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American Factory – a documentary about the operation of a Chinese-owned factory in Ohio – is the first film distributed by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company. It received positive reviews in the United States as well as in China. Critics describe it as a thorough and empathetic reflection of the clashing of work cultures in the 21st-century globalized economy. Blogger Yang Shiyang encourages Chinese viewers to avoid judgment and possibly reconsider their own values.


The documentary American Factory follows labor disputes at a Chinese-owned factory in Ohio to examine cultural clashes and the effects of globalization. 

American Factory is about a Chinese farmer-turned-entrepreneur who revives a closed factory in the United States. His local American employees defy his attempts to run the factory the Chinese way. The tone of the documentary is lighthearted, candid, at times funny and satirical. It’s not antagonistic toward either side, and isn’t trying to make a grand or epic statement. Rather, the film offers viewers an insight into the globalized economy at the factory level. 

American factory workers want to unionize; Chinese owners oppose unionization.

The main conflict in the documentary revolves around unionization, which the US workers request and the Chinese managers view as inefficient. The Chinese CEO, optimizing strictly for costs and efficiency, instates a work system familiar to Chinese people. But the factory’s American employees are accustomed to a different system, one that secures basic rights for employees and in which workers’ dignity plays a role.


About the Author

Yang Shiyang is a movie critic, columnist and author of a movie guide.

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