Chinese Manufacturing and International Trade

“First time visitors to the world of China manufacturing were often surprised by what they found” – Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China

As a child I remember being baffled after reading the words ‘made in China’ around the base of my pencil stopper. Where was this place? And why would an entire nation want to produce rubber pencil stoppers? Obviously, I was mistaken.

I knew little of China and its booming manufacturing industry. After all, it was not a topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, recent years have shown a surge in the publishing of books concerning this topic followed by a growth in interest by Westerners.

Many companies in the West rely on China to produce their products. This is believed to be because it is a far cheaper alternative, though the rate of production provided is also a major asset. For many, the promise of cheap labour and a fast return was enough information to do business with factories in China.

Paul Midler, author of ‘Poorly Made in China’ comments on China’s abundance of factories and of just how little we still know about them. He states that “With most of these factories…it was often a mystery what went on behind their walls”. This may be true; however after asking a few friends and family what they knew about China’s manufacturing industry it was seen this topic was not common knowledge. We knew little of factory life in the Far East.

Leslie T. Chang, author of ‘Factory Girls’ offers a compelling insight into the lives of modern day factory workers in China. In addition, this creates some interesting questions regarding the country’s business relationships with the West. Through working thirteen hour shifts with two breaks in some factories, along with talking on the job being ‘forbidden’, it is no secret as to why products are manufactured so quickly in this nation. This may be good news for potential business partners; however Chang states that factory workers “talked constantly of leaving”.  In some ways this shows just how similar Chinese workers are with their European and American counterparts. Many leave jobs in order to find better wages and working conditions elsewhere.

In China, this migrant attitude towards job hopping not only concerns these basic attributes of working life. Chang states that the ordinary workers are constantly trying to improve themselves as individuals. Learning a new skill set, or learning English (it was believed to make a person more employable) are just some of the ways this was achieved. A constant desire to better oneself pushes these workers to new heights, and often to better wages.

I believe that this desire to improve as an individual is a crucial driving force behind China’s manufacturing power. As more and more workers gain better skills the quality and efficiency of manufacturing in the country will inevitably continue to flourish. This in turn will ensure that foreign business partners will be in ample supply for years to come.

It can be seen that the Western nations are benefitting greatly from their business relationships with China, but who really is gaining the most out of this partnership? In recent years the answer falls more closely towards the side of China. The Economist newspaper declared that the Chinese economy grew by 9.2% in 2011 and set a prediction of 8.2% for 2012. It seems that this rise in the economy is destined to continue as Economy Watch states, “Forecasts for 2015 predict China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to reach US$ 9,982.08 billion…” These figures are impressive and are testament to a nation on the rise. As the West continues to fuel China’s export industry the nation will begin to wield more of an influence financially over the rest of the world.

As China’s manufacturing industry becomes more dominant the country itself will follow suit. The nation is fast becoming more modern, leading it to catch up with Europe and America. If the financial figures stay true, this may happen sooner than we think.