Well, it has happened again. Another Christmas has come and gone and even the New Year is already a week old. As I put away the various gifts that family and friends have given my wife and me, I again noticed something that I have been tracking for some time. It would be fair to say that over 75% of the things that we received and gave this Christmas were made in China. I became aware of this trade phenomenon several years ago. Now, I'm as concerned as the next person with the out-sourcing of jobs and our trade deficit. Something needs to be done in both of these areas. However, another issue is as pressing and perhaps as critical as jobs and our trade imbalance.
I wonder what those poor Chinese peasants think as they work long hours making stuff for us. I first noticed the preponderance of products made in China when I made a large silk arrangement for the living room of our new house. It took a lot of silk flowers with those white adhesive labels stating: "Made in China" to make the arrangement. It didn't make any difference what the flower or greenery was, everything came from China. What must some peasant think as he or she works assembling thousands birds-of-paradise or lavender and white orchids for shipment to America?
At Christmas, one of our children got us a two-foot tall Santa Claus to add to my wife's collection of that jolly old saint. This Santa was a "Professor Santa" all decked out with his books and a coffee mug. As we opened it, I was as curious about where it was made. Guess what? Some poor Chinese worker worked hours assembling this cute variation of traditional Santa Claus. It is adorable, but what message was left in the mind of that worker in some obscure Chinese city. That worker got paid far less for that day's labor than the sales tax paid on the gift here in America. When that worker went back to her family, what did she say to her husband about the doll upon which she worked? Surely, it made no sense to her to dress an overweight doll with a white beard and long hair. What was the purpose of having this doll with a book bag and a mug? Did she think to herself, "I don't understand what this doll is for, but I hope the person who gets it is satisfied with my work and that it accurately portrayed whatever it was supposed to be."
While I have wondered for several years about the effect of our consumerism on those that produce the items, it hit me more acutely this Christmas season. I am taking a group of university students to China and Tibet in the spring. As I gear up for the trip, I am working on the course, PowerPoint Presentations, etc. My wife and I are even learning Mandarin Chinese from a CD-you know, the type that promises, "Learn to speak Mandarin in 10 days." Well, we are a third of the way through learning Mandarin, and it has taken months-and we haven't even gotten to the key phrases like, "Where is the bathroom?" Or "I'm sorry; I should have spent more diligent in my attempt to learn your language."
Since all my attention seems to be centered on the trip, I decided to buy my wife all things Chinese this Christmas. Among the assortment of gifts, she got a couple silk fans, a Feng Shui Chinese pagoda water fountain, a couple dozen chopsticks for honing our eating skills, an eight inch wooden replica of an ancient Chinese coin, and a wooden box for wine bottles made to look like it came from the Tang dynasty. Humorously, I also bought a coffee scoop and three cooking spatulas. Why? Because, they too were made in China.
As for my wife's gift for me, she isn't as anal as I am about thematic gift giving. She gave me a tie, shirts, slacks, belt, and a hand-blown glass hummingbird feeder. As I checked out the gifts, sure enough, most of them came from China, including the hummingbird feeder. Some peasant spent his day blowing glass hummingbird feeders for Americans to feed their hummingbirds while he is having a hard time feeding his family. What message was left in his empty stomach about Americans?
I almost forgot the tie-a pink silk tie. It too came
from China. I can imagine some seamstress working for a couple hours putting
this pretty tie together thinking, "What kind of guy would wear a pink silk tie;
he must be pretty secure with his masculinity."
The next time you receive a gift, turn it over to see where it was made. It probably was made in China or in Malaysia, Honduras, Chile, India, Bangladesh, or another developing nation. Pause and think about what that person who is struggling to stay alive and feed his or her family thinks about America-a place where people buy these luxury items while the workers struggle barely to eke out a living. This consumer sensitivity training is necessary for each of us before we can ever begin to work at changing the impression that most of the world has of us.