Lu Ban’s Axe and Working with Your Chinese Suppliers

It is nearly impossible to build any kind of hardware these days without at some point in the process dealing with China — Chinese suppliers, and so by extension Chinese culture. Difficulties can be as simple as the usual inconvenience of everything stopping for weeks up to and after Chinese New Year, or engineers that you know to be otherwise reasonably competent simply choosing not to bring up glaring and obvious problems. Having encountered my share of Western hardware entrepreneurs on the verge of a breakdown, and just as many flummoxed Chinese bosses completely unable to see exactly why they’re so upset, I thought I’d try to offer at least a little insight into one of the many issues that comes up.

Nearly any school child in the world will be able to tell you whom they were taught invented the lightbulb, the telephone, the radio transmitter. Those same children will usually be able to tell you of at least a few Chinese inventions as well — gunpowder, paper, the compass etc. But with one key difference, even the Chinese children are unlikely to be able to credit even a group of people for their invention let alone a single (usually misattributed) individual.

China does not really have an Edison, or Tesla, or Bell — oh we’ve had people as brilliant, but they are not celebrated in quite the same way for cultural reasons. If you were to do an alternate history of China where we went through the Industrial Revolution first, you’d want to split the timeline around Mozi (墨子). The Mohists (followers of Mozi) had advanced siege engine design, schools of logic, mathematics and theory for the physical sciences. much of the same foundation that set the West on its particular trajectory. In the end, Confucian ideals won out and China became a culture that celebrated scholarship over ingenuity (to vastly oversimplify things).

Even our respective terms for engineer reflect this. The word engineer (Latin ingeniator) is derived from the Latin words ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”). Yet in Chinese 工程师, the first character for engineer in Chinese is the carpenters square 工. He or she is a simple worker (工人 literally “Work Person”). Even now, engineers are not held in anywhere near the same regard in China as they are in the West.

Lu Ban

Arguably one of most revered historical inventors we have is Lu Ban (鲁班). Lu Ban was an ancient Chinese carpenter, engineer, and inventor. He is revered as the Chinese god of builders and contractors (and in my opinion by extension Hardware Hackers). The inventions credited to him are probably at least somewhat apocryphal, but certainly not beyond reason. There are detailed accounts of a kite that could stay aloft for three days, a large variety of novel siege engines, a horseless carriage powered either by wind or some form of stored energy, and improvements to standard carpenters tools. As an interesting side note, Lu Ban’s wife is credited with the invention of the umbrella.

Although Lu Ban is not very important historically, there’s an idiom that references him that is useful for explaining far broader cultural issues to non-Chinese in a succinct way. Bān Mén Nòng Fǔ (班门弄斧) or “Don’t show your axe to Lu Ban”, our version of the English idiom “Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs“.

For Chinese, this means you think you know better than a professional, than experts. It’s the act of seeing something and saying “why don’t they do this instead?”. Traditionally, this is viewed as extremely arrogant and certainly not something to be encouraged in children or anyone else.

It’s important to state that Lu Ban’s role in Chinese culture is very minor at best, and obviously being a deity he does not directly correspond to say Edison (If you’d showed your axe to Edison he’d either have stolen the design or declared it a menace and tried to run you out of business so he could sell more saws). Again, I’m grossly oversimplifying both Chinese culture and history but you should not have to become an expert in either to get some PCBs made.

Simply put, in a strictly hierarchical society, proposing a solution missed by your superiors is at the very least perceived as arrogant. You’re just as likely to be penalized in some way for making whoever is responsible for the current solution lose face as you are to benefit in any way from proposing a better way.

Few Chinese companies promote engineering staff internally or even compensate them particularly well, so there’s little incentive to put an idea forward that may result in additional work and time away from their families. In short, what you get out of your Chinese partner has little relation to what they are capable of, and more closely indicates how they are incentivized (and they are, generally speaking, poorly incentivized). Since we are on the topic of idiom, this one rings true: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”. Unless you’re the boss of the company you rarely stand to profit from problem solving or creative thinking — and usually speaking up will be detrimental to you in some way.

