Introduction: A brief history of “Made in China”
After the First and Second Opium Wars (between 1839 to 1860), China lost many advantages in international trade. The Chinese Civil War and the Korean War hindered or even suspended the trades between the U.S. and China for decades. China’s economy did not start to recover until the new leader of China advocated economic reform in 1978, leading the way for the explosion of China’s manufacturing. Foxconn, as a representative of China’s manufacturing companies, then established connection with some innovative American companies by massively producing the product they designed with the lowest labor cost. In 2005, the American conservative report showed that “more than half of all goods imported from China were made by U.S. companies which were offshoring their production to China” (Harris, 2011).
Today, it is hard to find an American store that was NOT selling products manufactured in China. For ordinary Americans, they may not survive this Halloween without purchasing any Chinese-made costumes and decorations. China now is the world’s largest manufacturing nation and ranks the top in global export market.
Description: Safety Issue, human rights, and unemployment
The “Made in China” label is not simply the symbol of modernization or massive production, it is also associated with low quality and poor safety standard.
( The picture form New York Time : News about Mattel recall )
(The picture from TimeWorld.com: News about China’s tainted milk recall )
From 2007 to 2010, a series of safety-related scandals were exposed through European and American media, which undermined consumers’ perceptions of “Made in China” and spurred global concerns. In 2007, the world’s biggest toy company Mattel recalled its toys exported from China because the toys are lathered over with lead paint. In the same year, media around the world reported the Chinese-made toxic toothpaste event. During the 2008 Chinese export recalls, U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced heparin issues due to contamination of the raw heparin stock imported from China. The following Chinese poisonous milk scandal further generated more negative media coverage related to Chinese food safety issue.
(Picture form CNN: The report of “Foxconn suicides“)
The tainted image of “Made in China” also resulted from reports of labor problems. Taiwan-based Foxconn used to be the contract manufacture of Apple. It is now attached the tag of “Death Factory” by the media and being criticized for its abominable and dehumanizing working conditions after 14 employees committed suicides in 2010. The American media “warned” that if American companies or government agencies turned to choose Chinese manufactured products over American products, the choice itself would be described as the support for “an authoritarian regime that prohibits independent labor unions from organizing.”
( Video: 2012 Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign Ad )
The repellent attitude to “Made in China” has a political dimension. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney blamed China for stealing American jobs and technology. The message delivered by this campaign ad pointed that American outsourcing manufacture to China led to the loss of jobs within the US. It seems that if the Obama administration doesn’t take action, Chinese-made products would finally threaten the US economy. In this ad, “Made in China” was portrayed as the culprit of soaring U.S. unemployment rate.
I think the intended use of the concept of “Made in China” could be broken down into two different parts: First, media reported safety issues to remind American consumers avoid the possible dangers, and also push Chinese manufacturers to improve the quality of their products. Second, the topic related to “Made in China” was playing a vital role in the debate between the two parties. By objecting to the existing economic policy which benefits Chinese manufacturing, the opposition could gain more supports from the public.
Theories: Propaganda and Cognitive Dissonance
I was hesitating to use propaganda theory to analyze the formation of negative perception of “Made in China”. I think media reports and politician’s words did, to some degree, reflect the “shameful” truth of Chinese manufacturing . But in the meantime, the “Made in China” label was certainly used as a master symbol to intrigue strong emotion and attitude among American consumers.
Even though new research shows that the rise of labor costs in China pushed more and more American companies to outsource in other poor countries, Chinese products were still portrayed to be only competitive on the cost in many media coverage. Also, I did’t find much positive news about how China-made was transferred to China-branded, despite some China-based brands (e.g. Lenovo, Huawei and Haier) have already been leading the global market. When it comes to economic issues, the “dark side” of “Made in China” has been also inappropriately accentuated–the growing unemployment rate was simply explained as “China took American jobs away” problem by politicians without ruling out any other factor influencing U.S. economic recession and job loss.
