Made in China?

Ford Garage

In years past I have been fond of knocking reproduction antique car parts, especially those marked Made in Taiwan or Made in China. Famous for poor quality, just like Hong Kong and Japan years ago.

Times are changing, and so is my attitude. A couple of years ago I commented on the ahooga.com forum about my quest for a good reproduction Model A Ford crankshaft pulley. After several purchases of sorry US made ones, my Made in China purchase from A&L was the only one that was made to print and was very well made. I have also been watching the quality of Jet woodshop equipment made in China rise to a very competitive and respectable level the last several years.

Last year (2003) I began working on some automotive design projects with an engineering company in Shanghai, China. I met with a few of their engineers in Canada in December 2003 and reviewed some design work with them and was invited to visit them in China.

In January / February 2004 I traveled to Shanghai and spent some time both working and seeing a little of the surrounding area. I was not at all prepared for what I found! All you international types will be amused at my ignorance and naivete regarding the world around me, but I think I now have a new personal perspective.

China is an amazing place! A dichotomy and a paradox. Both backwards and leading edge. Poverty and wealth. Old and new. But primarily I saw a huge amount of growth and progress. Nearly all this progress has come in the last 15 years with the opening of the economy to foreign investment and the expanding property rights of Chinese nationals.

Opportunities, personal rights, the standard of living, and the quality of life for the Chinese people is rising. Right now it is strongest around Shanghai and other large cities, but is destined to expand across the country in the next 20 years. A huge potential market and opportunity, both for the Chinese and western investors.

These pics below are of the Shanghai area and also the city of Suzhou. They all portray a country in a new era of growth. I do not have any pictures I can share of China's modern and rapidly advancing engineering and manufacturing capabilities. I was inside new facilities which had all the capability and quality performance that we see in the US and Japan.

They are really on the threshold of breaking the poor quality perception (and the past reality). The pictures below show both the old and emerging China.

Shanghai, Pudong skyline. I was not prepared for what a geographically large city Shanghai is. Also, the size of the population (estimated 20 million) is staggering!

I've never seen so many modern buildings in my life! If it weren't for the haze, you'd see twice as many in this view. It goes on like this for miles and miles in all directions. Office buildings, apartment buildings, hotels, etc all built in recent years. There are also lots of manufacturing facilities around Pudong.

The huge amount of modern development around Shanghai has all been built out of nothing in the last 15 years and shows no sign of slowing. Both Chinese and western investment fuels this tremendous growth.

Reportedly, over half of the worlds construction cranes are in Shanghai! The Chinese are really beginning to turn the corner in their manufacturing and quality capabilities as well. Everything you read in the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal is true.

Shanghai is the pearl of China and is a showcase to the world. Also, China will host the Olympics in 2008 and Shanghai a world expo in 2010. The government is making a very concentrated effort to clean up the city.

This pic is of old Shanghai taken across the Huang Pu river from the 56th floor of the Jinmao Tower in Pudong. The 88 floor Jinmao Tower is the tallest building in China and was the tallest in Asia until the completion of the Petronas Towers. In the foreground is the Pearl Tower, which is a radio and TV tower, and a symbol of China's modern pride and growth. The river is beyond the tower and Puxi and old Shanghai beyond that.

This is the view outside my hotel in Pudong in the morning. A much more modern and progressive city than I anticipated.

I found the subway system to be very modern, fast, clean, and easy to use. No signs in the subway are in English, but that did not present any problem figuring out quickly how it worked and how to get around. You can go one way almost anywhere on the system for two Yuan, the equivalent of twenty-five cents.

It seems that everyone in China has a cell phone. I think they leapfrogged going from a few private hardwired phones directly into the wireless world. I did not see much infrastructure of residential phone poles and wires, etc.

This is the view looking east in the morning out towards the more recent developments in Pudong. I was working about 10 miles east of here. Right now the traffic is insane, and sometimes heavy. As more Chinese get cars, they will have to enforce some kind of uniform driving regulations.

