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Bend Sinoster

For a brief time in my life, I managed a dollar store. It was pretty fun, but the pay was appropriately low, and I didn't stay. But one thing that stuck with me was how much of our merchandise was from China.

China has become the new Japan, as Japan was in the 60s and 70s. In those days, "Made In Japan" was synonymous for "cheap," in both senses of the word.

Japan, however, learned and grew and prospered. These days, "Made In Japan" has become a touchstone of quality in many fields. The same people who heard their parents curse at their rusting rattletrap Datsuns and Toyotas now proudly tool around in Infinitis and Lexuses.

China, however, could be making some very, very serious mistakes.

First up, they poisoned a whole bunch of American's pets.

Then they poisoned American children.

Now, they are planning on sending a car to the US market that will kill its passengers even faster than poisoning.

I freely admit I've used very strong, even pejorative language here. I don't think that any of these incidents were deliberate. But they are probably symptomatic.

Once is an accident. Twice could be a coincidence. But all three in such short order... to ignore that would be insane.

What we might be seeing could be the inevitable result of trying to use a command economy to feed a capitalistic demand. The Communist Chinese are not used to the notion that consumers can have a choice -- and simple price advantage will not be enough in all cases. And the trust of a customer, once lost, is a cast-iron bitch to regain.

As I said, I don't see any grand conspiracy here. Rather, just the opposite -- these strike me as signs of a grand conspiracy becoming unraveled, falling apart under its own internal flaws.

But if I had stock in Family Dollar or Wal-Mart or any of a ton of other companies that have based their success on getting cheap goods from China, I'd be hoping like hell that they had a fallback plan ready in case a massive public rejection of Chinese goods -- goods that, these days, seem to come with a hell of a higher price than indicated on the tag.

(Editor's note: Sashi at Big Lizards has much more on this.)


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Comments (39)

And you didn't even mention... (Below threshold)

And you didn't even mention the massive pirating.

Jay.An interesting... (Below threshold)
joe:

Jay.

An interesting post! China does indeed export a lot of rubbish. However America has been exporting rubbish for years, brain dead TV shows and Mcdonald-like restaurants, to name but two!

Pot, kettle springs to mind!

Ah, I see it -- junk food a... (Below threshold)
meep:

Ah, I see it -- junk food and trash culture = immediate physical harm and poison. It's all clear now.

Perhaps not "immediate harm... (Below threshold)
joe:

Perhaps not "immediate harm" in the very real sense, but the consequences have been just as destructive.

Joe, please think before yo... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Joe, please think before you type. Your comparison makes no sense at all. ww

The Chinese think they have... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

The Chinese think they have the world by the tail, so do many.

But there is trouble coming in the land of peace and harmony.

Many new millionaires, booming economy, Shanghai is the new Dubai. All this is so good we have forgotten the rigid communist backbone of control.

Let me recount some things from ten years ago, then I will explain.

I went to Tianjin, a suburb of Beijing, as the leader of the U.S. Table Tennis team to the World Championships, then the biggest sporting event ever held in China. I want to tell you something of the trip, so you can know what it is like there.

It was a long trip in, overnight flight to Norita, flight to Beijing, waiting, four-hour bus ride to Tianjin - over 36 hours in total. When we got there we were wasted and I just wanted to go to the hotel and sleep.

But our monitor said: "We go to processing center". So it was 4:00 AM and the only thing open was the processing center all lit up, staffed and waiting. We go in the door and the monitor said: "Wait in waiting area". So we sat down and waited for a long time, mind you there was nobody else there and there was no reason this should not be done the next day anyway.

When we finally processed it was like a scene from the 1920's. No computers, everything processed in six part forms spread out on the desk. One guy would stamp all the forms, and then another guy, and then their watcher - everyone has a watcher - would stamp them all over again. Very inefficient.

All the hotel rooms are bugged and everyone has a watcher - the watchers have watchers.

Before the tournament the Chinese had a meeting with all expatriate Chinese (our coach was one). The Chinese leaders said that this was a high priority with the Party and all Chinese playing for other countries would be called on to lose. That right, its not your night.

In the women's semi, a tough former world champion was clearly crying. She could have won, but the Chinese would have killed her family still in China.

So the thing is, China still has that repressive control always just below the surface.

The other thing is the inefficiency of this centralized system, caused by the control.

The reason we went to the processing center and waited was because someone told someone to do it that way. There is no room for thinking, just blind obedience. Central control. Chinese do not question orders from the army or party, failure is a jail term or you just disappear.

The levers of Mao are still in place, but one day, there is going to be an event that makes Tianamin Square look like a birthday party.

