A derogative phrase that describes something to be of sub-par quality. If something is "Made in China", it was probably very cheap, and likely to break within a day or two after purchasing. Usuallly synonymous to crappy and shitty.

The roots of the term can be traced back to the post-World War II era, when small goods manufacturing in America declined to give way to cheaper imports from Asia. These goods were much cheaper due to the lower wages and costs of manufacturing in Asia, but as a result is usually of sub-par quality, as the workers there are most likely less trained than their American counterparts. At first, the phrase was "Made in Japan". However, as Sony products got famous, it shifted to "Made in Taiwan", "Made in Hong Kong" and "Made in Korea". That was before China entered international trade, and those three countries were responsible for a large part of America's import of small manufactured goods.

In any case, as China opened up in the 1980's, the aggressive pricing of Chinese exporters removed most of the competition of the Asian-American trade, in the realms of cheap, easy-to-make goods anyways. Taiwan still dominates in micro-electronics, and Japan and Hong Kong still outnumber China in more high tech products. Made in China then became representative of "low-quality" imported goods.

My take is this. If you don't like it, don't buy it. Made in America does not necessarily mean better quality, and personally, I'd prefer a Japanese DVD player than an American one. Wait, I haven't seen an American DVD player for sale yet. The reference to Made in America can only be seen as a patriotic sales pitch made to appeal to buyers, using a pseudo-impression of a more robust product.

Me? I'm buying all my shit in China, becaise it's a lot cheaper. Where else can you find genuine Nike shoes for US$10, certified beanie babies for US$2, and real Calvin Klein jeans for US$12? Have your Made in America products for five times the price. Hey, chances are that the materials were made somewhere else and the products were assembled in America anyways! That's what those Dell computer parts said.

The materials of this product were made in Mexico and the product was assembled in America

Gotta love the Dell sales department.

Or... Without looking into subjective connotations, it simply means that an object has been manufactured within the boundaries of the nation known as China.

Lede Poisoning

The Chinese will work seven days a week for US$0.50 to US$1 an hour with no benefits for social security, health care, vacations, a pension or worker safety. … In America, the going wage would be 10 to 20 times higher including all benefits.

— Economist Richard Benson, Benson's Economic & Market Trends, February 27, 2004

Now, what's happened to the U.S. workers whose jobs have been outsourced to China? Thank goodness that not even the most vehement anti-NAFTA, pro-Labor Union website can't come up with "unemployment" as the answer. The problem is that those who previously had manufacturing jobs that've been outsourced have typically taken service-industry jobs at as little as half the annual compensation and fewer benefits than they had before. It's not within the scope of this writeup to address the economics of the steady flow of manufacturing jobs out of the United States.

In a perfect world, manufacturing workers with only a high-school education or less would still realize that if their unions don't make wage and benefit concessions in order to make their employers profitable, their employers are going to take whatever actions necessary in order to turn a profit for shareholders. That argument, however, only goes so far when outsourcing is such a tremendously profitable option for marketers of all manner of low-tech products.

The Trumpet magazine mentioned in a February, 2006 article that while America gains access to cheaper products (or more profitable products, from a shareholder's point of view), one of the attendant problems is downward pressure on wages. They cite Seattle Times data: Laid-off manufacturing laborers are largely switching into lower-paying jobs in the service industry. Where they once made an average of $51,000 annually, they now make $16,000 in leisure and hospitality, $33,000 in health care, or $39,000 in construction.

The public outcry about outsourcing of garment manufacturing to sweatshops in Southeast Asia is old news. NAFTA has all but left the radar screen of the media, replaced by the illegal immigration hot potato.

In an article as early as 2003, Pat Buchanan bleated: "Free trade does to a nation what alcohol does to a man: saps him first of his vitality, then his energy, then his independence, then his life." I thought that was quaint. Mr. Buchanan then bemoaned the growing trade deficit, etcetera, etcetera.

Why did I choose to address the topic of outsourcing at this time? Well, another writeup herein piqued my interest. Read on:
 

What Happens When Outsourcing Backfires?

There are some writers who contribute to this venerable site whose works I "save for dessert" while perusing the "New Writeups" nodelet. I say "save for dessert" because after wading through negative XP drivel and performing CE tasks, I long for something I can savor. Borgo is one of the wordsmiths whose work I save for last; for the pure pleasure of reading something that more often than not makes me laugh, and always makes me think.

So it was a shock to read one of his latest pieces, Lead Poisoning. The lede was a departure from the node for the ages suggestion in that it had to do with current events. I was also taken aback by Borgo's broad-brush indictment of the Chinese toy industry (and other Chinese industries), particularly because I interact with many Chinese people during the course of the day, many of whom have become citizens of the U.S., and some of whom are visitors to this country.

I've excerpted the source of my concern for your convenience:

These days it seems like a day doesn’t go by when you don’t hear about a recall of products made in China, mostly toys, that contain too much lead in the paint. So far, as of this writing at least twenty four different types of toys ranging from Barbie doll accessories to Fischer-Price [sic] toys for infants have come under fire for containing too much lead.

This is probably a subject for another node but what’s up with the Chinese anyway? First it was poisoned pet food, then toothpaste, now this.

Where does it come from?

