headquarters is still in Shenzhen. It all began with a tiny workshop at a time when the fashionable word "startup" did not yet exist - the photographs displayed in the thematic "hall of memory" of the company's office serve as reminders of the "handicraft" times.
ZTE headquarters in Shenzhen © myzte.ru
Now ZTE - a major electronics manufacturer. It is known to the general public mainly for its smartphones, but most of the company's business also lies in other areas, ranging from telecommunications equipment like 5G internet to city management systems and wireless chargers for electric vehicles.
The latter I saw when I looked out the window of the ZTE headquarters - a square platform, literally built into the asphalt. It is intended for electric buses, which, to my surprise, are far from uncommon on the streets of China. Such a bus arrives at a stop, and while some passengers enter the cabin and others get out of it, it charges.
By the way, if you are in Shenzhen, be sure to take a ride in the white and blue taxis - they are completely electric.
The company's factory, where its smartphones are non-stop forged, is located in Xi'an. This ancient city is considered the cultural capital of the country - and not without reason: the Imperial Palace is located here, and on the outskirts of the Terracotta Army, a legion of silent clay warriors, guards the thousand-year last dream of the great emperor.
In the Chinese spirit, such objects are adjacent to factories. Industry is next to culture, the past is next to the history that is being forged now.
What does a Chinese factory look like? Imagination drew a dirty gray concrete labyrinth from the pages of Orwell's 1984, endless smoking pipes, barbed wire fences, and unfriendly guards in military uniform at the checkpoint.
The reality turned out to be much more prosaic: the factory looks like a modern office building, it is even surrounded by a picturesque garden with a pond. I would pass by and think that there is some large banking office working here.
The company's factory in Xi'an © personal archive
But all the fun is inside
Before any ZTE smartphone falls on store shelves, and from there gets into your hands, it goes through a lot of stages, the most important of which is assembly.
Before entering the assembly shop, you need to put on special clothing (up to a cellophane cap), go into an airtight chamber, in which all dust particles will blow off you with air flows. The last obstacle is duct tape, which catches any debris from the soles of your boots covered with shoe covers.
© VCG / VCG via Getty Images
And then - a huge hall with a dozen of the most diverse conveyors. Clean, sterile and … boring. People, robots, people, robots. Subconsciously, you expect Asian passions, fuss, running around - but none of this is there. Silence, conveyor noise. Only the slogans hung on the walls in the typical communist style: "Together we create the best" add color. On the other hand, how else could things be in a place where thousands of smartphones are produced every day? China would not become the industrial capital of the world, the kings in its factories are a mess.
The life of any ZTE smartphone begins in the offices of designers and planners, but it is born here in this hall. Most of the work is done by robots: here is a printed circuit board sliding along the conveyor belt, with printed "tracks" of circuits, but still completely empty. She “drives” into a transparent glass box, where a mechanical “hand”, having removed a microprocessor and a chip from a paper tape, with surgical precision and prohibitive speed, puts the electronics in only visible places.
© Brent Lewin | Bloomberg via Getty Images
The work of robots is fascinating: the rapid movements and the pace of work that is impossible for the human body will more than once make you remember all the famous works in which the theme of the uprising of machines was raised. Then the workpiece moves further, where, using a laser, the chip is soldered onto the board. All information is transmitted in real time to the screens of the terminal in the neighborhood - and the plant employee checks if everything went well.
This process is repeated more than once; moving forward, the workpiece gradually turns into a smartphone: it is chained into a case, acquires a screen, and so on - until the need for machines disappears and manual labor does not come into play. An employee examines an almost finished phone and passes it on, where colleagues test it for performance. They check the movement of the buttons and the responsiveness of the touch screen, listen to the conversational and front speakers, launch the main and selfie cameras.
Display color rendering testing © personal archive
Then comes the cosmetic stage: each screen is manually covered with a protective film, after which the finished smartphone is beautifully placed in a box. All - at least put it on display.
On average, it takes an hour to produce one entry-level smartphone, four times as much for a flagship one, which uses different materials and the requirements for which are much higher.
This is the final stage of creating a smartphone, but before launching it into production, you need to check the viability of the device. Literally - in a special room that I dubbed the "Smartphone Torture Room": in it, ZTE employees do about the same thing as video bloggers who test the durability of devices in their hands on a camera - mock them. Not just for the sake of likes and views - but to find out how long the smartphone will last with not the most careful handling.
© personal archive
There are special mechanisms for this in the "Hall". One of them is somewhat similar to a washing machine. The smartphone is placed inside an unsightly square drum. When rotating it simulates the fall of the device from a small height. If during certain cycles (of which, believe me, there are quite a few, you will definitely get bored of waiting for the end of the "test") the smartphone remains intact and continues to work - the test is passed.
There is an even more curious unit in the neighborhood: the smartphone is fixed in a vice, and the mechanism, consisting of long metal tubes, non-stop presses all the mechanical buttons, as if playing a saxophone. We click on the volume and shutdown keys of the smartphone a hundred times a day and definitely do not want them to fall off over time, so this testing methodology seems funny only at first.
© personal archive
In the same place, in a chamber upholstered with sound-absorbing materials, the sound of smartphone speakers is tested.
If at least one of these stages the smartphone fails, it is sent back for revision. Quite a radical method - but it's still better than recalling lots of your devices from stores due to technical defects.
The ZTE factory is China in miniature. A gradual, well-oiled process of transforming, through collective work and persistence, an idea, concept, pencil sketch into life. In a global sense, the Celestial Empire is one gigantic factory, consisting of a billion cogs and gears, clearly knowing what to do, realizing and accepting their place.
And while this process cannot be called exciting, it bears fruit. So ZTE for an incredibly short time by the standards of technology entered the top ten leading electronics manufacturers, so the "Chinese miracle" was forged - the formation of China as the first economy in the world.
So take a closer look at Chinese smartphones - perhaps now they can take the same integral place in your life as skyscrapers in the life of tropical Shenzhen.>