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Wu Eryu

From : China Daily

Clad in the latest French Ports dress and clutching a Lancel designer bag, Wu Eryu still remembers her first day at work in 1983.


"I wore a coat of yellow and brown check that my mom made for me that day," Wu says.

"It was a colorless time when people made their own clothes and everyone was wearing the same unisex attire so my clothes drew a lot of attention."

Wu, who is now 46, had joined the Shanghai No 2 Textile Machinery Factory under the Shanghai Textile Group. At that time during the country's planned economy, many needed guanxi, or connections, to work at a textile company because the industry offered one of the best-paid jobs in a State-owned enterprise (SOE).

Earning 54 yuan a month, Wu and her colleagues were given everything from housing to cooking pots.

"We did not even need to buy food for the New Year celebrations," she says.

But things soon changed quickly as the country embraced more reform and development.

Around 1990, when the fast-developing economy was eclipsing old modes of manufacturing and emerging industrial centers like Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces were becoming more competitive, Shanghai's textile industry was losing its luster like many other State-owned sectors.

SOEs began to see their out-of-fashion products piling up at warehouses. In Shanghai's textile industry alone, 600,000 female workers were facing unemployment.

After 1995, most old State-owned textile companies in Shanghai and other parts of the country stopped producing entirely.

From 1998 to 2001, with SOEs being reformed further, about 8 million workers were reportedly laid off every year. In total, 30 million at the SOEs lost their jobs from 1978 amid reform.

Wu knew she had to find a way out and decided to follow a government initiative to employ laid-off textile workers as air hostesses for the fledgling aviation industry in 1994.

"At that time, everything I knew about being an air hostess was from movies. In my mind, they lived a glamorous life and traveled for free," she says.