RSS FEEDSubscribe in iTunesTitle: Poorly Made in China

An Insider's Account of the Tactics Behind China's Production Game


Author: Paul Midler

Host: Clyde Warden

Poorly Made in China

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The day I started reading Paul Midler's book, my flat was undergoing some repairs. For the previous two weeks, water had been dripping into my kitchen because the floor above, where the water tank is, was so flooded that the water was leaking through the concrete. The landlord, who lives on the first floor, finally lined up some repair people to come in. They concluded the pipes were clogged, and new pipes needed to be installed. So they started drilling a hole up through my ceiling in the in kitchen. Having a couple decades of experience with Chinese handymen, my first thought was these guys are looking very similar to the Three Stooges, so I quickly grabbed a blanket and threw it over the dinner table. Just then, their hole made it through and a huge steam of water poured down. 

Along with a mess, the water was pouring directly into the gas powered water heater. Needless to say, the water heater was ruined. I was asked to pay for the replacement, which I refused under the logic that by the time I'm dead, the water heater will still be usable, but I won't get any use out of it! I suggested the landlord ask the repair crew to pay. After the cleanup, I went to wash off, and the new pipes led to new shiny faucets, with one big blue circle and one big red circle--perfectly reversed (blue opens the hot water)! Can you guess what the career of my landlord is? Yes, he is in construction. Anyone without experience in Greater China would respond that shit happens. Certainly I have seen many botched contractor jobs in the USA. I think everyone has experienced cabinets that are not hung right, driveways not pored right, etc., but in China, the experience really is different, taken to a much higher level. One is tempted to blow off any single case and say the employees are incompetent, but after a few years, a pattern emerges, and what I have seen is a behavior that is the result of a fundamental emphasis on cost cutting and maximizing immediate profit. 

This might not seem to be much of a difference, but I think it is a huge gap. It is rare that you meet a Chinese boss who is running just one company. A few companies are the norm, and all in totally unrelated areas. English language schools owned by managers who can't speak English, chemical imports owned by someone with no understanding of chemistry. The Western assumption, almost a religion, is that you must do what you love is all part of that inside out culture of the West, but in Greater China, it is all about the outside in. One can make oneself into whatever opportunity is out there. It is from this assumption of normative values that I appreciate Mr. Midler's book. Midler himself often reveals this perspective, but he also goes a bit for the Western modernity line assuming the Chinese are just screwed up. This part of the book scares me a bit, as it is clearly the main point most readers would take away (after all, look at the book title). Skipping the politics and the assumptions that something must be done, this book does touch on very real experiences. You can take away a lot if you look a bit deeper and pick up on Midler's  explanations of why these events happen, what are the rationales, what are the advantages.

Ltisten to my full review for more details about this book.

The Show:

Length: 23 minutes 23 seconds. Download MP3 10.96MB (Right click->Save As).

Here are a few other experiences similar to what I saw in the Midler's book. There was the time in some of my field work where I shot a video inside a factory and at the very end was told by the owner to do it all over because the workers were supposed to put on their required protective clothing (this being exactly the same thing Midler ran into at King Chemical). The time my publishing company contracted a printing factory to print one of our books, and each book had half the pages printed upside down (this is actually a common error since Chinese books normally run from right to left, but can go the other way, so the workers at the machines don't really think anything is wrong). On this one the negotiation over what to do was quite interesting. One of the funniest examples in the book is when Mr. Midler's stay at a four star hotel is interrupted by a broken toilet. The desk manager attempts a repair and then blames him! This is what I have published on, in an award winning paper Service Failures Away from Home (in the International Journal of Service Industries Management), where I found service failures in Chinese cultural settings were very similar to previous research findings in the West, with the big exception of a service failure type unique to Chinese cultural settings--Blame the Customer.

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