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Chinese Products (Still Suck)

July 1st, 2009

fail1Last week, a 13-story apartment block in Shanghai fell over and, rather than highlight the failure, Western media outlets chose to emphasize how the fallen building was larely intact (as if this was testament to the quality of China-made goods). Some news services pointed out that while one building toppled, the other 10 apartment blocks in the complex remained undamaged.

There is so much spin related to China, and so we should appreciate that McClatchy Newspapers ran a story on how China is responsible for the greatest amount of faulty goods in the United States.

WASHINGTON — Chinese manufacturers made more than half of the goods that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled last year, but few of them paid any price for producing defective wares. The long list of faulty products included Chinese-made highchairs whose seat backs failed, steam cleaners that burned their users, bikes whose front-wheel forks broke, saunas that overheated, illuminated exit signs that stopped working when commercial power failed, dune buggies whose seat belts broke on impact and coffee makers that overheated and started fires.

China apologists are quick to argue that product recalls have been proportional — that more than half of all product failures are coming out of China because so many products come from the one economy. It’s an incomplete logical argument; it doesn’t consider the kinds of failures that China is delivering.

You have corner cutting or laziness, or problems due to backwardness, but then you also have so many fantastic examples of willfully unethical conduct. Melamine in baby milk powder has to be the most serious case. The most frightening thing about product failures is how Chinese industrialists are willing to put lives at risk for only the smallest savings.

There ought to be more reporting on China’s quality challenge, but many media groups pretend that there is no problem. Western journalists who have worked in China for years are ending their tours of duty without ever having pulled together a meaningful piece on this one subject, and yet the story has helped define the age in which we live. Never mind the career heads (and their editors) who refuse to report on quality failures. We’re lucky to have the bloggers who report more interestingly on the subject…

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