This article was last updated on the 19th of August, 2015 by Patrick Carpen.
Some decades ago, the Chinese said to the United States “bring all your factories here, we will work for a lower cost”. Indeed, colloquial Chinese expressions like “no pay plenty”, “cheap, cheap” and “work done fast” might have been rampant during those days.
America moved many of their factories to China for “cheap labor”. Indeed, Americans wouldn’t work for what the Chinese were willing to work for. When the little boy in America picked up his radio-controlled car and saw “Made In China” imprinted at the bottom, he thought the Chinese were the most intelligent people on earth! “But dad, it’s made in China!”
Yet his father would explain that it was only “assembled” in China and that all engineering and design works were done by smart American scientists. That explanation would call for some desperate leaps from science to economics and back, and if you’re not a good teacher, your listener might end up confused and frustrated.
While the Americans walked with their noses high in the air, and a haughty look on their faces, more often than not, puffing away at a cigarette or cigar, and “proud to be an American”, the Chinese had their noses buried deep in the rubble of the assembly lines of factories. And while little American boys and girls were immersed in video games and Barbie, the Chinese kids were busy studying advanced mathematics and electronics.
Who would have thought that the great Chinese Emperor had a “master plan” after all? Fast-Forward into the 21st century. Two Chinese guys met me at a hotel near to the Guyanese-Brazilian border. One could speak English and Chinese, the other only Chinese. They needed some help with bureaucratic issues and how they could go to Manuaus. They wanted to know if they could enter Brazil and if they needed visas. After explaining to them all I knew about the rules of entry and travel in Brazil, they asked me if I could accompany them to Manuaus on their business trip, since I was fluent in Portuguese but they could neither speak nor understand Portuguese.
They offered to pay me a large sum of money, but that wasn’t the main motivating factor for me. The fact is, I love to travel, so I thought this would be a fine adventure.
“Money No Problem”
As we waited for a car to take us to Boa Vista, the road seemed genuinely barren. No taxi was in sight. The two Chinese men accompanying me said they wanted a car for “three persons”, and whatever the cost was to hire the whole car, they would pay. They asked if I knew the number of any taxis. I finally got hold of someone who called a taxi from Lethem. The driver said “250 RS for a special hire to Boa Vista”. The Chinese guy who spoke English said “money no problem”. Indeed, this would be a song he would sing for the rest of the trip and back, as he demanded only the best hotels and the most expensive restaurant “money no problem”.
Why was money no problem for the Chinese? At first, most of the world looked down at the Chinese for their attitude towards “slave-like labor”. No one was willing to work like the Chinese, for the small pay they accepted, and at the pace they worked at. Indeed, China was a “manufacturer’s paradise.”
But Then Came The Backlash
Did Americans really think the Chinese were that stupid? To work day and night for so little pay or prospect of advance? Indeed, the Chinese were learning the technology, replicating it, writing it down in books, and today, Chinese OWN most of the factories in China. Now it is no longer a matter of outsourcing your factories to China so that Americans can have cheap running shoes, but a race to produce superior quality shoes to win the race against the Chinese.
In Manuaus, my Chinese friends were looking at samples of certain original brand-name clothing selling in Brazil and quickly struck deals with Brazilian businessmen to supply them with the “imitation version” to these clothing. Indeed, China now could produce almost anything and the Chinese economy is far stronger than the US economy. America is now racing to bring as many as their factories back to the US after realizing the hole they have dug for themselves.
The US is now in debt to China after borrowing millions of dollars from the Chinese. How they will pay this money back is a matter of great debate. And while the US dollar is still relatively unshaken, the Americans are re-learning the hard way the meaning of the old Roman proverb: to labor is the pray.