According to Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, it indicates that people tend to accept the information consistent with their pre-existing attitude and avoid the possible comfort or dissonance brought by different information. (Baran & Davis, 2012, P154) Since he image of “Made in China” has been already damaged by the negative publicities, people’s attitude Chinese made products are not easily to be changed by the new information related to Chinese manufacturing.
(The chart from 2012 JWT research: Comparison of country manufacturer impressions)
(The chart from 2012 JWT research: Reasons for low opinion of Chinese brands)
Last year, JWT Intelligence, a London based communication agency conducted a marketing research on American and British consumers to find out the external and internal factors impeding Chinese brands development. The result showed that respondents are likely to have same negative perception of both China-made and China-branded. I found it echoes the selective perception process, as it said “people will alter the meaning of messages so they become consistent with preexisting attitudes and belief. “(Baran & Davis, 2012, P155). For people who haven’t experience with Chinese brand, they are simply carrying over their negative perception of China-made onto China-branded.
Moreover, the JWT research showed that even though many participants have already been the consumers of the Chinese brands, there is still a low awareness of Chinese brand among American and British consumers. International marketing firm HD Trade Services released a similar result this year, which revealed that 94% of U.S. consumers couldn’t even name one Chinese brand. I think this finding could be explained by selective retention mechanism. As it was mentioned above, consumers’ initial attitude toward Chinese products make it hard for them to build up positive perception of Chinese brand. The memory of Chinese brand message was disturbed by the negative news or undesirable experience with Chinese products, which makes consumers unlikely to remember Chinese brands.
Analysis: My perception of “Made in China” and multiple Intelligence theory
If we could step back over centuries, our Chinese ancestors would be shocked by hostile and skeptical consumer perceptions of Chinese-made. China used to be well known for its exotic products such as silk and porcelain, which are imported exclusively for the royalty due to their high prestige. Since when has “Made in China” become synonymous with cheap, shoddy or even counterfeit goods ?
Here are the headlines of some news which covered Chinese-made stories:
- “Made in China” Label Spurs Global Concern–Yaleglobal Online, August,2007
- The Hidden Cost of “Made in China”: Tomorrow’s American Jobs–HuffPost, June, 2011
- The Price of “Made in China”–New York Time, August, 2013
- Your Poultry Could Be the Next Thing “Made in China,” Is That Safe?Policymic,September,2013
- Made in China Not Worth Hassle for Small Firms Returning to U.S.–Bloomberg, June, 2012
(The picture from google image search: Howard Gardner’s nine multiple Intelligence theory)
The artifact of “Made in China” consists of large amount of news stories and politicians’ bias, I think it fits in with linguistic intelligence theory.Both media and politicians use “Made in China” to “tell” the whole story behind the label to the public. The words that have been frequently used include “hidden cost”, “U.S. jobs, “concerns” and etc. In addition, spatial Intelligence theory is also well represented by the artifact of “Made in China”. The imagery of Chinese factories and Chinese workers are repeatedly shown in news clips once it was involved the topic of Chinese-made. It appeals to the public to associate poor working conditions and the low cost with “Made in China”.
Baran, S. J., & Davis, D. K. (2012). Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future (6th ed.). United States: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Dewey, C. (2013). China’s branding failure: only 6% of U.S. consumers can name one Chinese brand. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/05/chinas-branding-failure-only-6-of-u-s-consumers-can-name-one-chinese-brand/
Harris, A. (2011) Made in China: A Brief History of Manufacturing, Offshoring, and International Trade. Retrieved from http://www.seattlerep.org/Plays/1011/AE/DeeperLook/History
JWT London. (2012). Remark “Made in China”. Retrieved from http://jwt.co.uk/thinking/remaking-made-in-china.html
Lebeau, P. (2013) New study finds China manufacturing costs rising to US level. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/100651692
Made In China Documentary [Youtube Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnfjciuwKvA
Navarro, P. (2013) The Price of ‘Made in China’. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/05/opinion/the-price-of-made-in-china.html
Story, L. (2007). Lead Paint Prompts Mattel to Recall 967,000 Toys. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/02/business/02toy.html?_r=1&
Stand up to China. [Youtube Video].Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRViUQntMf