This book is scary, and honestly I can’t decide if I should recommend it or not. It’s not a guide, it doesn’t offer solutions, and it’s full of so many cautionary tales and descriptions of tricks and scams that you will wonder how any business gets done in China at all. If you are looking for a reason not to manufacture in China, then this is the book for you.
The author is not involved in the electronics industry. Most of the book describes a single customer in the personal products field (soap, shampoo, lotions, creams, etc.). He does describe other industries, and says that in general most factories in any industry will try the same tricks, and confirms this with experiences from other similar people in his position as local intermediary for foreign importers.
No Free Lunch
The gist is this, though: China isn’t as cheap as it sounds, and at every possible chance the manufacturer will do whatever they can to turn a greater profit. This involves raising the prices to the importer at the last minute, cutting corners incessantly, making unilateral decisions on changes to the product, lying about their capabilities and connections, selling extra or rejected product to other markets, and all while not being able to be held accountable or responsible for problems, putting all the cost and risk on the importer. The picture the author paints is of a country of con-men.
If you want to skip the book, the thing you should take away from it is that everyone is trying to make money, and if you are hiring someone to make something for you, you need to accept that they will turn a profit from that. How they turn a profit will either be obvious, and will show up in the amount you pay for your product, or it will be non-obvious, and will show up in quality fade, counterfeit parts, randomly increasing costs and delays and changes. In China, the author believes that the latter is standard practice.
Poorly Made in China is a non-fiction thriller novel. It was published in 2009, so things may be better now. The main character is an American living in China whose job is to help foreign companies navigate the challenges of manufacturing in China. You might think “maybe he is motivated to drive business for himself by painting a picture of all the awful things that can happen,” and though we haven’t asked the author to confirm, you’d probably be right. He does mention, though, that he took on the risk of not being accepted back into the country after saying negative things, so with such risk associated with him publishing the book, maybe there is a stroke of altruism in it.
“Oh No They Didn’t!”
If you’re looking for an afternoon filled with more thoughts like “holy crap,” “WTF?,” and “oh no they didn’t” than an episode of Real House Wives, then go ahead and read this book. If you want to scare yourself into never wanting to so much as look at China on a map, then this is the book for you. If you are resigned to manufacturing in China and you’re looking for tips on how to avoid all the terrible things he describes, the author specifically mentions in the foreword that this book doesn’t have solutions. If you already manufacture overseas, and you’re just looking for someone else to share the same experiences you’ve probably also had, then maybe it would be a good idea to have a few beers and drown some sorrows with this book.