Lu Ban filament holder

As an overseas customer, knowing this may not get the job done faster, or better, or the way you want, but at the very least it will be taken less personally if there is a problem. In China we’re well aware that many of these habits are unhelpful, but when it comes to teaching problem solving and creative thinking we are trying to find a key to a very rusty, very old lock — but it’s a very nice lock that has been handed down for centuries so we don’t want to just throw it away and get another. There’s also a lot of evidence that it’s a pretty darn good lock if only we can get it working properly again. While that happens your patience is appreciated.

In the mean time, here’s a link to a printable 3D scan of Lu Ban as the patron saint of Hardware Hackers. He takes offerings of short pieces of printer filament, through-hole components, lead-free solder, and wire. Lu Ban helps those who help themselves, so provided you are a good craftsperson, work with care, and only supply him with high-quality offerings, he will ward off most printer jams, blue smoke, ESD (provided you ground yourself properly) and other common workbench mishaps.

Further Reading:

Naomi “SexyCyborg” Wu is a coder, hardware and DIY enthusiast from Shenzhen, China. Members of both the Chinese and Expatriate Shenzhen Hardware community contributed to both the content, and the editing of this article. Join Naomi this Friday as she host a Hack Chat on Making in Shenzhen.

114 thoughts on “Lu Ban’s Axe and Working with Your Chinese Suppliers

  1. Nearly everyone you ask who invented the light bulb, radio transmitter and telephone will give you the wrong answers.

    Free clue: the guy who made something commercially feasible isn’t usually the guy who invented it.

    1. I don’t know about that, it really depends on your perspective. When people say “lightbulb” they usually mean “that cheap thing I can stick in the socket to make light”.

      People may have made glass enclosures that generate some light, but being ‘commercially feasible’ is one of the defining features of being a lightbulb.

      In general, there are differences between the first commercially feasible versions and the versions that preceded it. Those differences are what makes the thing a thing and not some other thing. Hence why the person who made the thing commercially feasible is credited with inventing the thing.

      1. That may have been the biggest leap of logic I’ve heard in a while. I’ve never heard anyone connect the invention of something with the commercial feasibility, or defining something like a light bulb in such a fashion. Inventing and marketing something are two different things. If my neighbour invents a flying microwave and I take his idea and build a business, I am still in no way the inventor of the flying microwave. Now, if I need to make significant changes to successfully to market, I may have to change it in profound ways. In some cases, the defining features of the device will be left intact and it will still be a flying microwave and therefore invented by my neighbour. In other cases, I will need to change some of the defining features of the device, effectively making it something derived but different from a flying microwave. In that case, I have invented a thing that’s not a flying microwave, but something else. In that case I am an inventor, but never the one that invented the flying microwave.

        For the very same reason, the Nobel Prize is awarded to the scientists who discovered or invented something of importance. They are credited and not the company that manages to market their discovery. It’s pretty much the difference between science and engineering: science comes up with a thing, and engineering applies it in usable ways.

        1. Edison made the first *actually useful* lightbulb. It lasted hours instead of minutes.
          Any idiot can pass a current through a wire, that doesn’t make it a lightbulb.
          Your flying microwave has a run time of 0.3 seconds and is single use? Mine has a 2 hour loiter-on-dinnertable. Who “invented” it? One works, one is basically falling off a table.

          1. Or more accurately, Edison’s assistants made the first actually useful lightbulb – he had a team trying just about every material combination they could think of. Edison was kind of more of a project manager (and promoter) than an inventor on his own – but many inventions require somebody with that role to take them from a laboratory curiosity to a viable product.

          2. @Matt.
            Yes. Edison, like most companies today, had a contract clause that assigned all rights to employee’s ideas on the job to him.

            When I was an aerospace engineer, I was very careful to not think too hard outside the job during company time.

