Will there be war over the transition of Hong Kong from Britain to China? Of course not. The biggest question to the British is which diplomats to send to the ceremonies.

But thanks to a combination of folly, deception and avarice, thousands of workers in southern China think that war is imminent — and they’re fleeing for their lives.

While this may seem like a bad joke to observers, it’s no joke to these Chinese, or to the companies that depend on their labor.

The improbable scenario of war has been spurred by a number of factors. First of all, the Chinese picked a foolish time to move troops to Hong Kong and the border, and to conduct training exercises. The workers, generally uneducated and with limited access to reliable information, smelled trouble.

Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the rumors, bus companies in southern China began to fan the flames of the rumor fire. One thing led to another and suddenly thousands of workers were leaving their jobs to escape what they thought was about to become a war zone.

Production in the Guangdong province is down as much as ten percent, and some factories have lost as much as 60 percent of their work force.

Business owners are losing millions, and some stand to miss an entire season’s worth of production because of the rumors. “It is crazy,” said factory owner Allen Fu, “but nobody can convince the workers the rumors aren’t true.”

(Source: San Jose Mercury News.)

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