Inkstone Workshop, Anhui

All this talk about the rising price of Chinese manufacturing and the threat it poses to the proliferation of cheap consumer goods worldwide, well, it’s kinda got me down. China has long been capable of better, and I’m not just talking about computer chips, either. So, in the spirit of fair and balanced reporting, I present a series of photos that I took in a small inkstone workshop in southern Anhui Province. This is slow, labor-intensive, highly-skilled manufacturing of a high-quality object sold at an extremely high price. Generally, not the kind of work or product sought by today’s export-oriented manufacturers. China Daily recently reported that manufacturers in the increasingly expensive Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas are moving to Anhui in search of cheap labor. I’m sure they’ll find it – but certainly not in this workshop.

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Above, the tool bench. After the jump, more photos … Continue reading

Jottings from the Granite Studio

It was a long day. I wrote several thousand words and carried a twenty-five pound bag of oranges uphill for a mile (long story). But even after all that trouble I still managed to find the time to click over to Jottings from the Granite Studio and read about this Day in (Chinese) History. You should, too (and that goes for my many new friends from Jezebel).

Granite Studio is (very well) written by Jeremiah Jenne, and you’re bound to learn something from it. Heck, if you’re anything like me, you’re bound to learn a whole lot. While you’re at it, have a look at Jeremiah’s very interesting post, “Prejudice Made Plausible: Foreign Criticism and Chinese Sensitivities” over at the China Beat.

[And while you’re reading, consider listening to this.]

The Tragedy of Yao’s Left Foot

I think it’s fair to suggest that no other seven foot, six inch man (2.25m) weighing 310 lb. (140.6 kg) has played as much basketball as Yao Ming has played over the last six years. In addition to his paid obligations as a starting center on an NBA team which plays 82 games, a handful of exhibition games and (alas) only a handful of playoff games, as well as daily practices and a grueling training camp – Yao’s leisure time is dominated by his patriotic obligation to practice and play with the Chinese National team, which maintains a similarly grueling schedule of exhibitions and international tournaments. From the standpoint of physical workload, it comes down to this: Yao Ming hasn’t had a summer off in ten years – a situation pretty much unparalleled in professional basketball.

Yao has never indicated which of his obligations – the national team, or the Rockets – is more important to him. But, there are fleeting hints that his body, if not his mind, is starting to rebel against the national team’s demands. Last summer, according to various media reports, he arrived late to national team practices so as to allow his body some extra rest after the grueling 2006-07 NBA season (he also needed time for his wedding, and Special Olympics promotions). China’s national sports authorities were not sympathetic. As the AP reported the story:

The Houston Rockets‘ star was faulted for taking too much time off to recover from his last NBA season. The government’s All-China Sports Federation also said he spent too much time planning his wedding and making appearances for the Special Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

“No matter how lofty public welfare activities are, they can’t be allowed to take first place in a player’s life,” the China Sports Daily, a federation-owned newspaper, said in an article appearing Tuesday.

“No matter how sweet personal life is, it can’t be compared to the exultation of capturing glory for one’s nation,” the article said.

[I blogged about this dust-up here.]

There’s more than ample evidence that Yao needed the rest (not to mention the wedding). Indeed, anybody who has followed the Houston Rockets and Yao over the last half-decade knows that – by the end of the season, and by the end of most games – Yao is fatigued. Coaches and rivals have noticed, too: In 2006, Flip Saunders, coach of the Detroit Pistons publicly stated that his strategy for beating Houston was to wear down Yao because “Yao gets tired in the fourth quarter.Continue reading

… until the twenty dollar DVD players come home.

I’m buried in a long project at the moment, but when I peak out from beneath the words I can’t help but notice that – quite suddenly – more than a few people are worried about the effect that Chinese inflation will have on US consumer prices – and demand, and the future of China-based sourcing. I don’t plan on providing a deeply nuanced opinion at the moment, but based upon a few recent conversations, I feel comfortable hypothesizing three trends over the – oh, I don’t know – coming months (and US recession). Continue reading

Rake Over

Yesterday, with little notice outside of Minnesota, The Rake died as a print publication. And that’s a pity.

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My association with the nearly six-year-old Minneapolis-based publication dates back to its fourth issue. It was a proud and supportive relationship, and though I haven’t been much of a contributor over the last couple of years, I’ve always valued its pages as an outlet for my writing – including, my writing from China. I can’t emphasize this enough: it is the rare regional magazine that will support – much less, finance expenses – for deeply researched feature-length stories from Asia. The Rake not only did that, but they did it without asking many questions beyond, “When will we see the copy?” Continue reading

Golden Ratios and Other Forbidden Fetishes of Shanghai Bureaucrats

Last week Shanghai’s state-owned Xinmin Evening News reported that Shanghai was confidentially applying strict beauty standards, including highly detailed mathematical ratios to the selection of forty female college students to represent the city as Olympic “hostesses” in August. The story was picked up by Xinhua, and by mid-week, was inspiring anger and ridicule in letters to the editor. No surprise, in the face of public ridicule, the Shanghai officials involved in drawing up the standards (“ruddy and shiny complexion”, “elastic skin” and “a plump but not fat body”), denied them at a news conference (which was, alas, closed to overseas media).

Remarkably, the Xinmin Evening News not only refused to back down from the story, but later in the week printed a front-page defense of it, including a description of how they obtained the classified standards memo. [O]fficials at an official news conference who don’t speak the truth have had great impact on the reputation of the media and the government’s credibility, noted the editorial (excerpted in the subscriber-only South China Morning Post). Continue reading

Chinese Off-Shoring

Managing the Dragon has an interesting and provocative post on off-shoring of production by a Chinese state-owned textile manufacturer. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that this is a growing phenomenon, but it’s interesting to read an account from somebody directly involved with it:

The manager I spoke with had no reservations about the off-shoring. As he saw it, by shipping apparel jobs overseas, he was helping, not harming the Chinese worker. As he put it, “Off-shoring is good for China. Think about it, textiles used to be the number one export industry for China, but today electronics have surpassed textiles. That’s good for Chinese workers because they can make more money manufacturing electronics.”