If you claim exporting trip... (Below threshold)
marc:

If you claim exporting tripe like a david hasselhof (sp?) TV series doesn't have the potential for immediate physical harm I'd guess your brain is already mush.

joe:Howev... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

joe:

However America has been exporting rubbish for years, brain dead TV shows and Mcdonald-like restaurants, to name but two!

You forgot to mention the amazing bio-chips and sublimal messages we bury in the food and the tv shows to make people like them, crave them even.

It's sad how we force people to like American things and want to buy them.

The post wasn't about "rubbish".

Whatever way you look at it... (Below threshold)
Joe:

Whatever way you look at it, junkfood is a killer! As for the trash culture, we now live in a celebrity obsessed, disposable consumer society.

Joe, tainted products that ... (Below threshold)
brainy435:

Joe, tainted products that harm people who use them responsibly are not directly relatable to junk food, which is only dangerous when consumed irresposibly.

Typical anti-American idiocy.

Really joe, give it up.... (Below threshold)
wavemaker:

Really joe, give it up.

While they were still hamme... (Below threshold)
kim:

While they were still hammering tin in the back yard after WWII, Japanese goods were cheap, but those old rusting rattletrap Toyotas and Datsuns beat Detroit into a hole it still hasn't recovered from.

Wait'll you get a load of the grid ready electrical vehicles we'll be importing from China in 20 years.
==========================

Robert,I don't kno... (Below threshold)
Mike:

Robert,

I don't know what happened on your trip, but I've traveled China quite a bit (my wife is Chinese) and have never seen or hear of any "bugs" or such in the hotels or anywhere else for that matter. I never got the sense of "The Man" watching over me. It took less time to get through immigration in Shanghai than it did on the return trip through SFO. I am certainly not fond of the Communist government but it was hardly the omnipresent beast that you described. They do have a tendency to sell crap to the non-Chinese. When your traveling there, if you want quality, only buy stuff you see other Chinese people buying or better yet, have a Chinese person buy it for you.

I have long since stopped p... (Below threshold)
groucho:

I have long since stopped patronizing Wal-Mart, largely because of their reliance on cheap Chinese products and labor. Their All-American facade is a joke. I try whenever possible to patronize local merchants whose profits benefit our community, not fund some new Taj Mahal in Arkansas. I also try to buy US made goods whenever I can, althought they're getting tougher to find. So, I am anti-Wal Mart. Does that make me un-American?

Joe, I agree with you, but you forgot perhaps what has been and continues to be, with increasing numbers, America's most beneficial and altruistic export to our global brothers and sisters...tobacco!

My main problem with China ... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

My main problem with China is oddly enough, Burma.

No one can free the Burmese without going to war with China.

Explain Burma, please, H; I... (Below threshold)
kim:

Explain Burma, please, H; I'm curious about that theory. It's almost like the sun has never come up like thunder over Mandalay, across the bay.
==========================================

I have long since ... (Below threshold)
John in CA:
I have long since stopped patronizing Wal-Mart, largely because of their reliance on cheap Chinese products and labor.

I continue to shop at Walmart just to balance out the anti-Walmart crowd.

Hey groucho, WalMart's gonn... (Below threshold)
kim:

Hey groucho, WalMart's gonna gitcha, gitcha, gitcha. In the meantime, though, we are glad for you that you are so wealthy you needn't shop where hoi polloi do.
=================================

Rather, just the opposit... (Below threshold)

Rather, just the opposite -- these strike me as signs of a grand conspiracy becoming unraveled, falling apart under its own internal flaws.

A grand conspiracy to ruin their #1 export market? Seems a bit self-destructive doesn't it?

Maybe these incidents just reflect the fact that China is seriously lacking in the sort of environmental safeguards and protections that we have become accustomed to here in the US. These kinds of incidents will happen in any economy where manufacturers don't have to fear any consequences for their product safety. Why should a business go to the expense of taking lead out of their paint when it's unlikely they would be ever be penalized for taking no action?

In the absence of effective government oversight it doesn't make any economic sense for businesses to be overly concerned about possible health issues with their products when these issues are not easily detected (e.g. lead in paint) by the consumer.

Such well reasoned thought,... (Below threshold)
groucho:

Such well reasoned thought, John. How does your face feel since you hacked your nose off in a fit of spite?

And kim, is that the royal "we" or are you either preganant or in possession of a toad concealed about your person?

Kim,I ripped this ... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

Kim,

I ripped this from the CIA factbook:

Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who was under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2002, was imprisoned in May 2003 and subsequently transferred to house arrest, where she remains virtually incommunicado. In February 2006, the junta extended her detention for another year. Her supporters, as well as all those who promote democracy and improved human rights, are routinely harassed or jailed.

And more:

Over the past year China increasingly has emerged as Rangoon's most important ally, even though there have been tensions between them at times. There had been significant questions about Burmese corruption involving major Chinese contracts and construction deals. But recent important oil deals between Beijing and Rangoon for oil and gas extraction rights in western Burma seem to have helped mend some problems between the two countries.

Trade remains high on Gen Soe Win's agenda as the military regime finds itself in increasing economic difficulties, intensified by the excessively expensive relocation of the country's administrative and military centre from Rangoon some 400 kilometres north to Pyinmana.

"The junta is virtually bankrupt and needs Chinese financial support to help it overcome some of its immediate problems," said a Rangoon-based Asian diplomat.

Burma is also a haven for narcotics and sexual slavery.

Anyway, this is all off-topic to the post, but there you have it.

Such well reasoned... (Below threshold)
John in CA:
Such well reasoned thought, John. How does your face feel since you hacked your nose off in a fit of spite?

Grouch, my nose is fine, as is my face. I would shop at Walmart no matter what your opinion is. I do so enjoy the snit the anti-Walmart crowd goes into when I say thing like that.

I love Walmart and can hardly wait as my town is finally getting our own Super Walmart. Then I'll have an option, finally, of NOT having to shop at a union grocery store.

Mike,You are sort ... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

Mike,

You are sort of saying that what I'm saying is not true. Maybe our experiences were different, or maybe I overdid it a bit.

Okay, let me try again. When I go to China, which is often as you might expect with the Table Tennis Team, quite a few of our players are Chinese born. (I too go with lots of Chinese, so you can stop with the buying tips). I have been involved with this since the Chinese came to Detroit in the early seventies. I met and played with the Vice Premier then.

I am sure that the shopkeepers and others you meet have treated you well, but have you needed to come face to face with a Chinese General and tried to get your point in?

As to hotel bugs, this is well known in table tennis circles and I have proved it over and over. Many times I have said things on the phone and the next day things have changed or my "watcher" knows all about it. They try to find out our strategy and who is injured or sick, but you probably have not faced that.

Moreover, one of our players was a friend of one of our monitors once and listened in on a conversation about the hotel bugs. Believe it, you have no way to know.

Probably you are not visiting China under the same conditions we are. Because of "Ping Pong" diplomacy, our profile is fairly high.

Going through the standard customs is not what I'm talking about. Until you have beaten your head against the wall trying to get a team bus through a checkpoint to a match, you probably have not experienced the mindless stuff that happens there. Too many times I have run into the rigidity of the system and had to go up the line, way up the line, to get it resolved.

Probably you have not experienced this stuff because you are there on a different basis.

So, given the experience, we are probably both right. But do not doubt the degree of control there. I have talked both to our coach and the player I described and the death threats were very real. We had to pay very close attention to this because some of our players were subject to this trouble.

Top athletes are very tough, women or men. In 40 years with this, I have never before seen crying on the court, especially with one mentally tough enough to become a world champion.

In talking to her after, I saw the fear.

I did say the power and control were below the surface... just.

It's really a shame that ou... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

It's really a shame that our corporate and personal greed has put the United States at the mercy of a nation like China, but that's becoming the case more and more. For all the talk about Iran and North Korea, China has the ability to deal a crippling blow to the US any time it wants because of our indebtedness to them.

And yet, like lambs to the slaughter, we just march to our destruction.

The lefties want to embrace... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

The lefties want to embrace the "global community" but with exceptions. Do not make products, that right is american only. The lefties want the global community to just sing Kumby-ya.

I am a wal-mart shopper and proud of it. Unions ruined local shops, plain and simple.

We do need to make sure food stuffs coming from China and elsewhere, is thoroughly test. ww

So far, only one candidate ... (Below threshold)
D. Doré:

So far, only one candidate has been addressing the issue of our country's relationship with China, and that's Duncan Hunter. It frustrates me that this important issue that was so incredibly ascerbated by the Clinton administration (and by Bill personally) is just let to keep sliding and sliding.

groucho, haven't you notice... (Below threshold)
kim:

groucho, haven't you noticed? There are more of me than Jay can stomp out.

H: Thank you. Is Burma about to be Tibetized?
===============================

The Indians might not objec... (Below threshold)
kim:

The Indians might not object to our fleet in the Bay of Bengal, as they did in the early '70's.
================================

Junk food is porno for the ... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Junk food is porno for the stomach.

It can only find traction due to the weakness of its consumers. Don't blame the US for the World's lack of dietary self-control.

Willie, your purchases at W... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

Willie, your purchases at Wal Mart are propping up a dictatorship and giving them political power over us by the ever-increasing trade imbalance we have with them.

Still proud?

Kim, half the time I don't ... (Below threshold)

Kim, half the time I don't understand what the hell you're saying. That's why I am so merciless on those who take your name -- I don't think I could handle comments from more than one of you.

J.

"..Corporate america, large... (Below threshold)
danny:

"..Corporate america, largely through greed, has sold our souls to the Chinese, I was in china many times. They make crap, plan & simple. And now such big chain stores mass market the crap to us Americans.Just like Hershey Cocoa, Coporate America is no longer happy with 280 billion a year they want 500 billion.Yes we have sent McDonald's and other culture smashing junk over there, THAT will teach'em to give us the Asiatic flu!"

Jay ...to quote yo... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

Jay ...

to quote you:
"But if I had stock in Family Dollar or Wal-Mart or any of a ton of other companies that have based their success on getting cheap goods from China"


Do you even shop at Walmart ?

Have you ever read an article about their business model and why they are successful ?

Your old Dollar store would not exist without slave labor China goods ...

Walmart on the other hand would still manage to do just fine selling whatever goods are demanded by their customers at a good price.

And how about not attributing evil intent of what were clearly accidents. China is not stupid, they would not knowingly kill their customers with their products.

Jay,I think she wa... (Below threshold)
Heralder:

Jay,

I think she was referring to my comment which wasn't necessarily on topic.

Kim,

I'm not sure. But it doesn't seem to be much of a priority despite half a million people being displaced.

Yes, H, it appears to have ... (Below threshold)
kim:

Yes, H, it appears to have the potential for being a black hole of chaos, soon, just as were the Balkans.

We think that when the government can no longer tax to support our habit for drugs to control obesity, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and diabetes, they will order us to 'Work for Food'.
=========================================

> if you want quality, only... (Below threshold)
Liang:

> if you want quality, only buy stuff you see other Chinese people buying or better yet, have a Chinese person buy it for you.

BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!! I get SUITCASES full of crap from China every time my MIL goes back to visit her family. Why? Because it's "so cheap, so nice." Well, cheap is right. Nice is not. If you think the Chinese are sending junk out for exports, you should see what they do to their own people. They may hate the Japanese, but everybody in China who can afford it still buys Japanese electronics. Even the mass-produced CLOTHES sold for domestic consumption are horrible. Zippers break, cloth falls apart, dyes seep. You can get very good quality if you hand-pick the fabric and have clothing custom made, but if you're not, give it up.

There is, in China, a fundamental low value put upon human life. People do not care what they sell to their fellow human beings as long as they can get away with it. It doesn't matter if it falls apart. And it really doesn't matter if it kills people. Because people don't matter. Social advantage does. And if you convince people to buy something that ends up killing them, well, that only shows how "clever" you are.

This is not a product of Communism--goodness knows the imperial and "democratic" (cough, cough) governments were equally pleased to spend lives like they were low change, and infanticide and slavery has been endemic to China for thousands of years. It stems more from a lack of a Judeo-Christian/humanistic value of the invididual than anything else, as well as a lack of a version of "face" and pride that can replicate these kinds of concerns. The Japanese have a kind of conformity culture that looks down upon siezing the main chance and looks to the wellbeing and status of the group. The Chinese have nothing like that. In China, all that matters are the fine gradations of class, and you move up the class ladder by flattering those above you, abusing those below you, and betraying and backstabbing those even with or only slightly above you. Abuse can take the form of behaving horribly toward waiters at a restaurant or selling products that happen to have a 1 in 100 chance of killing a small child. This does not AT ALL affect face in any way. Even if you are caught, there is quite a bit of admiration for your "cleverness" in convincing people to buy and use something dangerous. The consequences--unless the government decides that IT has lost face--are pretty much nil, socially as well as criminally.

And Joe? You are truly an idiot. Please, please sterilize yourself NOW, for the good of all.

You've also never watched Chinese or South American soap operas.

Paul,Amazingly eno... (Below threshold)
John F Not Kerry:

Paul,

Amazingly enough, I agree with you that China is a bigger threat than Iran or North Korea. In the short run, however, they are more dangerous because of their instability. I wouldn't be surprised if China has a financial stake in radical Islam, using it to its own ends to weaken us.

Iran and NoKo are more dang... (Below threshold)
John F Not Kerry:

Iran and NoKo are more dangerous right now, that is.

The NoKo Generals are not f... (Below threshold)
kim:

The NoKo Generals are not fools and do exactly as the Chinese tell them. They are to remind the world's civil power, that's us carrying the billy-club, that the Chinese keep a pit bull chained up in the side yard.
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