How Did China become a Manufacturing Giant?

How Did China become a Manufacturing Giant?

Hint: It’s not China’s fault. It’s ours.

I’m a big fan of history, and especially of dystopian “what if” scenarios. One question I sometimes ask myself is this. Let’s say that during the Korean War, the US declared war on China, and let’s say that China won a full military victory, decimating the United States and leading to a full and unconditional surrender. What would the world have looked like after that?

China probably would have shut down or nationalized all manufacturing in the US and dismantled labor unions so that everything that American consumers purchased would be produced by China. This way, if America ever attempted to declare independence from them, they’re realize that they couldn’t because they were reliant on their overlords in China for their pharmaceuticals, electronics, healthcare equipment, toys, household items, and food.

And China would most certainly put in their own puppets to replace people in power of big companies, the government, and influential citizens who would take orders from them, grovel apologetically when they offended them, and turn the other way and pretend not to notice when you see questionable things from the central government.

In other words, we’d probably be very much where we are today.

So how did we get here?

While it’s easy to bash China, let’s talk about who the real villains in this story are. It’s not China, it’s not even the Chinese Communist Party. To paraphrase the great Edward R. Murrow, they didn’t create this situation, they merely exploited it–and rather successfully.

I’ve worked in big companies all my life. Every big company used to have a “code of conduct” that directed its employees. They were typically things like “respect the individual”, “teamwork”, “responsible citizenship” and “integrity”. All of these rules rolled back to a single rule that you heard a lot more back then than you do now. “Love thy neighbor”.

But something happened around the 1980s and 1990s. Gordon Gekko’s “Greed Is Good” rule. Executives and boards of directors started to work off the premise that if you maximize profits for your shareholders, regardless of the intangible costs, you were doing good. The old “codes of conduct” became largely parodies of themselves. Executives became psychopaths (look up the psychological definition of that word), and they surrounded themselves with sycophants who aspired to their level of pathology.

And so when the Chinese Communist Party came in and offered unlimited labor and raw materials at pennies on the dollar, executives swooned. They could slash their production and operational costs, pass on a little of the savings to the consumer, but use the rest to pad their balance sheets (and their bonuses).

What none of them saw (or cared about) were the unintended consequences. Decimation of local economies in small towns across their own country as jobs, skills, and pride of craftsmanship that dated back more than a century went overseas. A nosedive in quality for consumer goods, resulting in products that looked great but ended up breaking after a short time (usually a day after a warranty expires). And in some cases, dangerous products that resulted in sickness or even death due to lax safety standards. And perhaps most frighteningly of all, a complete surrender of an industrial and manufacturing base that put the United States’ national security in dire danger. Think I’m speaking in hyperbole? Just remember what happened with face masks and other PPE in 2020.

And the ultimate fault lies not in greedy boardrooms either. The fault lies in us, the American consumer. We want “more stuff” and we want it cheap. We want the $0.50 socks at Walmart and the $5 coffee maker. Our houses are filled with junk that we think will make our lives better, but end up cluttering our houses and our lives. The fault, dear Cassius, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

There’s an old story where a little boy is walking on the beach with a grownup and sees hundreds of starfish washed up on the beach, facing certain death when the sun came up. He takes it and throws it back into the ocean. The old man mocks the boy and says “you’re not going to make a difference”. The boy smiled and responded to the man, “I made a difference for that one”.

Let’s be real. Writing a letter to your government officials is not going to help–they only listen to giant groups who lobby them on one side or another. Complaining to a company’s customer service department is not going to help–the poor customer service person (who themselves are probably overseas) has no power, and even if you managed to get to someone who cared, they don’t care if they lose you as a customer. Complaining on an Amazon review is not going to help–in many ways Amazon is complicit.

It’s up to us as consumers to stop feeding the beast. That’s what I’m hoping to help accomplish with this site. I’m not saying we should eliminate all China-made products from our lives–that’s impossible. But do your research, and if you find an American or European or Asian company who hasn’t moved its manufacturing to China–even though doing so would mean their profits would skyrocket–support them. The best way to send a message is with your wallet. And tell a friend to do the same.

You’ll find buying American (or European, or from a responsible country in Asia) is no sacrifice when you understand that you’re helping keeping local communities and labor alive, you’re helping the environment by buying products that will last rather than be dumped in a landfill, and you’re not boosting up a corrupt government with a tyrannical and genocidal history that it has never renounced–and as such is condemned to continue to spread misery in whatever it does.

I’m not a company, I’m not an organization, I’m just an individual who loves my country, the United States of America, and who also loves my heritage–the people of China under the rule of an oppressive regime. I’m also someone who sees the dangers of the government of China in ways that my fellow American citizens can’t–or won’t.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you, Steve, for this site and the diligent work you obviously put into it. I will visit often. Keep the faith, you are not alone!

  2. I have been looking for something like this for a long time..
    You have my support as the blind are leading us down a dangerous path. Buyer beware really is true. Cheers G

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