The Return of Mao
A student recounts his experience as an intern in Shanghai, China
The goal was to convince our American client that the price being quoted was as low as they could find anywhere in the world. The problem was that our Chinese manufacturer could not match the price it originally quoted. We stood somewhere in the middle, trying to facilitate clear communication between firms with different languages and different cultures. I stepped into this dilemma when I was asked to proofread and reformat a PowerPoint presentation for the highly anticipated arrival of the American firm’s executives in a few days. My objective was to learn as much as possible and to help ensure that a contract would be signed.
As a brand new American intern working for a business consulting firm in
After a terrifying taxi ride from the airport by an illegal solicitor who charged me three times too much, I stood in awe. There he was, towering over me. His outstretched hand was the wave of dominant dictatorship in the name of the people. This giant statue of Mao, greeting all entrants to
Now my classroom instruction was over and I was in my first week of an internship that had also been arranged as a part of the program. I had spent the previous five weeks going to class and exploring the town. I had visited a hospital, a steel factory, a plastic bag factory, a farm, an old river town, and the cities of
The price originally quoted was too low as the result of the bidding system. Competition for the right to source the product had forced our company to quote an unreasonably low price. This is where I first encountered the term “The China Price” and got a chance to see its influence in practice. “The China Price” has become the world standard for many products and those unable to reach it are vulnerable to global undercutting. The American firm wanted to start the manufacturing of a particular product in
“So what do we tell them?” I asked. The response was logical. We were to explain how the cost was almost completely fixed, and half of the remaining variable costs were outside of our Chinese supplier’s control. The new higher cost would thus seem reasonable. Unfortunately, I was told, the Americans may not see it that way.
“Well, why don’t you just go with someone else?” I questioned further. The response to this gave me great insight to the differences between business in
A compromise was thus devised. In order to cut costs, the plastic resins being used could be changed from American to Chinese. The savings would be substantial, not only because of the cheaper price of Chinese resins but also because our firm was already using them for another project and could just add to that order. Thus the option of resins was offered as a possible cost-cutting solution, with it made explicit that Chinese resins would make the product lower quality and possibly not up to certain regulations. We put this option into the PowerPoint slides just in case the American executives stuck to their price. In the end, that is exactly what happened.
So the production of yet another product headed for American companies made its way over to mainland
Many people have opinions on American companies outsourcing to
It did not take long for my studies to mix with my internship experience. I was participating in the fast paced world of big business in
I began talking to people. I spoke with other students, co-workers, bartenders, taxi drivers, waitresses, and even other foreigners. Anyone who would speak English to me was faced with many questions. What did they think of Mao? Would Mao approve of what
It seemed to me that everything I saw was a movement away from Mao. Giant high-rise apartments conceal the sky, physically pushing the emerging upper middle class away from the ground level, far from Mao’s final resting place. Not even from the top can one see much of a lingering communist ideology. Down below bikes, scooters, buses, and cars propel people too fast for them to slow down or reflect on what they are passing. A pedestrian in
The Communist Revolution of 1949 led to the destruction of many societal traditions. Through the course that I took with UCLA Professor Yunxiang Yan, I learned how the cultural legacy of the past was mixing with the new Western cultural invasion. Now, as the communist shanties are being demolished, so is the communist ideology a vacant lot, quickly being filled by twenty-four hour construction. What could possibly fill the void left by an ideology that had penetrated every aspect of society for three full decades? Like the hopeful Chinese peasants and workers of the 1950’s, I looked to Mao for an answer. And, near the end of my experience, it was in him that I found what I was looking for.
Beyond the occasional statue at a University or patriotic taxi driver, Mao’s influence seemed at first to have disappeared. It did not take me long to find him again in the most powerful and omnipresent addition to post-reform
Published: Thursday, March 03, 2005