      2. Oh, and why, historically, the first one to commercially exploit an invention is credited for inventing it is a simple matter of public awareness. In a time where Wikipedia wasn’t quite as accessible as it is today, the first one to become known is easily assumed to be the first one at all. Add to that the tendency of people to want clarity. People don’t like a process with different contributors. They want a singular hero that invented a singular invention. That way the world is easy to understand and organised.

        If you look back at the development of many important technologies upon which our modern society is based, we often known a single hero inventor, but the truth is invariably much more diverse and complex.

        1. >”People don’t like a process with different contributors. They want a singular hero that invented a singular invention.”

          Not necessarily. It’s more important for the singular hero to advertise themselves that way, than for the public to identify who he is. After an invention is made, it doesn’t matter who did it – except for the person who did it so they can assert a patent and gain a monopoly to sell it.

          1. Ask Robertson how well that works out.
            Patents are useless if you don’t have the means to enforce them or there are alternatives that are cheaper and significantly as effective. Perfection isn’t always the enemy of good enough if you end up chasing the long tail to get there.

        2. And there’s another problem: the patriotic perspective. Almost every European country used to claim to have invented the printing press. And I recently saw a US documentary that claimed TV was invented in the States but most Germans and Brits would disagree

          1. I haven’t ever heard anyone claim the printing press was invented by anything other than a German, non-Germans included. Of course, other European nations do have a claim, as Gutenberg lived in the Holy Roman Empire, which spanned various European nations. It doesn’t take too much imagination to contribute the invention to any of the modern nations included in the empire.

            But it is undoubtedly true that patriotism often plays a big role in what is attributed to whom, and where something was invented. Asking who invented the car around the world is a good example.

    2. Did Edison invent the ‘wire that glows then you pass a current through it’? No. Did he invent the ‘wire inside a jar that glows when you pass a current through it’? No. But are any of those really a ‘lightbulb’? I’d say no. Where would you draw the line?

      1. I think the translation doesn’t make sense as it is referring to two separate things in that simplified and traditional – in Chinese language context – refers to the two different sets of characters for written Chinese. Mandarin, on the other hand, is one of the spoken dialects of Chinese (other would be Cantonese for example).

        The confusion lies in that speech doesn’t have anything to do with the type of characters used for writing – e.g. you can write English in either print or cursive styles.

        For Shenzhen, I find that more people understand Mandarin in contrast to Cantonese.

    1. Ma.

      I seemed to me that Shenzhen (because it is a young city?) is populated by people from all over China and Chinese (Po Tong Hua) is most common. Up the river a ways in Guangzhou, Cantonese (Guangdong hua) is common. But then, Guangzhou is the center of Guangdong Province and used to be called Canton.

      The culture, or what you might call friendliness, also seems a lot different between north and south.

      I wish I could get leechee in the sates!

  2. Thank you, Ms. (Mrs.?) Wu, for a remarkably good article. Someone will inevitably whine that this article contains no hacks… to them I say, shaddup foo’. Stuff like this serves to enable better hacking and enrich the community’s understanding of certain important parts of itself, and I’m /always/ interested in that sort of thing.

    Speaking personally… I place a remarkable share of my eBay orders with overseas (HK/CN) vendors, and while I have learned to more-or-less ‘speak’ the quite strange dialect that is eBay Chinese English — I know absolutely zipsquat about the culture over there, and I know that that’s something of a lacking on my part, and that I could probably do better business if I knew more. There are certain things about China that I’ve tripped over and liked — those “tiller trucks” in the agricultural provinces, for example — as a denizen of the USA, I still wish I could legally own and drive one of those contraptions. (This, when I don’t know how to drive an /American/ vehicle. LOL!) Alas, such is not to be.

    As an aside, if I may — if anyone can produce for me an English version of the datasheet for the GPD2806A chip in the vast majority of those “mini clip MP3 players” that one can get on eBay for anywhere between $1.50 and $5 US — I will be obliged at least to owe a favor. I collect those players — hey, everyone collects /something/ — and would love to have a datasheet I can actually /read/ for that particular chip. The Chinese-language datasheet is reasonably widely available on Google… if anyone can translate it for me, PM me on the [dot]IO side of HaD — I’ve got the same username there.

