The Gap Between American Understanding and Chinese Reality


As much as I hate to admit it, I definitely have a tendency to initially overreact to a story or piece of journalism after encountering it for the first time. My experiences over the past several weeks regarding the Mike Daisey story are a prime example of that. When I first heard Mike Daisey’s original monologue on This American Life two weeks ago, I came away shocked, confused, and angry. I was ready to burn my MacBook and boycott Apple forever. Maybe it was Daisey’s tone, maybe it was because it was an assignment from a professor, but I definitely believed Daisey and reacted strongly against Apple. I did not stop to consider that parts of the story that did not seem to add up.

Last week, I pulled a complete 180. I had another knee-jerk reaction, and I was ready to vilify Mike Daisey after hearing the “Retraction” show on This American Life. I acknowledged that he did a good job of raising awareness to the cause, but I felt his argument was dead in the water because he had lost all credibility. The story became about him, and not the issues taking place at Foxconn. That was my main problem with Daisey. His “retraction” was more about him than the issues at hand. This week, after hearing both sides of the story and along with the Bucknell version of Daisey’s play, I have a better feel for what is going on at Foxconn, along with probably a more level head.

Overall, I think Mike Daisey is just touching the tip of the iceberg with his story. There is a much bigger picture involved, the question is whether or not it is as bad as we are lead to believe. As Steve Jobs says in the play, Foxconn is not a unique situation in China. Foxconn is huge, China is huge, and there are many other places similar to Foxconn in China. Jobs additional points out that the suicide rate at Foxconn is actually lower than that of the United States. However, I think the most telling part of the Bucknell play was from Dr. Zhu, when he touched on the cultural gap between China and the United States. Workers in China view Foxconn as a tremendous opportunity to move to the big city, get a job, and escape poverty. They relish the opportunity, whereas Americans may view it as incredible harsh working conditions.

Dr. Zhu says “the gap between American understanding and Chinese reality remains bigger than China itself”. Therefore, the question really should be: If what Apple is doing at Foxconn is normal in China, then is Apple wrong in doing so? The problem seems to go way bigger than Apple, as dozens of huge American corporations are having their products manufactured elsewhere in the world under conditions that probably would not fly in our country.

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9 thoughts on “The Gap Between American Understanding and Chinese Reality”

  1. I too found the part about the social gap to be eye opening. Hearing how people value the jobs that they have because of the opportunity that it supplies them with to escape poverty was something that really had an emotional impact on me. I thought about how even under these terrible conditions the people in these factories go to work grateful that they are employed at all. But what I ask is even though we know that the conditions are terrible does it make it okay because the factories supply them with opportunity and hope for a brighter future? What steps can Apple take to attempt to close this social gap?

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    1. I think it is an interesting debate, are the terrible conditions more acceptable because the factories supply workers with new opportunity and hope? I am not sure which side I would take in the debate, but I think the fact that Foxconn provides work to Chinese people who need it is a way for many Apple consumer to rationalize the poor working conditions in these factories.

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      1. I agree that Morgan brings up the big question when she asks: What steps can Apple take to close this social gap? Taking that further, I wonder if Apple would even care to close the social gap. Like Christian said, I think Foxconn providing jobs to people in need will be enough in the eyes of Apple and its consumers to justify leaving the situation alone. Whether or not that is the morally correct thing to do is definitely still up for debate.

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  2. Morgan, I too struggled with this fact. I think back to the forces of globalization. Companies in the first world have shifted their manufacturing overseas in order to optimize their costs and production. While the first world handles the innovation and design side, the third world handles the hands on manufacturing and blue collar jobs. While some may think it is unfair that we are taking away American jobs, these same jobs are in high demand in China. By US standards, the working conditions would not be sufficient. Zach, by quoting Dr. Zhu you highlight this point, “Dr. Zhu says “the gap between American understanding and Chinese reality remains bigger than China itself”. Once again, we must take all sides into account and develop a cultural understanding. By American standards, some people may think we are doing harm, when in actuality the forces of globalization are helping impoverished farmers modernize their lives and better their economic conditions.

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  3. Kendall, I found your response to Morgan to be interesting, especially after having done some of the reading homework and questions for this week. In the clip from The Big One, Michael Moore asks Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, whether it was unfair to manufacture shoes in Indonesia, as it takes away from American jobs. Knight’s response was that he didn’t think Americans would want jobs like that. While I personally didn’t feel that Knight’s response was sincere and that he was simply covering up the fact that his true intentions are to optimize Nike’s cost and production, as you mentioned, it is an interesting topic to consider. The working conditions experienced by many of the overseas workers would certainly not be acceptable in America and hearing the perspective of Dr. Zhu confirmed this. Overall, it is a difficult situation with many components to consider.

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  4. But shouldn’t Apple (and Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Motorola, etc) know more about China. Sure, our gap as people here is huge, but that doesn’t extend to them does it? Shouldn’t the companies who opt to operate in other countries be more on top of the working conditions and political situation there?

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  5. We have lost our sense of history. WHY is it “cheaper” to make products overseas?

    Also, what margins are we talking about? How much more would Foxconn have to pay, or Apple to offer to Foxconn as a margin, for the workers to earn a fairer share of the value of the product?

    Who is being more stingy? Apple to Foxconn? Or Foxconn to its employees?

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