The People’s Republic of China

Westerners, including me, have often referred to the People’s Republic of China as “the land of the not quite right.” What that means is that the standard operating procedure always seems to be, “that’s good enough.” But it seldom is. There is a quality control problem with things that are made in China. There was a quality control problem at the Wuhan Institute of Virology too, as reported and documented by the US State Department and others. “It’s an accident waiting to happen,” was prophetic. Except that it shouldn’t be. And the pandemic has caused untold human misery and privation. Deaths may be the smallest part of it.

Manufacturing in China for export requires outsiders (Japanese, Brazilians or ‘Westerners’) to be on site handling quality control, if the goods are to be accepted outside of the worker’s paradise.

All that notwithstanding, China is wealthy now. When I went there over twenty years ago, they rode around on bicycles. Now they drive expensive German cars (and crash into things with them). China is awash with US dollars. But that wealth doesn’t translate into a different attitude. The land of the not quite right.

The only reason that companies went to China was because it was less expensive to manufacture there than in the US, for example. That’s no longer true. In many cases, the hourly wages are higher in China now. But the US manufacturers built gleaming new factories there and they feel locked in.

(above) Workers in “sterile conditions” in a Chinese factory wear gowns, but don’t wash their hands and wear shoes in from the outside.

Case Study

In China it was not uncommon for workers to hold factory managers hostage if they wanted more pay. The Public Security Bureau (Chinese Police) responded. There was a stand-off that all parties understood.

Five or six years ago, a Catsup Making Company (which made food products in China) had a problem like this. They went to SecState John Kerry, who asked around and Catsup, Inc., contacted me. I explained that it would end eventually with the western managers and quality control people being slapped around and denied soap, but generally unharmed.

LL explaining the finer points involved with the People’s Public Security Bureau

Catsup, Inc., offered large cash, I packed a bag and flew to China (first class, Singapore Airlines). I called ahead to people in the Politburo and the Security Bureau and they greased the deal with the People’s Armed Police (a component of the People’s Liberation Army), so that I could negotiate the situation. As predicted, the Americans, in this case, were slapped around, denied soap, and were released. A few ringleaders went to jail for a month or so and everyone was paid.

LL in discussion with Senior officials of the People’s Public Security Bureau

The word got out that Catsup, Inc. was paying good coin and I was called out regularly to their factories, making a lot of money to do very little, but I had a 100% success record resolving these disputes. I was a hero… Note that the kickback from the workers to the police required that the police stretch the end of the “crisis” until the distinguished foreign expert arrived and arranged to financially buy off the workers.

I explained all this in detail to Catsup, Inc., but they still arranged to have me go. When the Catsup Company sold off their food enterprises in China to a Brazilian firm, my adventures with that company ended.

I learned hostage negotiation directly from the hand of the great Harvey Schlossberg NYPD, in the early 1980’s, who taught the craft and his philosophy to various law enforcement and intelligence agencies who practiced it. I don’t know what Harvey would have made of this. He had a very dry sense of humor, and as a police officer, had a wit that was activated by irony. His New York cynicism would have been activated.

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There is more in the news regarding the supply chain, and China slowing the flow of PPE to the USA.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Blog entries like this one are why I keep coming back here. You give information I rarely find in other places. Chinese manufactured products can be difficult to avoid, especially it seems, in electronics like the laptop I’m typing this on. Quality seems to vary widely as well depending on what the importer is willing to accept.

    • My computer was likely made in China as well. But all that needs to change. Quality control from Apple is good because they have westerners who know what the company (and consumer) standards are watching things. That’s true of most up-scale products. It is when you descend into products without baked-in quality control that you get into trouble.

      • Got to wonder about how much grass roots leaderless resistance in the form quality process “sabotage” goes into products by the employee’s working on the floor. Or basic don’t give a shit work mindset. I’ve seen that last in shops i’ve worked at. It’s ugly. Lot of what is in the Aerospace welding vernacular, as hidden defects are created that way. Boeing & ULA look to be having that problem. Certs and regular recertification doesn’t catch that. Neither does quality control, because there’s no standard or procedure to catch defects from that source.
        There’s the factor of combined corporate effort since the 60’s to reduce labor costs at all costs to the lowest common denominator, is creating the absence of old school pride of work and craft skill from labor. Lot of companies won’t hire old school skilled people, they don’t want that mindset in their environment, particularly those converged companies. Thats definitely an economic/cultural marxian thing. Some serious implications there.

    • Have heard components such as simple capacitors are sub par meeting specifications, off brands and such in particular, or like DELL who went to basically an assembler of offshore lowest cost components outfit, and it’s those less than spec bits that cause Chinese manufactured electronics to last long enough, work good just enough, to make them seem just good enough a deal people put up with that absence of high quality. Then after enough of a generation has passed, that level of quality is the new normal.

      • I haven’t gotten down into the weeds THAT MUCH with Chinese manufacture to comment intelligently, except to say that a lot of the code in microchips (redundant and faulty by ignorance rather than by design) and a lot of the sloppy work is accepted by Western companies because they don’t take the time to demand excellence — and pay for that.

        US buyers, looking for larger profits and a more solid bottom line and executives who want a healthier bonus, tend to look the other way.

        It might be sabotage at times, but usually greed, lax standards, stupid workers are employed, and so forth – essentially sloth – are at the root of most of it.

        When it comes to food, I think that standards for additives and for quality are PROBLEMATIC. Don’t buy honey from China. Look closely on the labels, etc. Buyer beware at this point, but truth in labeling might fix that.

        • Bought a 12 volt vehicle toggle switch at Advanced Auto Parts, got home, flipped the toggle with an ohm meter hooked up, no continuity, flipped the switch couple times thinking the contact had a spec of something blocking contact. Whole thing fell apart. Took it back, got a replacement, tried it at the counter it came apart too.
          Thats an example of experience.
          You have to wonder about that good enough thing. Good enough for what?
          Get it thru the product conduit, if it fails at the retail end, no biggie, long as not too many people take positive action being scammed.
          Sell a million switches. Make 5 bucks on each. Do that with a hundred products. How many sold items come back to you because of defects. Do the math, thats a lot of profit regardless. Is it an actual business model?
          Happens enough after a while it becomes a pattern.

          A shopping addiction affliction almost? I have to buy it because its cheap. Or similar situation to street drugs? How it’s not the drug cartels supplying drugs so much as it is the law of supply and demand for the drugs.

        • I designed an programmed console testers for a company I worked for that assembled the consoles for Maytag/Whirlpool washers and driers.
          The testers used a robot to press switches and camera to detect that the appropriate LEDs and digits/segments came on when called to.
          the LED displays were sourced from China by Maytag.
          Horrible. We did a lot of teardowns to repair units that didn’t pass.
          And then they would fail at Maytag, but I had the pix to prove they worked when they left us.
          The washer/dryer assembly had been returned to the States from Mexico because of the horrible QC there!

  2. So in blunt words, did you just say the workers (on strike) and cops,(called to respond) engaged in a dual prong conspiracy to extort money from the biz to “rescue” the managers?

    Chinese goods are sometimes good, sometimes crap, and often weirdly irrational- for example, take cheap 1,2,3 blocks- these are simple steel rectangles used by machinists to set up operations. The chi-com blocks have nicely ground surfaces, and drilled and tapped holes alternating with smooth bored holes, so a bolt can be passed through the smooth hole and threaded into another block to assemble them. Simple, yeah? And for 30 years they have been making them with the smooth hole too small to pass the bolt through. 30 years!
    I suspect once, 30 years ago, they got hold of a block to make that was not finished, and copied it exactly. Wasn’t there a Russian bomber copied from the B-29 where the Soviets drilled some holes that were purely an assembly aid, for a process the Russians did not use? Because copy?

