Poorly Made in China

For my novel Hong Kong On Air, I researched contract manufacturing in China; Paul Midler literally wrote the book on the subject. Asia Times just ran my review of Midler’s Poorly Made in China, a behind the scenes look at doing business with Chinese factories. It’s a rip-roaring read – my wife has no interest in the subject but couldn’t put it down – telling a fascinating, frightening story about the products we trust for our homes and families, where those products come from, and about the people standing, or more accurately, hiding behind them. Midler offers a unique perspective on the world’s most important emerging economy and its growing power and influence.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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One Response to “Poorly Made in China”

  1. JMD & MT Says:

    While I understand that you are not the author of that book, I take it from the tone of your article that you condone its message. As the co-owner of a modest import company based in Denmark until 2007, when we sold our activities after almost three decades, I have to take exception to the «case story» you describe. Or, rather, point out that it is just that, a case story which by no means can be generalised into a description of «business as it is done with the Chinese»

    Due to the specific nature of our business, our suppliers came from every possible corner of the world. They have numbered the hundreds over of the years. As with all human beings under normal circumstances, most of them have been honest and sincere people, but few have been serious and competent enough to encourage us to maintain a long-term working relationship. Very few indeed, on the other hand, have been so sloppy or dishonest as to deserve being labelled as disreputable.

    This also applied to those companies we worked with in China, where a substantial portion of our production was gradually moved to starting around 1991. Natural selection at play, we eventually ended up working with one single company, and our families developped a true friends’ relationship which was to outlast the end of our activities.

    I find it relevant here to point out an elementary, yet double-sided rule of thumb, as valid in business as elsewhere: What you pay for is what you get, what you get is what you deserve. In this respect, we may have distinguished ourselves from customary business practice in two aspects: while the price we could expect our market to pay for certain items certainly played a role, the quality which we expected and had trained our market to expect was at least as important a factor, if not more. Add to this that we weren’t «out to get rich», just to perform an honest piece of work. And, setting ourselves apart from the demeanour of many business people working with foreign companies, including not so few among our former colleagues, we consistently attempted to cultivate a certain attitude in our exchanges, best expressed by the terms respect and humility. Which of course we expected to be fully reciprocated.

    Yes, it has been real work, requiring tiresome organisation and attention to detail (and what should be wrong about that?), no, not everything always went smoothly (but which human relationships or endeavours do?), but to sum up, we and our Chinese suppliers worked closely together in order to produce the goods we wanted. This leaves us, 18 years later, in a position to write these words. As with «intervention», humanitarian or otherwise, the world might become a better place if business were conducted under different rules than those that have prevailed for the past few decades or even centuries.

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