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Port worker rises to meet challenges of the times

By Xie Chuanjiao in Qingdao, Shandong | (China Daily) | 2018-12-11

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Xu Zhenchao

"Devotion to work is glorious."

That is the firm belief of Xu Zhenchao, a 68-year-old veteran worker at Qingdao Port with more than 40 years of experience.

Xu is a national role model in China because of his unremitting pursuit of high-efficiency and excellence in his work.

"Without reform and opening-up, the port business in China would not have been so prosperous, and workers' livelihoods could not have been so much improved over the past 40 years," Xu said.

Back in his early career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, work efficiency at the port was low, with heavy manual labor and unsophisticated machinery. What workers earned wasn't enough to feed a family during hard times.

"I earned just 42 yuan per month at that time and lived in a 9-square-meter shanty, which was humid and lacked sunlight," Xu recalled.

Qingdao Port turned its eye on modern technology and equipment in 1984 and introduced containers and bridge cranes, aiming to improve efficiency on the dock.

Assiduous and adept with machinery, Xu was selected among the first batch of bridge crane operators to stevedore cargoes. In the first year into the operation of the new facilities, the port's yearly throughput reached 80,000 standard containers in 1987, almost fourfold the previous amount.

Meanwhile, workers' wages were paid piece rate as an incentive and their housing conditions improved.

"My wage rose from 70 or 80 yuan to more than 1,000 yuan per month after a few years," Xu said, adding that his family moved to a new 52-square-meter apartment.

However, the first success did not satisfy Xu, who thought modern workmanship meant high-quality and making full use of resources. Though having less formal education than others, Xu seized every minute to learn new things and master skills, trying to make the port more productive.

In April 1993, he led his fellow workers to a world record of stevedoring 339 containers per hour using the method they designed. His outstanding performance created a sensation and earned him a reputation at home and abroad. Many shipping companies worldwide sought cooperation, and over the next eight months Qingdao Port added 13 international routes, with its throughput capacity increasing 24.3 percent.

"Reform and opening-up has not only brought us a happy life but also brings a sense of gain and success from work," Xu said, adding that good reform must help fulfill people's wishes.

Xu is credited with many inventions and innovations and helped his company save costs and gain profits.

For example, he changed the gantry crane originally powered by liquid fuel to electricity in 2007, saving 30 million yuan ($4 million) every year and greatly reducing pollution. Electric cranes were soon adopted by ports in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Now Qingdao Port has grown into the seventh largest port in the world, with a throughput of 510 million metric tons last year.

In May last year, an automated container terminal was put into operation, saving 70 percent of the human labor previously required.

"Workers now must act quickly and refresh their minds in line with the pace of the times," said Xu, who joked that in 10 years, containers may fly in the sky with no need for workers to handle them.

Currently, Xu is a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and in the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and China Association for Science and Technology. One of his jobs is to cultivate modern industrial workers with open minds in the new era.