CHENGDU, China -- Invitations to the conference in Chengdu promised Chinas New Future, with the countrys name spelled out in large gold letters. Mayor Ge Honglin, wearing a nicely tailored black suit, assured the audience sitting beneath rows of bright chandeliers that the regional market will grow bigger and bigger.
Throughout the afternoon, business executives repeated economic plans as mantra: Research and development! High-tech manufacturing! Alternative energy!
For all the enthusiasm offered by Ge and his guests, prominent local employer Foxconn Technology Group received little mention at the days press events. Even the spot in a promotional video boasting that more than half the worlds iPads are manufactured in Chengdu didnt name Foxconn as having churned them out.
The lack of appetite for open discussion about the Taiwanese electronics firm with its reputation as a 21st-century sweatshop where workers leap off rooftops wasnt surprising.
In Chengdu and other cities across the country, companies such as Foxconn are a reminder of the complexities facing Chinese Communist Party efforts to promote quality of life, household spending and, ultimately, social stability. Underneath Chinas great economic strides, its labor market remains rooted in tough conditions and wages that have risen but remain relatively low.
Workers at Foxconn described a strictly regimented and depersonalized environment. Its a life spent sitting mutely at assembly lines, they said, then shuffling back home to towering, cramped apartment buildings monitored by guards.
Some people come for a few days and leave, said Wu Zeyun, a 22-year-old assembly line worker who was eating a bowl of rice and vegetables at a rundown row of restaurants near the companys facility in Chengdu. And then others come for a few days and leave.
His friend Huang Li, a 19-year-old with a thin wisp of a mustache, said, It happens every day. The feeling here is not good.
But interviews with the factorys rank and file also pointed to a significant reason that, despite such frustrations, support for the Communist Party remains strong: Based on the nations past three decades of momentum, they expect something better to come.
Thats a crucial, if not existential, margin for party rulers presiding over a system beset by corruption, swelling prices and a widening gap in wealth and privilege. It might help explain why, despite a staggering average of some 10 percent annual growth for the previous 30 years, Chinese officials often seem edgy about the prospect of slowing down the economy.
As the largest private employer in the country, Foxconn certainly has generated revenue and jobs in Chengdu and elsewhere. The company says it employs more than 1 million people in mainland China 100,000-plus in Chengdu alone contracting with Apple and others to assemble their products.
That business, however, has come with a cost.
Less than a year after starting operations in Chengdu, an explosion at Foxconns facility in May 2011 killed four people and injured more than a dozen.
Last month, an incident involving seven Foxconn employees and restaurant staff near the factory led to a disturbance in which about 100 people at an apartment compound hurled various objects, some at security guards, according to official accounts and interviews. Nine days later, a Chengdu worker apparently jumped to his death from an 18th-floor apartment, echoing the 2010 spate of more than 12 reported suicides at company operations in other parts of the country.