This article may sound like a business or cultural discussion, but it leads to a very valuable personal growth lesson at the end.
The general consensus is that ‘made in China’ means garbage quality, as if everything made in China is going to be rubbish.
In one of my business ventures, my business partner and I have spent years working with several factories in China manufacturing a wide range of products and have come to a clear realization of the truth about the skills and abilities of Chinese workmanship that I would like to share.
In my travels around the world, it is clear that each culture has its own tendencies and skills, however they may be known globally for something quite different. The first world view of China is that they make cheap poor quality products. However the question also comes up as to why they do that, why can’t they improve their quality and make better stuff? They exhibit exceptional artisan skill unlike other cultures. For example when I was in the crystal and mineral business, Hong Kong have the best stone figure carvers in the world. They have skill, but it does not seem to show.
The answer is very simple, they can, but this is not their fault.
The first cause is that being a communist country for so long, there was no reward for better quality or higher production, you got the same pay no matter what the quality of your work, and so that developed an apathetic attitude towards quality.
The next cause is the western world using China as a source of cheap labour while it was still very communistic in its control of companies back in the 1970’s and 80’s. Production and factories grew to make products for western countries, but the attitude was still communist in respect to ‘better quality did not change your pay, so why care.’
In the last 20 years, China has gone from pull carts to Mercedes, BMW and Porches as very common vehicles. The cities are large with 4 lane well paved roads and superhighways. I have spent this past month in Dongguan. Ten years ago there was less than one million people, today estimates are closer to ten million. There are so many high-rise apartments, office buildings and shopping centers already up and more on the way, it is amazing to see the speed of construction that is unmatched even in the most modern of countries.
When I first came to China in 1985, compared to today, I feel that I have gone from the stone age to the space age, and they achieved this in less than 20 years. This astounding growth and modernization could not be done by a country run and filled with people who are incapable of making the simplest products in a decent quality.
True the quality of workmanship in general is very poor, however, the Sofitel Hotel in Dongguan rivals even the best of five star hotels anywhere in the world. They can do it well if conditions are correct.
Now the question is what are the conditions that separate high quality from poor quality. If Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen and virtually every major car manufacturer in the world has a factory in China, they must be able to do it right. Have you ever thought about that when you get into your fancy BMW, or drool over one on the road and then think, made in China!
I have been perplexed by the extremes of quality and now believe that I have found the answer to why the Chinese make such rubbish. The artisan in China can make such astounding works of furniture or art, or other products, that the skills are clearly here. One friend owns a leather bag factory. He makes purses, handbags, wallets and that sort of product. The quality he produces matches made in Italy, in fact, some european companies put their labels on his products.
I bought some underwear in China, made here for export, an American brand name, with the tag saying, “Made in USA” and the quality made it very believable, along with the price. And here is the answer.
Price. It is the corporations of the west who are buying their products from Chinese factories who are squeezing every penny out of the manufacturers in pursuit of higher profits. The old saying, you get what you pay for, is very true.
If you make good bags for example, and you quote a cost of $10.00 to the retailer, if the price is acceptable, that bag will sell in the high end stores as European or american products. However the problem is that the retailers want the bag of $9.00 this year, then next year it drops to $8.00 and so on.
What can the manufacturer do? He buys components such as buckles and zippers. He makes leather bags, not zippers. He can cut down his profits only so far, and then he has to get cheaper zippers that will not last so long, or cheaper buckles that do not have as good a plating and so wear off in a year instead of ten years.
In China, you can get anything you want at any price, but you get what you pay for, and the Chinese factories are happy to deliver whatever you want. The Chinese are not stupid, they are there to make business and deliver what the customer wants. Going back to my friend with the leather factory, he refuses to make the poor quality, he is rather unique though. He will drop his price only so far and then simply say no to a sale if it means that the products will be inferior because he knows that they will be trouble down the line in returns and frustration from the customer complaints about the poor quality.
Made in China products are poor NOT because the Chinese are incapable of making good quality, but in fact because the companies who buy their products insist on perpetually lowering the prices they are willing to pay. The worst part is that even if a factory drops their price to the minimum, on the next order the client pushes to make it cheaper again. This insatiable greed is what is behind the diminishing quality of our world.
The good news is that there are more and more consumers who are frustrated with this and willing to pay a higher price for better quality, and this is the key to your success. If you can deliver a superior product or service, and you charge a fair price, your business will succeed because you are part of a minority.
Another complaint that westerners have when they visit China is the interruption of services such as power or internet. This does not happen all that often, but more frequently than in the west. This is true, but again I refer to the incredible speed that this country is growing at. If a child was born and in 2 years his body reached the full size of a 20 year old on the outside, but the internal organs developed at a natural rate, then there would be interruptions in his bodily services as well. This is normal.
China has grown externally, meaning the buildings, roads, communications and general infrastructure at such a rapid pace that it will take some time for the people to adapt and learn how to drive between the lines on the road. The external form, the buildings, must be filled with the internal form, the people. And they do not develop at the same rate because the technology to build a building or airport is easy to instantly acquire from a western country, whereas you cannot implant the essence of a culture, manners and customs so easily.
A very amusing example of this is a sign I saw in the toilet of a fine restaurant in Asia many years ago, which had a western toilet. In case you do not know, Asians use a different type of toilet in which one squats over a porcelain fixture set in the floor rather than a seat. The sign showed the wrong way, a person standing on the seat and squatting, and the right way, sitting properly.
I have not seen a sign like that in my recent trips to Asia and there are a lot more western toilets even though many places still have Asian ones. So the people are learning, they can change, be that right or wrong to the western ways. The onus of improving or deteriorating quality lies in the customers hands, the retailers who want to increase their profits at the expense of the consumers.
Can the entire Western population stop buying the cheapest of stuff and move towards higher quality products? I do not see that as possible, too many poor people need to buy things as cheaply as possible. And so we are faced with a future of diminishing quality products.
In closing I can only say that although this article will not present a solution to the problem, at least it explains the true cause. My quest in life is to find the underlying reality and true cause of all things, and I hope this article will help you realize that the true cause of the result may be far different than you assume.
Apply this knowledge to all things, all arguments, conflicts, problems, opinions and any negative issues you face regardless of what it may be or who with, and you will find that your life runs a lot smoother and with so much more wisdom and understanding that the changes in time will be far more than you dream possible.