The truth is, the truth hurts. So I decided to find an answer to the question, "Why the hell are the Chinese so damned careless about the stuff they manufacture, much more so the stuff they make for export?"
 

Culture Shock

My first thought about this situation was, "well, what do you expect from a country where in many cities the gutters are running streams of raw sewage, the smog has caused the cancer rate to skyrocket, and 'clever' has replaced 'honorable' as the descriptor of choice for successful businessmen?" This is not a good assumption, as my research turned up that China indeed has legislated national standards intended to control the use of lead-based paint, particularly in toys. The standards apply to all items which are painted, and includes items manufactured for export.

In fact, the Managing Director of one Chinese toy factory committed suicide upon learning that a close friend had sold him below-standard paint to use on millions (yes, millions) of toys destined for the U.S. market. His underlings accused the paint-seller of ruining his friend by selling him an inferior product. The toy factory boss "lost face;" a concept foreign to most people in the U.S. but in many Asian countries literally a fate worse than death (particularly to this poor individual). My assumption is that lead-based paint is cheaper, and therefore more profitable, than safer paint; multiply savings by enough paint for millions of toys and I guess that's enough for a person's greed to exceed their need for friendship.
 

Taking the "U.S." out of "Toys 'R Us*"

In the name of profits for their shareholders, corporate leaders in the toy industry have slowly but surely increased the amount of product sourced from China. Nearly 80% of all toys sold in the United States are made in China. The dolls, trucks, building blocks, and action figures — fewer than two in ten of 'em are made in the U.S. For Heaven's sake, the December holidays might as well be celebrated with fireworks and called "Chinese New Year II: The Prequel". What the hell happened to the people who used to make toys in the United States? They're working lower-paying jobs in a variety of industries, as mentioned above.

Now, the workers in the Chinese toy factories are provided with many benefits. Good food in a commissary that's cheap, if not free. Free housing (in dormitories where they sleep a hundred to a room, their beds lined up not unlike U.S. prison dormitories). And plenty of free time (if one considers a day off a week plenty). Monthly compensation for their labors equals what most folks in the U.S. consider a reasonable price for a nice dinner for two; $140.

*"Toys 'R Us" is a registered trademark of Geoffrey, Inc.
 

Will China Shoot Itself in the Foot?

Only time will tell if quality control issues persist in Chinese exports to the U.S. It's a pipe dream to think that should Americans completely lose confidence in Chinese goods that there'll be a resurgence in American manufacturing. There are far too many countries who'll more than gladly pick up the slack. India comes to mind; they've already decimated the numbers of American-employed high-tech customer service representatives (a blatant stereotype but again, the truth hurts).

For China, the status quo rules. Change is hard. "Business as usual" is, well, business as usual.

The logical mind would assume that should there be a problem with the goods of one's competitor, it'd be a good move to be acutely aware of the quality of one's own goods. Regardless of price, quality still is a concern when the physical safety of the consumer is considered. Sadly, China doesn't seem to be paying attention. Granted, after the pet food debacle, the Chinese Government, in their infinite wisdom, decided to pay token attention to their troubles, even going as far as admitting, on a state-controlled news website, that certain goods that had been exported were of inferior quality and perhaps dangerous.

Last August, Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi described a new government campaign designed to weed out what she called "the tiny number of enterprises" guilty of intentionally producing inferior or downright dangerous products. The campaign addressed goods which affect human health or well-being produced for Chinese use as well as goods produced for export. The campaign lasted for four months and is not ongoing.
 

SOURCES:

"Ruse in Toyland: Chinese Workers' Hidden Woe" by Joseph Kahn, The New York Times, December 7, 2003: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html? res=9903E6DD133DF934A35751C1A9659C8B63 (Accessed 10/29/07)

"As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in China" by Eric S. Lipton and David Barboza, The New York Times, June 19, 2007: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/ business/worldbusiness/19toys.html (Accessed 10/29/07)

"China Recall Toy Factory Boss Hangs Himself: Report" Reuters UK, August 13, 2007 http://investing.reuters.co.uk/news/articleinvesting.aspx? type=tnBusinessNews&storyID=2007-08- 13T085237Z_01_PEK157559_RTRIDST_0_BUSINESS-CHINA-SAFETY-MATTEL-DC.XML (Accessed 10/29/07)

"Toy Recall Shows Challenge China Poses to Partners" by Jane Spencer and Nicholas Casey, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2007, http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB118607762324386327.html (Accessed 10/29/07)

"The Death of American Manufacturing: Globalization and Outsourcing are Hammering Our Icons of Industry" by Robert Morley, The Trumpet, February, 2006 http://www.thetrumpet.com/index.php? page=article&id=1955 (Accessed 10/30/07)

"Job Loss From Imports: Measuring the Costs" Institute for International Economics (no date specified) http://www.iie.com/publications/chapters_preview/ 110/2iie2962.pdf (Accessed 10/30/07)

"Death of Manufacturing: The rise of free trade has eroded America's industrial base and with it our sovereignty" by Patrick L. Buchanan, The American Conservative August 11, 2003 http://www.amconmag.com/08_11_03/cover.html (Accessed 10/30/07)

"China Launches Crackdown on Inferior Goods" Chinaview.com http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-08/24/ content_6594010.htm (Accessed 10/30/07)

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