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.