Assignment 3: Attitudes to China Today

After doing a bit of research about Chinese sweatshops i found an article about the products for the Kardashians fashion empire, they are reportedly made in Chinese sweatshops. Now for anyone else like myself that watches a lot of reality tv they will know that keeping up with the Kardashians is a programme about the families busy lives, they make a lot of money, around 65 million dollars a year. According to the article the garments at K-Dash, which are priced extremely high, are being made in Guangdong in China where workers reportedly earn as little as $1 an hour, and working up to 84 hours a week in terrible conditions. For a family who earn such a ridiculous amount of money you would think they would make more of an effort to make sure the garments were produced in a well equipped and clean environment where workers were properly paid and looked after. I think companies like this should be taken to see where their products are produced, so it can be put in perspective for them. Awareness in the West of dangerous working conditions and low pay was raised by the 1993 fire in a Thai toy factory that killed 188 workers. This event brought a lot of bad publicity to companies who were using sweatshops, this forced American company Wal-Mart to drop a clothing line after it was found to be using sweatshops to produce the products. 

Another article I read was about investigations into sweatshops in China and how they go about finding out truthful information and what they actually find out. “No one is willing to tell you the truth of what they are doing,” said one of the investigators staking out a factory. Chinese labour laws are strict, the work week is 40 hours, after which generous overtime must be paid, ranging from 150 percent to 200 percent of base salary, until a total of 66 hours, the effective legal weekly limit. Workers are entitled to at least one day off a week. No one younger than 16 is allowed to work in a factory. If the laws were well implimented their would be no problem, companies just get greedy and stop thinking about the wellbeing of the workers. Last year 68 percent of the factories that were investigated did not pay workers overtime, and nearly 70 percent of factories worked staff beyond the legal limit of 66 hours a week. The factory inspectors have a very difficult job because even though they want to protect the workers thats not always what the workers want, their must be a reason why they work the extra hours or why they even have that job in the first place. Rural families have trouble paying rising tuition fees so they send their children to factories as an alternative to school. A lot of underaged worked purchase forged identity cards to fool the factory management, workers want to provide more money for their families so agree to work all these extra hours so its not just a case of shutting down factories who are going against the law, the problem needs a proper solution.

I wanted to look through some of my clothes and find out exactly what I have that is Made In China, I was very surprised by the small amount from China and also how some pieces of clothing had ‘England’ written in huge writing all over the label then underneath say ‘Made In China’, definitely false advertising. I also thought that brands would have all their clothes made in the same place but was surprised to find out they weren’t. I also thought the price range of garments would have a deciding factor on where it was produced but was wrong about that too. 

After asking one of my friends how aware he is of where clothes he buys are manufactured he replied “not very aware. I think companies will only point out where things are produced if they are trying to create a positive public image about how they treat workers. Otherwise companies will avoid telling consumers where their products come from in case the customer thinks that the people who make their clothing are not being treated fairly and then they will lose customers. For the most part I will know where things are produced if it is custom made as production that is specific will ofter occur in the west where employee rights are stronger and companies are therefore more whiling to disclose that information.” The same question was asked to someone else, they replied with “I have a rough idea, depends on how much they cost and what brand they are, my new custom shoes were made in Holland which surprised me cause they weren’t clogs.”

If I had more time I would prefer to buy locally produced products, but most of the time I don’t bother to look, I just go for convenience and price. Even if the product isn’t locally produced just to know it was made in a factory that has workers that are well paid and working in the correct environment. I think companies should be made to make it clearer exactly where their products are made, and let the consumer decided.

Last year we received a lecture from Nicholas O’Donnel Hoare who graduated jewellery design at Dundee in 2008, he worked on a project called Trojan Egg which basically lets you scan the egg with your smart phone which will then transfer you to the website and you get a live feed of where your egg was produced and shows you the conditions the chickens are kept in, I think this would be a great idea if it was used on clothing labels so you could see exactly where the clothes are produced before you buy them. 

China’s Image

Everyone has very different worldviews especially towards China. I myself have never been to China so I view the country through what I have heard or seen, which is probably all based on stereotypes and misconceptions. I spoke with a friend, Jake, who has actually visited China. He gave me some insight as to what his own expectation were of China and how it differed and was what he expected after experiencing the country first hand. Jake went to China for school credits in the summer of 2010. He decided on China primarily because he always wanted to go. He told me, “Ever since I was little, China had this mysterious beauty to me. The Great Wall and Forbidden City were the two places I’ve always wanted to go in my life.” Growing up myself, China never really appealed to me. I had always associated China with communism or with a lack of freedoms, but also with delicious food. It was interesting to talk to a friend and see that China had always been an interest to them. My friend honestly and absolutely loved China, everything from the food to the clothes to the entertainment. It was something he said he would do again if the opportunity ever presented itself again.

