Faceless Employees in China, Literally

We’ve all heard that employees are faceless entities of a giant corporate bureaucracy who are nothing more than easily cogwheels. Well this truth has been taken to a whole new level by a company in China. It’s rather ironic that the once greatest bastion of socialism is now becoming the most advanced expression of social relations in capitalism. The relations of production and the corresponding alienation of labour causes people to be so unhappy with their jobs that they have to put on a fake face. We’ve all had to do it at some point or another; a job tells us that we have to smile and be all happy and polite when we’re not. Basic human emotions have to be faked in order for the capitalist to compete in selling his damned product.

This antagonistic relationship with the capitalists has reached a point where some companies in China have created a pressure release valve so that their employees don’t totally lose their minds. In Handan, the north of China’s Hebei province, companies are allowing workers to wear masks that hide their true feelings one day a week. They’re calling it “relaxation day”, which normally occurs on a Tuesday. One day a month employees are allowed to be human and have the facial expressions corresponding to how they actually feel. The capitalist however doesn’t want people to actually see how unhappy everyone is. The mask serves as a great symbol to how artificial and unfulfilling our productive relations to each other are. You’re not allowed to expression emotions that might reflect how things really are. In this perverse concept of professionalism you’re required to distort reality in order to serve the profit motive of the capitalist.

This is a result of the Marxist theory of alienation. Here’s a brief description:

Marx theorized that spirit, or culture and history was created by human labour. The organization of human labour created different societies and shaped people differently. At one point we were all united in tribal societies where our labour directly benefitted each other, and we saw how our labour did this. Today we have a system where our connection to society, culture, and thus each other is commodified into wage labour. Our work is no longer our contribution to society, or an expression of ourselves. Our labour power is a commodity that is sold per hour. We don’t interact as people, we interact via commodity exchange. The things we buy, and the labour power we sell. This is a reason why we are divided form each other.

There has been much written about “the masks” we wear day to day in order to function within society. Anywhere from the customer service job B.S., to the false front we have to put on because of certain reactionary social values we’re pressured into following. In this case we see a very literal mask in these work places. Similar, less obvious ideas have been common in the corporate world for some time. The “casual Friday” is now a staple of almost every business. Some people, I would guess many, in the business world see the formal clothing as a kind of false face they have to put on at work. The “casual Friday” is intended to be a pressure release value for it. In the end we always see how phony it is when we’re confronted with the “business casual” dress code. You’re allowed to be casual, but not really. Just as with the masks you’re allowed to have your real facial expression and feelings, but not really because you have a mask.

I think it really says something when the social mask that we all wear in our daily lives becomes something literal. An actual plastic mask to cover up how we feel about our lives and our relationships to each other in the productive process. This pressure release is a symptom of the larger problem of social relations. Capitalism now needs this pressure release to keep people from exploding. It is by no means an act of kindness, or a charity out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a measure that they need to take in order to avoid a larger problem.

Capitalism is freedom and the unleashing of the human spirit!… Or so we’re forced to make it appear.