Attitudes Towards China

When it comes to buying the latest technology or fashion trend, are people aware of where these goods are coming from?

I aim to find out what peoples attitudes are towards China today; are they aware of where the goods they are buying were actually manufactured, and how do they perceive the quality of ‘Made in China’ goods compared to ‘Western’ goods?

I set out with a short questionnaire that covered the basics of these topics.   I interviewed a cross-section of people to see what their perceptions were.  Here are a consolidated series of opinions that were shared.

Firstly, I asked ‘when buying new technologies or clothes do you think about where the product is coming from or are you more focused on the brand, price and how it looks?

The majority of people said they never think about where their products are coming from.  However, one gentleman did say it would depend on what he was buying.  For example, if he were to buy a car or tools for DIY then he would generally go for German made as they have an excellent reputation, but for anything else he said he never puts much thought into it.  I also went onto ask one lady about her opinions on buying clothes, she said that it’s incredibly rare now-a-days to see clothing with the label ‘Made in Britain’ and if more things were made locally then she would buy them, but most of the clothes she purchases are from China or Asia.

I then went onto ask where they thought most of their goods were manufactured and why -

Most said China or Asia, however some had no idea.  When asked why, I was given some very interesting answers; some just linked their answer to the ‘Made in China’ stereotype, but others spoke about the huge work force and cheap labour.  The huge work force allows for mass production of goods and although the workers are paid very little they are willing to work hard to support their families.  Some went onto talk about ‘sweat shops’, they were aware to avoid purchasing goods that were manufactured in these places.  One lady said ‘nobody should be exploited’ and she would be prepared to support this cause.

I then asked, ‘what do you think the general publics perception of ‘Made in China’ goods is?

The general consensus was ‘cheap.’  It was discussed that people today, especially the older generations, are heavily influenced by the past and are stuck with the historical memory of ‘Made in China’ goods being cheap.  One person mentioned his opinion on the fact that many people didn’t, and still don’t, appreciate China’s ability to produce good quality products.  Another went onto to say how people today are very money orientated.  Those with money are willing to pay a fortune for designer labels, but how much did these designer clothes actually cost to make?  An interesting point made by one of my subjects.

Finally, I asked ‘how do you perceive the quality of ‘Made in China’ goods compared to ‘Western’ goods?

Again, some said that ‘Made in China’ goods were cheap and ‘Western” goods are of a better quality.  This, however, wasn’t the case for all.  A few people spoke about how China has flourished with the technology boom and as their society has improved dramatically so has their ability to manufacture high quality products on a massive scale.  I was also surprised to here one person say he thought the quality of China made goods were in fact better than ‘Western’ goods because of the huge number of employees that are willing to work extremely hard to produce high quality products.

It’s clear that many are still heavily influenced by the past and still perceives China made goods as cheap.  Whilst in some areas this may still be true, China has developed dramatically over the years and is now an influential competitor in the world.

Personally, I’ve never really put much thought into where my goods are coming from, not until recently when I watched a documentary called ‘Factory City.’  This programme looked at one of the largest factories in the world, Eupa, situated in the Southeast corner of China.  I found this documentary a real eye opener to the way many of our goods are manufactured.  It was truly fascinating how dedicated the factory’s 17,000 workers were and the amount of pressure they are under every day to produce staggering amounts of goods which are then exported all over the world.  Not only do they work in this factory, they dedicate their entire lives to this factory; they live within the surrounding area, they eat there, they get married there, they raise their families there and send their children to school there.

So why do ‘Made in China’ goods have this stereotype of being cheap when most of the latest technology and clothes we buy are in fact made in China.  I, for one will now be more aware of where my goods are manufactured and will appreciate all the hard work that is put into making them.

How the Western world perceives China through the medium of cinema.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, released in 2000, was a financially and critically successful film that reinvigorated the Chinese action movie genre for Western audiences. It’s success was not only due to it’s thrilling and wonderfully choreographed action scenes, but rather because Ang Lee effectively managed to integrate traditional Chinese culture and values into the storyline. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s success has influenced many other successful Chinese movies such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The popularity of these films illustrates the desire from audiences to see vast and varying cultures in film. Unfortunately, however, China has not always been depicted in such a positive way on screen.

For decades, Western cinema goers were exposed to Hollywood’s representation of what East Asia and Asians were apparently like, and in many cases it was not always an accurate representation. Filmmakers built up imaginary Chinese figures; caricatures with washed out skin speaking in an impenetrable language. These caricatures often failed to be treated as fully developed human beings, but instead as a mere catalyst to advance the main protagonist’s own narrative. If a film actually featured an Eastern Asian central character, they were predominantly portrayed by white actors, often while artificially changing their looks with the use of make-up or prosthetics. Katherine Hepburn in MGM’s Dragon Seed, Marlon Brando in The Teahouse of the August Moon and Christopher Lee in a series of Fu Manchu films are just a few actors who have used make-up in order to approximate East Asian facial qualities while playing Asian characters.

From 1929, Hollywood produced many films featuring the aforementioned figure of the dastardly Dr. Fu Manchu. Menacing, dangerous and evil, the infamous Dr. Fu Manchu character is perhaps a reflection of Hollywood and America’s xenophobic fear projected into cinematic propaganda, thus potentially influencing American audiences’ perceptions during a time when the ‘yellow peril’ was still prevalent.

Fast forward to the 1960’s where even the classic Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany’s features the inclusion of racial stereotyping in the guise of American actor Mickey Rooney portraying Mr. Yunioshi. The bucktoothed, squint-eyed caricatured approximation of Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi is nothing more than ‘comedic’ filler that does not advance the storyline in any shape or form. He essentially only exists within the film to provide laughs.

China’s depiction in cinema did improve greatly by the 1970’s with the arrival of The Big Boss, an action movie staring Chinese American actor Bruce Lee in his first major theatrical role. Bruce Lee has since become a cinematic icon for his role in redefining the Chinese action genre, and for helping to coin the ‘Kung Fu’ genre. Not only were his films thrilling, but they also portrayed China in a positive light that helped educate Western audiences about Chinese cultures and traditions without the unnecessary inclusion of racial stereotypes and prejudice.   

Since Bruce Lee redefined Western perceptions of China and Eastern Asia, more and more films started to respect Chinese culture. The animated Disney film Mulan, based on the story of a famous female warrior in ancient China, is a successful example of a Hollywood production appreciating and respecting Chinese heritage.

 “Chinese content is one way to attract this colossal audience. The addition of Chinese flourishes is a decorative marketing tactic – a way of getting through the front door…”

- Gao Jun, Vice General Manager of Beijing New Film Association Co., Ltd.

Mulan’s story is one of growth, strength and courage. A story full of Chinese culture that is both educational and recreational. It is a story that is inspirational to both Eastern and Western audiences alike, much like the stories of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and House of Flying Daggers.  Even Hollywood has begun adopting and emulating Chinese cinematic conventions and styles such as the Wachowski brother’s Matrix trilogy and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, to name a few.

When audiences flock to such films, it proves that Western perceptions of East Asia are finally becoming healthier and that the image of Fu Manchu, along with other racial stereotypes is hopefully now a thing of the past.