AgentMarkets & Economy

China rises, quality lags

Manufacturing flaws a weakness for emerging superpower

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Editor's note: Arrol Gellner is currently on an extended stay near Shanghai. Following is one of a series of columns comparing the built environments of America and China. It's hard to believe now, but the phrase "Made in Japan" was once synonymous with laughably poor quality. After the devastation of World War II, Japan's industrial exports of the 1950s were indeed clumsily designed and poorly built. Yet within the span of a decade, a remarkable thing happened. A few Japanese products -- first transistor radios, then cameras, then televisions -- began to equal and finally surpass the quality of their American-made counterparts. During the 1970s, Japan's auto industry followed suit. In a stunning turnaround, "Made in Japan" became an assurance of exceptional quality. Not so the phrase "Made in China." When the People's Republic opened up to the world in 1978, China's industrial products were pitiable, much as postwar Japan's had been. The p...