    • did you just say the workers (on strike) and cops,(called to respond) engaged in a dual prong conspiracy to extort money from the biz to “rescue” the managers?

      Not only is that what I said, but it had become a cottage industry. And because the suits called me in to “solve” the problem, I may have been part of the problem, but these corporate drones were frantic to save their employees. I can frankly understand their feelings on the matter, but eventually the scammers would have just let the Americans go because the pressure on the police to end it would have forced them to do something.

  3. @Jim – Likewise. Brilliant “real world” information that is decidedly not suburban or filtered.

    Many moons ago I purchased a Grizzly cabinet saw and Jet bandsaw for my shop…price points were better for my budget than Powermatic or Norm Abrams New Yankee fully outfitted Delta Unisaw (after Delta, a show sponsor, decided his contractor saw wasn’t good for the show)…both made in America at the time.

    At that time, as now, Grizzly and Jet were made in corporate owned Taiwan factories with corporate quality control personnel in place. Forgetting the frustrating Cosmoline removal and weird smelling cardboard packaging, and for the Grizzly, a little refining and tuning on my end for better accuracy (quality has increased quite a bit since then), both tools have served me very well over the years. But before “dedicated company factories”…not so much.

    Now most American tool companies have dedicated oversees factories. Would love to see the American-made stalwarts return.

    Oh….and…”the distinguished foreign expert”. Agreed. Nice suit. I have one, a good one…it’s somewhere in my closet, at the back, behind the Wranglers.

    • I have more than a few suits, Camperfixer. Don’t hate me for it.

      Taiwan is usually going to be better than Communist China because of more extensive Western influence.

      Look, when I built the hovel here at the White Wolf Mine, I specified only US Made plumbing fixtures. They laughed. Nothing is made in the US. I have some very expensive shower fixtures made in Germany and the rest was very high end Chinese made. I had no choice. I’m not complaining about the quality, but I would have paid more for US made.

      • “I have more than a few suits, Camperfixer. Don’t hate me for it. ”

        Nah. When in Rome…
        (Certainly professional to wear a proper suit to such meetings, especially as the hired gun. I mean, look at John Wick.)

        Delta, even the higher end products, all made overseas. Still good. Did the full Master Bath remodel a year back…rainhead, dual wand/shower head, body sprayers, control valves, faucet. Excellent quality and flawless operation. Certainly helps when the company owns the factory.

  4. Well, THAT sounds interesting. John Heinz Kerry, eh? That’s just red sugar (no pun intended) to me.

    I spent September in Lijiang, a small (by Chinese standards) city called Xizhou near Dali and Chengdu where I accidentally spent the day of the 70th anniversary of the revolution. Now that was interesting. Not as interesting as being an international bag man for Big Ketchup but we can’t all be you.

    We seem to have shipped them a nice and rather vast middle class. Not like we could have used it /s.

    Lijiang is interesting but it’s a little like ChinaLand at a Disney property.

    • Did you get one of those individual suites on Singapore Air? That’s way beyond my wallet but when Singapore Air started the “longest scheduled flight” about 18 months ago I grabbed a one way in biz class from Amedabad-SIN-EWR on a brand new A350-ULR for $1200. Nothing like new plane smell.

      • I have photos of myself in Lijiang somewhere. Nice place. As you say, it’s a made-for-tourists location, which is not at all uncommon in China.

        As I recall the flight, it wasn’t a suite, but the next best thing. Singapore Airlines is a class act. I fly Lufthansa to Europe and Singapore to Asia when somebody else is bankrolling the deal.

