Public awareness of the production process

Chinese factories and labor are seen as such a taboo in the British media with large companies being outed for using them. Are there two sides to these stories? Many Chinese see these factories as a way out of poverty and although most British shoppers is that this form of labor is wrong and would perhaps shop else where if they knew the shops they were buying from were using Chinese factories they would perhaps choose not to shop there.

The gap between the rich and poor people in China is still increasing even with the government’s initiatives to try and prevent this. Rural children and young adults are very ambitious there is a big cultural difference between China and the UK for many young Chinese family is very important to them and they want to support them and make them proud. They see the factories as a way of doing this; many of them are provided with an education. The income they gain from working in these factories keeps them out of poverty.

Obviously there are problems with some factories. The working conditions, the hours, child labor and the factories are never portrayed in a positive light. Every country that has become wealthy has had a period of laboring. An example in Britain is the coalmines and jute mills. So China is in a sense having its industrial revolution. As wages increase and people become wealthier and more prosperous in the country it is evolving into an ideas country and the laboring moves to a country wit cheaper labor, currently Vietnam.

Many shoppers are unaware of where the products they buy come from unless it is written on the label. Products made in Britain tend to be more expensive due to labor costs and people expect a better wage and also handmade products are considered good quality. Although when comparing the differences in wage between a British worker and Chinese worker may be vast there are also big differences in living costs and the price of food and where someone living in China could live comfortably off a certain wage someone trying to live on the same wage in the UK would struggle. So this is a consideration to make when thinking about these factories, but as things become more expensive expected wages will also rise.

Competition between big companies means they are striving to keep costs down. This is the main reason they use foreign factories with cheap labor costs. Many shoppers when asked saw big factories as a negative thing especially for the workers. They also mentioned that they generally didn’t know where what they were buying came from they also said when asked that when shopping the main thing they look at is the price. So to compete on the market companies must try to keep their costs low.

The convenience of buying in this country means people have become complacent. The journey the product has undertaken is not thought about. People care mainly about the price of the product. When asked whether they would buy a western product or a Chinese one they said the price would be the deciding factor. This may have been because most of the people interviewed in Dundee center were students who are low on disposable income. Although they did also comment that if something was of a higher quality they would consider paying more for it.

This raises questions about these big companies and whether new smaller, local businesses can set themselves up in the current market. With modern companies using cheap labor and creating production on a massive scale to provide these cheap products the market ask for is the more personal business losing out even if it is a better designed product?  Chinese factories provide opportunities to the people of China as an initial way out of poverty but are also in a way preventing growth of local business in other countries and preventing creative alternatives.

Companies are very wary of telling their customer where their products come from because it’s a taboo after big media cases such as Nike. Awareness of where something comes from should be more widely known around point of sale of the item or in the market place. This will take away the hidden elements of the production process so people know exactly what they are buying and whether it is the best option for them.

Made In China?

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Many Western nations import goods from China. From kitchen appliances to clothing, children’s toys to computer parts, chances are we all have many things in our homes branded with the familiar ‘Made in China’ label. Yet, do we as a consumer nation really understand the sheer enormity of all the products that are imported from China, or even how the product was manufactured? Furthermore, do we even care?  

During an investigation to discover whether or not typical Dundee residents knew where or how their electronic products and clothes were manufactured, the general consensus of the individuals, with regards to the question, was inconclusive. While some guessed China, others suggested Korea, India and Bangladesh, as well as a few people who couldn’t provide an answer. From the wide array of answers it is clear that the vast majority of people do not know for definite where their products originate from. 

In addition, the individuals interviewed were unable to differentiate between the quality of standards between locally made products and products imported from abroad. The few people that did provide an answer claimed that products from China are sometimes not always made to the best standards, whereas products that are specifically manufactured locally have connotations of a higher standard of quality. Is this a fair outlook to have?

In recent years, there has been some publicised instances in the media highlighting the issue of suspect Chinese imports being recalled for lack of quality or for failing to meet standard requirements. Children’s toys coated with lead-laced paint, car tires lacking an essential safety component and medicines and pet foods full of toxins are just some of the noted aberrations in a spate of poorly manufactured goods. 

However, not all of these instances are a true reflection on the standards of products manufactured in China. Of course there will be some products poorly made in China, just like anywhere else. There are some great products and services available, it’s just a shame that these highly publicised incidents can have a detrimental effect on people’s opinions, Western and Eastern alike.  

When asking individuals whether or not it mattered to them if the goods purchased were manufactured in good working conditions, the responses were mixed. Some people said that they simply didn’t care or think about it. Others said that while they do care, it is not always made clear to British and Western consumers the details of the source and conditions of their products and how their products are made. 

It’s evident that there is a lack of understanding from Western consumers with regards to the origins of their products, despite a familiarity with the ‘Made in China’ brand. Perhaps low prices plays a factor in this lack of caring or understanding, especially during this current global economic and financial crisis. After all, we are always looking for a way to save pennies. However, should our relentless pursuit of a bargain be more important than the poor working conditions of the people who make our goods?  

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.