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Construction worker loses job after exposing low-quality helmets

A migrant worker in Qingdao, Shandong Province, claims he was fired by his former employer and is having trouble finding another job after he posted a viral video in which he demonstrated the substandard quality of his helmet while working at a construction site.

The man, whose last name is Dòu 窦, found himself at the center of attention since last week, when he posted a clip on the short-video platform Kuaishou that shows the astonishing lack of effective protection at a building site in Qingdao. The video has raised widespread concerns about the negligent practices of building companies, at least when it comes to their regular workers. In the video, Dou strikes a red helmet worn by a manager against a yellow one worn by ordinary workers. The yellow helmet can be seen easily breaking into pieces.

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The video, published on April 11, racked up over 2 million views in a week and incited an onslaught of critical reactions from internet users. In several interviews (in Chinese) with the media, Dou claimed that the low-quality helmet in the video was offered by his employer. He said the construction company had not taken any action to address the problem, even after the video made headlines. Dou also mentioned that he had previously been posting similar content on the internet in an attempt to bring attention to the hazardous work environment that he and his colleagues had to deal with.

This series of videos and the public’s call for better protection of construction workers also prompted the central government to weigh in. On April 17, the official Weibo account of the emergency management office of the central government wrote in a post, “How could you ensure safe production when you can’t even provide high-quality helmets for your workers? To hold companies accountable for production safety, we should pay more attention to what measures they have in place rather than what they say.”

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But shortly after the seemingly official response from the government, things took an unexpected turn. On the evening of April 17, all the videos posted by Dou disappeared from Kuaishou. And in an apparent contradiction to his previous remark, Dou told (in Chinese) The Paper that the fragile yellow helmet in the video was his purchase and it had nothing to do with his employer.

The new interview presents Dou as a fame seeker plotting sensational content that taps into people’s empathy, rather than a vulnerable migrant worker seeking safer work conditions. But many people speculated that he had been coerced into delivering the new narrative.

In the new interview with The Paper, Dou fails to give detailed information about where he bought the yellow helmet and its price. And at around the same time that The Paper published its interview with Dou, the Beijing News reported (in Chinese) that the local government found no violations during more than 50 unannounced inspections performed at construction sites across the city. The news was interpreted by many internet users as an official determination to refute Dou’s claims.  

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On April 21, Dou published his first Kuaishou video after the controversy. Titled “Starting over,” the clip has a caption that says, “I’ve made some people upset and I’m afraid of retaliation.” The video only lived on the internet for a few hours before its disappearance.

It remains unclear which version of the story is the truth. In yet another new interview (in Chinese) with The Paper, Dou evades the question when asked where the yellow helmet came from, saying that he didn’t want to speak about that subject anymore. Dou also expresses regrets about posting videos, adding that although the attention they attracted was beneficial to construction contractors in general, the price he paid for them was too high. According to him, he was rejected for multiple jobs after the controversy, and all labor contractors have cut contact with him. The emotional toll is daunting, too. “I am afraid of going out now because I feel everyone is looking at me,” Dou said.

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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