        It was a sad day when Heinz sold off much of its manufacturing. The corporate gig with them was fun. I recall a corporate type in Europe; Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, Not Big Catsup demanding that I be there next day and the flight cost $17K (round trip). He nearly swallowed his tongue when he saw the bill but his people authorized it. It was a Lufthansa first class from Los Angeles to Zurich, last minute. Similar situation with Itochu (Japan), $25K first class flight to solve a big problem for them. I find those numbers for airplane rides to be staggering, but the cost of flying people around on a Gulfstream VI are exponentially greater. If it’s a big enough problem, they do it.

  5. Man it sure is rich soup no matter how you look at it. Try any bat soup specials when you where there? You must have felt like a stranger in a strange land Larry. I often wonder the perception of American’s is like over there. The Chi-Com soviet has to be faced with constant defiance and resistance by the little people in those sweatshops. They use some kind of kind of flying squad police state reaction force system? Don’t hear about it for awhile now, you remember instances where whole offshoring factories owned by western interests would over night become not western interests and that would be that?

    Kerry is like a boil on America’s butt that never goes away. He really upped his game marrying the Ketchup Queen. Whats that empire worth these days? How can you be such a man as he and not have shame is beyond me. Always thought Hanoi Jane should have been his consort, peas in a pod.
    Ranking just behind the vag in a Mao pantsuit, we sure dodged a real bad boollit with the failure to install him on the throne of power. Get the willies thinking about how close. Two who look like Chinese organized crime syndicate agents incorporated for all intents and purposes.
    They didn’t call China the forbidden kingdom no reason it seems. Some stark contrasts of moral codes and dialectic with the Christian West, yet how the moral bankruptcy of the swamp and Western corporate oligarchy seems pretty much seamless. Correlation =’s Causation? (Confucius & Tsung Su notwithstanding)
    But then again, what is considered corrupt here to we The Deplorable’s may be something entirely of another stripe there, and SOP? Culture is always upstream of politiks

    Crucial point about built in defective quality. Its just about a trademark.
    Last month a Harbor Freight store opened in our town. Never been in one, so pent a few hours checking the wares out. I find myself terribly tempted to buy this junk, the prices are so good on some things its hard to reason with need that its realistically good money wasted in the long run for sub par quality. Deliberate subliminal strategy?
    We been checking labels for 5 years now, particularly paying close attention to food. If it’s origins are Chinese it don’t go home with us. How much isn’t labeled honestly too? We stopped patronizing WallMart also because you can not trust anything so obviously Chinese connected corporate now. Getting the last buck drives everything.

    • I was in China not long after it opened up to the West and spend years going back and forth. There are a lot of cultural differences and maybe I’ll delve at some point. I wouldn’t put finding a bat head in soup out of the realm of the possible. I’ve found disgusting animal parts in soup before, and had scorpions (dead ones) in rice, and actually thought that they had a nutty taste.

      It is going to be exceptionally difficult for the US to wean itself from China because like the strangler fig (a tree in Asia), it has intwined itself through everything, particularly Harbor Freight and Walmart. I harbor doubts that we will pull it off, but if we don’t it will go badly for us.

      • Its clean protein right? Our ScoutMaster had us try various bugs for merit badge points. Fried crickets and grasshoppers have a decent texture.
        When we was kids friend and I bought 1000 nitecrawlers, we had an old cast iron tub down under the barn to raise them for sale. Worm farm we got them from sent a recipe for peanut butter worm cookies with the order, they claimed worms are the perfect protein.
        Got my grandmother to bake some up. Not too bad. Edible.
        Lot more partial to a nice fat native brooky that eats a nitecrawler.

          • Now that depends on what species of cockroach we are talking about. Ones who dwell in the swamp and its related environ’s are particularly foul. 13 knot neckties for those is really the only effective method of pest control.

    • Read one guy who bought an angle grinder from Harbor Freight, took it apart, smoothed off all the rough spots in the gears, dumped the fake lube and put in real gear lube, and put it back together. Said it worked great after all the post production work he put in.

      • That’s not in the least bit surprising. I’m glad he was able to make it in to a genuine tool. Land of the not quite right, Frank.

