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Andrew Forsythe, 2:48 am ET

WHEN I WAS A KID in the late 1950s, if a toy was stamped “Made in Japan,” it meant it was cheap and poorly made. A decade or so later, that label began to mean something entirely different: If you wanted a top-notch TV, you were considering a Sony. If you were shopping for the most reliable car, Toyota, Datsun (later renamed Nissan) and Honda were on your list.

There’s a parallel today with China, and it became obvious to me via two hobbies: collecting pocketknives and collecting flashlights. As recently as a few years ago, pocketknives made in China were usually cheap and of inferior quality. But that began to change. Now, there are Chinese manufacturers producing first-class knives—with first-class price tags to match.

Ditto for flashlights. Almost two decades ago, flashlights using an LED emitter—instead of an incandescent bulb—appeared on the scene. From the beginning, Chinese manufacturers led the market in LED flashlights. Several companies, such as Fenix, Nitecore and Olight, quickly emerged, producing innovative and high-quality lights at very reasonable prices.

Today, while there are still a few U.S.-based flashlight manufacturers, the LED flashlight market is completely dominated by Chinese companies, with literally dozens putting out high-quality and cutting-edge products. They offer incredible bang for the buck: I have numerous excellent Chinese-made lights that cost me under $30 and a few even under $20. Several of those I’ve ordered directly from the manufacturer in China, or else from Ali Express—the Amazon of China—with no-hassle China-to-Texas delivery in about three weeks.

The current ascendancy—and even domination—of manufacturing by China is no surprise to anyone who isn’t living under a rock. But my two little hobbies have brought home to me in a microcosmic and very personal way this simple truth: China will be the manufacturing force-to-contend-with for decades to come—one increasingly respected for producing top-quality goods.

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kristinehayes2014
kristinehayes2014
2 months ago

My husband (and myself to some extent) are knife geeks. We are currently living in Portland which just happens to be the knife capital of the United States. No shortage of high quality, made-in-the-U.S. blades around here! https://blog.knife-depot.com/portland-became-knife-capital-us/

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
2 months ago

Kristine, Portland does indeed have a rich knife history, and thank you for that link. I own or have owned knives from many of the legendary companies mentioned there.

My collection actually has more knives from W.R. Case, of Bradford, Pennsylvania, than any other manufacturer. But I also own knives from Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and China, as excellent knives come from all over the world.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Forsythe
M Plate
M Plate
2 months ago

The authorities in China will appreciate any article that touts their productivity while omitting any mention of the human rights of their workforce.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
2 months ago
Reply to  M Plate

Please don’t mistake my comments on the increasing quality of Chinese manufacturing for a defense of China’s authoritarian and repressive government. And I understand that an argument can be made for not purchasing any Chinese products, or, for that matter, investing in any Chinese companies. I’ve done a little boycotting myself from time to time, most recently of companies which support a certain poisonous political figure.

But it’s hard to know where to draw the line. A wholesale boycott of China would involve checking carefully the label of every manufactured good in your home, along with the composition of any international or emerging market funds (index or otherwise) you may own.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Forsythe
Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
2 months ago

This is perfect–in Back to the Future Part III there’s a scene early on (1955) where Doc says, “oh there’s the problem–made in Japan.”

Then Marty (of 1985) says, “What are you talking about, Doc. All the best stuff’s made in Japan.”

Doc, “Unbelievable.”

Mik Cajon
Mik Cajon
2 months ago

Boycott…supporting communist China financially is a human rights failure.

Last edited 2 months ago by Mik Cajon
medhat
medhat
2 months ago
Reply to  Mik Cajon

IMO not feasible on an individual level; there’ll always be more than enough people who either don’t care or can’t pass on the value. But if a boycott (or tariffs, they may work in a similar fashion) brought on by either the US government, the EU, or the like, there exists the possibility to essentially force change. But that hasn’t happened, probably due to the immense graft and corruption in government leadership, together with the fact that giant multinationals are really functioning independent of nationalities. They’re really global capitalism at work, and not particularly interested in either sustainability or basic worker rights.

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