I asked him about his thoughts and expectations he had about China before leaving. He went on to say, “I thought when we landed in Beijing that we were going to be in this semi-futuristic metropolis, but when we got out of the airport, there was nothing around us but fields. I was expecting to see people going around walking in crazy different clothing, but everyone dressed somewhat normal. The rest of my stereotypes and feelings towards China were correct in the sense that almost everything I had pictured was exactly true.” Expecting the Chinese to dress in stereotypical Asian garments is what I would have come to expect as well. This stereotype is just one of the many that have been implanted in the minds of the tourists.

A lot of different people apparently told my friend Jake that you have to go to China every few years to see how much it’s changed, but specifically in our area in New York, all he heard before leaving was “CHINA’S A COMMUNIST COUNTRY! THEY’RE GOING TO KILL YOU IF YOU TALK ABOUT SOMETHING THEY DON’T LIKE.” Clearly there are still many people around that have fallen prey to the negative portrayals of China. “That wasn’t the case at all. Everything seemed mostly normal, granted yes we were in a communist country, but it was nothing like how I have seen the Chinese people being portrayed. They’re not all robots. They all have personalities just like the rest of us.” There can be a lot of close-minded people out in the world who only listen to what they are told and do not question or make their own opinions on places like China.

There is a certain way that China is sold to tourists, some of it matches up correctly with reality, and some parts are a little exaggerated. Jake said, “When I was there, the Chinese loved the tourists, and from what I saw, they treated them with a whole lot of courtesy. I feel like the Chinese just want to show other countries that they’re not as bad as some people think they are. They definitely want people to see them as just like everyone else.”

(Pictures courtesy of Jacob Picard)

Chinese cuisine and herbology

When i think of Chinese food the local takeaway comes to mind, i usually order egg fried rice, hot and sour crispy beef or sweet and sour chicken, not very adventurous at all. i went on a little trip to the local Chinese supermarket and had a nosey around, i was a bit disappointed with the range of food and ingredients but decided to play safe and just purchase crispy seaweed(which was in fact just green cabbage, which apparently they sell in most takeaways) and some spicy pork dumplings which i found disgustingly chewy, i plan to try and make my own at some point and will hopefully enjoy them a lot more.

In the Chinese supermarket i did find a bag of chicken feet which made me feel slightly ill, but it did make me curious about how to cook and eat them, not that i was ever going to try it, after doing some research and watching to many youtube videos on it i found out that they are called Ji zhao or Ji jiao and are deep fried and steamed before being stewed in a sauce or just simmered in a sauce containing Chinese herbs, a dish like that certainly doesn’t appeal to me. While researching Chinese cuisine the most shocking thing i came across was that serving dogs as food was only made illegal in the early part of the 21st century but before then they were one of the nine varieties of animals that could be eaten, they were raised to be eaten just like chickens and pigs are. A rescue mission was carried out by the Animal Asia Foundation to rescue these animals but it wasn’t completely successful, a lot of dog meat was sold on a lamb which had a higher value.

Chinese food can be categorized into ‘eight culinary traditions of China’, its all to do with the different parts of China and the variation of cooking styles because of the resources available, climate and lifestyles. All the food varies in flavor and texture, China is known for using every resource available, they use a lot of preservation techniques such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation so no food was wasted. The style of cooking most known to us in the UK is cantonese cuisine which comes from Guangdong Province in southern China, this is apparently because of a huge number of early emigrants.

I found the idea of Chinese herbology very interesting, i used to walk past one of the shops on the way to school in the morning and found some of the images of skin infections slightly disturbing but after researching it i really wanted to know if what they said was true, can eating a dried lilly bulb really be good for your lungs and help against flu? Most people i asked had never tried it or ever been to China but they couldn’t see how it could possibly work, they argue that if it really does work why are they not widely renowned throughout the world. I completely agree and think that because China is a very traditional place and they believe in the same things their ancestors did, so stick to using herbal medicine.

Chinese herbs have been used for centuries, the manuscript “Recipes for 52 Ailments” which was found in the Mawangdui tombs that were sealed in 168 BC has lists of prescriptions for specific minor illnesses. Shénnóng (Devine Farmer), who was a god like figure in China, he was said to have lived around 2800 BC, Shénnóng apparently tasted hundreds of herbs and past on his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers. He is said to have written the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine, his recipes have little to no side effects and help maintain and restore the bodies natural balance. In China there are roughly 13.000 medicinals used and over 100,000 recipes recorded in ancient liturature, the most common ingredients are plants and extracts, animal parts are also commonly used. A few strange things i found out were that the penis of animals is therapeutic, snake oil is traditionally used for joint pains and Chinese wolfberries are used to improve sight. Human bones, fingernails, hairs, earwax, urine, sweat and organs were all previously used in ancient recipes but are used very little nowadays.