  6. Manufacturing in China for export requires outsiders (Japanese, Brazilians or ‘Westerners’) to be on site handling quality control, if the goods are to be accepted outside of the worker’s paradise.

    I’ve heard there was a saying in the old USSR along the lines of, “as long as they pretend to pay us we pretend to work.”

    When I started working on putting together a home machine shop, it was difficult to not go with Chinese tools. In many tools, you can get one from Harbor Freight, Grizzly, Jet or other sellers. That’s more or less the quality order from lowest to highest, and the explanation is the quality control is stricter from lowest to highest.

    That said, the American made Sherline tools are stunningly accurate out of the box, although pricey for their small work envelope. There are Swiss and German-made alternative tools, but at considerably higher prices.

    Before I retired in ’15, the re-shoring movement (opposite of offshoring) had started and was going strong. Companies were realizing the savings from shipping production to the Chicoms weren’t as much as anticipated. Instead of going there to cut costs by 35%, it was not sending products there unless they could save more than 50% of the cost to do it here.

    As far as electronics goes, I worked in electronics manufacturing here in Florida from 1975 until 2015. The only constant was people telling me we don’t manufacture anything in America. The only things we don’t manufacture here are cheap consumer goods like cellphones or giant screen TVs, where they turn on the production line and never shut it down. We could, but the supply chain logistics need to change, too.

    • The think that I like about the movie THE SAND PEBBLES, was the way that Steve McQueen taught the bilge coolie how the boiler worked. I’ve seen the same general thing happen in China, but usually, the workers on the plant floor only know the simple task that they are trained to do, and if something unusual happens, they just do what they were trained to do and 10000 items are run wrong. I am not an expert. Not in the least. Just an observer.

  7. I saw a similar thing at Hughes Aircraft back in the early 80’s, but it was with Mexico. Hughes had a contract assembly place building up little subassemblies that we’d integrate into a larger module. No IC’s, just discrete components, built with MILSPEC parts Hughes supplied. All they had to do was take the parts we gave them, assemble the mechanical bits, and solder in the discrete components.

    YOW…..what a Charlie Foxtrot! While the soldering they did was excellent, nothing else was. Loose mechanical parts, components installed backwards, or in the wrong location, or completely missing. Multi-pin connectors soldered “One Pin Off”, meaning they all had to be removed, cleaned, repositioned, and resoldered. And about 10% of the connections had no solder at all. It cost far more to rework the modules than they “saved” by farming it out. At least Hughes had the good sense to cancel the contract after the third of four batches came in with only marginally improved quality.

  8. I used to work for a company of which one division built tail section parts for Boeing (I won’t name them but a little research would reveal the name(s)). A gentleman I worked with in what had been a different division of the company and who worked in that other division went on vacation to China in the late 1990’s. To sell Boeing airliners to China, China demanded a work share program where Chinese industry built some parts. The gentleman I worked with visited some friends who “helped” the Chinese build sub-assemblies for Boeing. The quality loss rate according to him was about 50%. Hopefully those parts are only on airliners sold to China.

  9. Worked for a software firm that tried getting into the China market early on. The spec documents had to have both a date and time stamp on them, as the Chinese requirement demands changed multiple times a day.
    After the code was put into place, there was no following requests for the software firm; which had been foreseen by the firm’s employees but not by the management.

    • From the Heaven and Earth Societies to the Tongs (more like trade unions) to the Triads (don’t get me started on the devolution of the Triads) and the Chew Chow/Swantow Brotherhood – I’ve had some run-ins with them and they were impressive criminals. I spent a big piece of my working life dealing with these various permutations.

  10. Re: Harbor (China) Freight –

    I will have to give them props for donated ALL their masks and gloves to hospitals and health care workers. It wouldn’t be my first place to buy important tools, but for the little stuff I love it.

    Chinese food? NO! Problem is you have to dig very deep to find out where it came from.

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