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Made in China: How Chinese Factories Became the World’s Factories

Chinese trade has expanded at a breakneck pace over the last several decades. In 2018, China exported a whopping $2.49 trillion in goods. The value of China’s exports always surpasses their annual import cost. This makes them a powerhouse of manufacturing and industry. Chinese factories were not always positioned like this, though, and it took a lot of growth to get there. So how did that all change?

We’re going to break down how product assembly in China got to where it is today and why it is still leagues beyond anyone else in the world. Stay till the end to see where they aim to go from here.

The History of Chinese Factories

During the period from 1992 to 2002, China implemented a series of incentives that were very attractive to foreign companies and investors. This alone had a massive impact on the growth of China’s manufacturing sector.

The term “made in China” was first coined in the early 1940s and this was because of a boycott of Japan and foreign-made products. China’s economy lacked the structure for efficient industrialization and they wanted to change that.

Chinese citizens wanted more opportunities to grow domestically. Boycotting these foreign-made products gave them an opportunity to take part in what they dubbed the National Salvation Effort.

What Was the National Salvation Effort?

This was a movement that opposed the Nationalist Government and demanded a stronger resistance to the expansion of Japan. As a whole, the National Salvation Movement was a coalition of leftist groups, albeit a loose group.

It included members of the Chinese Communist Party, including those who were both open and secret participants.

Why is this relevant? It was a crucial step in positioning China as a powerhouse, and not just in the manufacturing sector.

China Is the Factory of the World

Cheap and plentiful labor primarily aided in China’s rise as the ‘world’s factory.’ Besides this, an abundance of raw resources and low environmental regulations made it easy for them to grow. And, lest we forget, China’s extensive workforce is only matched by the quantity of land at their disposal.

If we’re talking about labor, we must acknowledge that in 1980, the average Chinese annual salary was between $416 to $508. On the other side of the world, the average American was earning 40-50 times that amount.

This salary discrepancy was one of the biggest draws for global corporations, as it meant higher profit margins. Additionally, China’s proximity to the Four Asian Tigers made it easy for global industries to transition.

Economic Reform

China began a series of market reforms in the late 1970s that established the real groundwork for change.

Because of rural land reforms, farmers benefitted more from their produce, which allowed more people to seek work in major cities.

In order to entice foreign investors, the Communist Party began establishing special economic zones. These zones had market-friendly policies that massively benefitted businesses and traders.

With this reform came significant growth, and today, China has several of these manufacturing hubs. Each one specializes in various parts of the supply chain.

For example, Guangdong focuses on electronics. The eastern provinces near Shanghai specialize in daily goods, mechanical parts, and medical equipment. The cities of Wuhan and Chongqing are known for their production of chemical products and auto components.

Why China Is Still Considered the World’s Factory

China has two major advantages as a manufacturing power, both of which have been demonstrated in the last year. To start, China’s industrial foundation is unrivaled in terms of range and depth.

With the capacity to produce anything from low-cost footwear to high-end biotech, China’s grip on the supply chain is unmatched.

China’s combination of manufacturing hubs, improved factories, and first-class infrastructure has made them even more competitive. This is true despite recent wage growth.

The Top Contributing Factors

Despite a change in international trade policies, China still holds most of the world’s manufacturing power. This is largely due to a few, consistent factors.

China’s Business Ecosystem

Industrial production doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s supported by a network of suppliers and distributors, as well as component manufacturers, government agencies, and customers.

Through competition and collaboration, these groups all become involved in the manufacturing process.

China’s business ecosystem has evolved dramatically in the last 30 years and there are a few noteworthy changes that stand out.

First, some areas have remained hubs for production. Shenzhen is an example, as it produces a substantial number of goods for the electronics industry. Overall, this domination of the market makes it difficult for anyone outside of these hubs to stand out.

Second, China boasts a technical workforce that surpasses any other. They also have a chain of assembly providers that seem to exceed the bounds of human capacity, making them the powerhouse we know today.

Taxes and Tariffs

Another significant factor was the export tax rebate China introduced in 1985. They set this into motion to boost the competitiveness of its exports. It effectively abolished double taxation on exported goods.

Additionally, any customer-based products were exempt from import taxes if they were coming from China. These lower tax rates helped keep production costs low and attracted businesses eager to make low-cost items.

Currency and Wages

Despite the US’s concerns that China manipulates its currency for national gain, the weaker yuan does make Chinese exports more competitive. Or rather, they become cheaper to buy with other foreign currencies.

Predominantly, it is a win for consumers all over the world, as Chinese products become significantly cheaper because of this.

And, if we’re talking about money, we can’t disregard the impact that China’s law of supply and demand plays on its worker wages.

Because the supply of Chinese factory workers exceeds the demand for work, salaries remain low. Furthermore, until the late twentieth century, most of the Chinese population were considered rural or ‘lower to middle class.’

Internal migration reversed the countries’ skewed rural-urban distribution. As the rise of industrial cities made more work available, there was a natural pull towards urban living and development.

A Working Example

Let’s have a look at how the supply of face masks gave us a particular illustration of China’s strength. In 2020, at the start of February, it made about half the world’s supply of masks, around 10 million a day. Within a month of that, output increased to nearly 120 million.

It would become excessively costly if every country were to develop its own production capacity to match rising demand. Most countries simply do not have the infrastructure and resources.

China still does manufacture a bulk of the face masks required for the pandemic. Any country hoping to make its own masks needs companies with expertise in textiles, chemicals, metallurgy, and machining.

They also need a good, consistent supply of raw materials, adequate manufacturing space, and qualified personal. Never mind the money required to keep it all running smoothly. Because of this, it’s impossible to start from scratch, which is why China had such a good head start.

All those things we’ve just mentioned? We know they were already in place. The cogs of China’s manufacturing machine were already well oiled and geared up to take on the load.

How Does China Want to Grow From Here?

So, while we know China is equipped to handle anything thrown at them from a manufacturing standpoint, where do they want to go from here?

Based on everything we’ve seen, China aims to move into more advanced lines of production. The industries they’ve pioneered till now have simply been a springboard.

As education and salaries grow, as they should do, that initial cost advantage shrinks. The aim for China now is to focus on domestic consumption and leave the chore of mass-producing, cheap, and labor-intensive items to others.

This gives them the space to focus on their own citizens. There has always been an aim to grow socially and economically but they intend to do this while maintaining a hold on their manufacturing.

On pure scale alone, China remains unopposed. We’re likely to see a massive change in time, but China’s manufacturing power is likely to remain unchecked.

There is a considerable new focus on technology and automation in particular. With the promise of robotics and AI, there is room for people to concentrate on more skilled pursuits.

Automation will revolutionize the way we make goods, even if we’re not quite there yet.

Quality Contract Manufacturing in China

As an OEM manufacturer in Chinese factories, we have the knowledge and expertise to offer exceptional service and goods delivery. We know how the system works, and we are proud of the last 16 years of service we’ve conducted in China.

We value quality, innovation, integrity, and excellence in all things, and aim to always offer the same to you.

Contact us today to see how we can help you with your OEM manufacturing, fulfillment, and precision assembly needs.