“Made in China” also known as “中国制造” in simplified Chinese or “Zhōngguózhìzào” in Pinyin is undoubtedly the most commonly appearing trading brand in the world today. We often see it on a variety of items ranging from kids’ Toys to our favorite Smartphones. There is no wonder that these three simple words have become as much popular among consumers. China, since the 2000s, has emerged as a global manufacturing powerhouse – to the extent of being nicknamed as ‘the world’s factory’. But, the appalling quality of products made in China has been frequently hitting the news. Consumers across the globe for so long believed that if a product was made in China, it was cheaply priced and so wasn’t going to last long. But not anymore!
Because, if the Chinese things are really that cheap hence low quality, then the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Train would have dismantled in the middle of nowhere while sprinting at a supersonic speed of 350km/h on a daily basis; the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing would have crumbled when it hosted 91,000 spectators during the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008; the C919 passenger aircraft would have fallen apart during its maiden flight in 2017; the 100 meters tower of the African Union HQ’s venue in Addis Ababa would have collapsed while hosting over 1000 delegates; or the Queqiao relay satellite would have shattered on its way to the far side of the moon in 2018; and so much more. Besides, how many are aware that numerous, if not all spares of the Boeing Company of the USA, the Multinational Toyota Automotive of Japan, the national railway company Deutsche Bahn of Germany, and the Samsung Electronics of South Korea are made in China. All of these demand a great deal of excellence, precision, and strength which China has proven to be capable of.
Price is not always an exact manifestation of the quality level of commodities. As such, a cheap price doesn’t always mean inferior-quality goods or services as expensive price doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite. Therefore, not forgetting the complexity of the factors behind China's affordable prices, the writer would rather view the correlation between price and standards of Chinese goods in the global market from three distinct perspectives:
First, “Made in China” is no exception. China’s industrialization is going through a string of transitions just like industrializations of other made ins did – notably “Made in Japan” and “Made in Korea”. Products labeled as “Made in Japan” in the 1950s and 60s and “Made in Korea” in the 1970s and 80s were similarly criticized for being substandard or ‘sweatshop’ products. Therefore, Chinese goods are now being connoted the same way Japanese and Korean items were once upon a time being regarded as. Today, Japan and South Korea not only rank highly on multiple measures of economic and social wellbeing and are amongst Asia’s strongest democracies, but also offer high-quality products which are next to none and have become the benchmarks for global quality standards. Likewise, Chinese goods have remarkably been improving a lot ever since, and there are ongoing various reforms and measures being taken to ensure quality over quantity of manufactured goods.
Second, it has to do with the principle of “you get what you pay for”. If some Chinese goods are craps, it doesn’t mean China could not make superior stuff but due to the fact that cheap things are what Chinese manufacturers gain contracts to produce for. In other words, if someone is willing to pay you only $5 for a pair of Sneakers, then you are not going to spend $10 to make it. Consumers’ purchasing power and willingness to pay is a determinant factor here. Otherwise, Chinese factories have demonstrated themselves as being capable of producing and providing goods ranging from low- to high-quality – depending on how much one is willing to pay. As such, the Chinese should not be the only ones to blame for every associated quality concerns.
Third, it is all about production efficiency and approach. Chinese factories are known for being efficient in producing, and they enjoy several incentives. Some of the comparative advantages Chinese companies have are lower labor costs, locally available raw materials, higher volume output/quicker time, relaxed government regulations, lower taxes and duties and the like. Therefore, if the Chinese are offering commodities at a lower price, that doesn’t necessarily mean their things are inferior in quality. It could well mean they have a competitive cost of production, efficient work culture and a conducive business ecosystem, which all contribute towards the final price of an item. As such, China rather deserves appreciation and recognition for offering goods and services that are affordable to everybody - the rich and the poor. Actually, producing and providing goods at reasonable prices without compromising quality and/or service types should rather be taken as a lesson others need to take home.
Price is not a robust indicator and should not mislead people. I have recently, for instance, for the first time, switched a cell phone from iPhone to Xiaomi. Of course one of the reasons is the fact that I couldn’t economically catch up with the latest releases of apple (iPhone 11 Pro Max (64GB) @ $1100). However, Xiaomi also offered me a pretty much comparable quality phone at a reasonable price (Redmi Note 7 Pro (64GB) @ ¥1100). And not to mention the extra features I enjoy from my new “Made in China” Smartphone.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t whatsoever mean there is nothing China could do to improve or that everything of Chinese is perfect. The country still has a long way ahead to ensure quality without compromising quantity, and regain consumers’ confidence – like its Asian neighbors, Japan and South Korea did. Not to mention the measures desperately required to curbing patent rights issues and trade imbalances.
Overall, “Made in China” is not anymore a tag for poor quality products. In fact, the term has turned out to be a magnificent strategic plan for manufacturing top quality High-Tech products coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) that China sees itself of achieving by 2025.
Written by: Tsegay Gebreyesus
Silk Road School
Renmin University of China