Right now traffic is somewhat of a free-for-all, but I did not see any accidents or road rage. However I did witness numerous near misses and bone-headed stunts between cars, taxis, bikes, and pedestrians alike! The first few days I was a white knuckle passenger, until I acclimated and accepted the traffic insanity as normal acceptable behavior.

All the new roads around Pudong are wide spacious boulevards and highways like pictured above and have very attractive landscaping. The roads in Puxi and old Shanghai are narrow, but there are modern elevated expressways and ring roads which improve mobility, though they are crowded.

The sculpture above is a huge stainless steel fabrication in a traffic circle. Roads and landscaping around Shanghai are very clean and meticulous. Not quite so true for the outlying areas.

This is a market district in Shanghai outside the Yu Yuan garden. Very nice and clean historic shopping area. It was beautifully decorated for Chinese New Years which was occurring while I was there.

In contrast, this is another pedestrian shopping area on Nanjing Road pictured above at night. This is all modern and refurbished, I was there twice and only saw a couple of other westerners, but was told it is somewhat of a local attraction for all the Chinese visitors from the countryside.

I also spent a little time in Suzhou, a couple of hours west of Shanghai. I got an idea how some small cities look. Saw some examples of some impoverished conditions, but not the level found in remote areas or peasant farming areas. Mostly what I saw was the better areas.

This is a typical street scene in Suzhou in the pic above. More older cars with bumps and bruises (cars in Shanghai were all mostly newer and undamaged). Lots of bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians, buses, taxis, and bicycle rickshaws.

Pictured above is another spot in Suzhou, outside an old garden. Basically it is a new pedestrian shopping area in the old city. Lots of gifts and crafts type items for local tourists and visitors.

Another street scene in Suzhou. Hey, how come that moped is in my lane? I did not drive in China. I had the use of a Chinese national driver and a car. Definitely the way to go. I can't imagine driving myself there. It is generally not advised for westerners to drive themselves due to their personal financial liability risk in the Chinese legal system.

Everywhere I went I saw workers tearing up sidewalks and roadways by hand and rebuilding them. The walkways are all done with pre-formed tiles and pavers. No cast-in-place concrete walks. All the demolition was done by labor with prybars and pick axes. I did not spot a single concrete saw or skid steer. I did see quite a few dump trucks on the highway though.

Another view in Suzhou. Typical of a lot of local retail and manufacturing. Each 'storefront' is a business and the owners may live upstairs or in the back. It seems that each shop specializes in a few operations and things get done by piecework.

The Chinese seem to be real fond of polished stainless steel - I saw a lot of it! This place pictured above is making welded stainless gates. I think the guy next to him makes radiator shells, and three doors down they make headlamp shells, and across the street they make stone guards, and.......

This is the local 'Home Depot' in Suzhou. All the latest power tools! The other interesting thing is that similar businesses cluster together. You see several plumbing supply stores in a row, several jewelry stores, butchers, etc.

In this stretch of road there were lots of metal workers, hardware and plumbing related manufacturers and retail sellers.

In Shanghai they now also have large western style 'big box' type stores like IKEA, OBI, Carrefour, and others selling furniture, appliances, groceries, building materials, etc. Let the 'Malling of China' begin!

This stretch of road was the local furniture manufacturing area in Suzhou. Again, each storefront seems to specialize only in certain operations, and material piecework is moved from business to business as it is completed and on its journey.

In the pic above, furniture is being moved around on a truck. Lots of things get moved on bicycles. I wish I had a picture of one of the many overloaded bicycles. They reminded me of the famous old picture of the Model T Truck piled unbelievably high with hay going down the road.

Of course I was watching for old cars! Not sure if this qualifies.

This is an 'antique' Chinese knockoff of a 1938 BMW R-71 with side car on the street in Suzhou. These were made in the 1950's by Chang Jiang. There is an enterprising expatriate in Shanghai who restores these and sells them to foreigners with too much money.


中国 上海
March 2004