      1. Ms. certainly isn’t always fine. Some women are very self concious about not being married beyond a certain age, especially in some cultures. Using Ms. can be touchy. In other cases, Mrs. can be an issue, for similar or other reasons.

        It’s safest just to follow the language as it is. Ms. denotes an unmarried woman, Mrs. denotes married women. Sometimes language is more specific in some areas than others. It’s just what language does.

        1. Er… no, it doesn’t.

          Ms is an honorific that denotes no marital status.
          Miss denotes unmaried status.
          And Mrs. denotes married status.

          So if in doubt, use Ms. If it’s not the preference of the person you’re addressing then you’ll politely be asked to use the appropriate one, but you’ll “get it wrong” in less of a manner.

          1. My wife has kept her maiden name for some purposes and documents (I don’t know if that is allowed everywhere but it is in the UK). So she is Mrs when using my name and Miss when using her maiden name. Never worried about it, though the neighbours looking at the names on the letterbox were a bit confused at first.

          2. I stand corrected. I confused Ms. and Miss. Whoever came up with Mrs. and Miss being marriage related and Ms. not apparently wasn’t very big on consistent naming conventions which also work in spoken word.

          3. Dammit, tried to reply to Nay and hit Report instead.

            Miss is pronounced as it looks, Ms. is pronounced mizz, so there is a difference in both written and spoken forms.

          4. One real funny thing is that Mrs is the short-writing for … wait for it … for MISTRESS.

            And Mx stands for ???
            Apparently is for a female that doesn’t want to assert if she is Ms or Mr …
            Funny times indeed.

            Signed.
            Mister Lufo for all of you readers ;-P

          1. MS

            Win win situation.
            Easier to type (less characters, hence less challenging, less labourious), young spinsters don’t feel threatened and old spinsters cannot whinge.
            Win win situation.

    1. Thanks for the discussion on honorifics/titles — no, really, that was interesting in its own right — but I’d be more interested in help with that datasheet than on my grammar. My mother is a former librarian, so I go to her if I need to identify a particular part of a sentence by grammatical term or if I forget the proper form of a third person idiomatic ablogenative past-pluperfect gerund… (yes, that last part was quite purposefully tongue-in-cheek)

      1. Well, you did ask. You put a question mark in at least, and made a small gramattical mistake, which always goes noticed here.

        For your datasheet problem, what about something like Mechanical Turk, if that’s still going, or some alternative? I’m sure some Chinese speaker would translate it for a few dollars. Perhaps ask them to translate the first page for free first, to see how good their English is, and their understanding of technical matters in Chinese.

        Pardon my asking, but why collect a mass-manufactured product that’s identical internally, with only the injection-moulding differing? And who even uses MP3 players anyway now we have smartphones? And what use are the cheap MP3 players they make now, with GB of capacity but no screen!? What’s the point of thousands of songs with no way of choosing from them?

        1. To answer your questions, in order…

          (1) I generally have no money. I can barter favors, but that’s about it. So any service that requires money is pretty well out.
          (2) The players are /not/ all alike internally. I’ve opened about five now. I forget the chip in the first and third (a Sylvania with a metal case and internal storage (1gb) and an all-plastic eBay job), the second had a controller from a company named GStar that I couldn’t trace further (most likely an OEM part or an ASIC) — it was one of the few with onboard storage (512mb) tho — and only the last two were identical inside, which surprised me because the outside cases were most certainly different. The older all-plastic one (number two to be taken apart) had a chip in it that IIRC I could not trace at all (now that I think about it… I’m pretty sure that was the one they labeled the chip with only a serial # or lot code, along with the logo for JLAudio! JL does NOT make chips…) and it ‘forgot’ volume level and position in the track list when you turned it off. It’s the only one I’ve seen that does that.
          (3) Define the word ‘need’. I could argue that nobody ‘needs’ a smartphone, because of the prevalence of desktop PCs and tablets and dumbphones. That said, I have an S5 and I’ll tell you right now I’m never ever ever going back to my old Pantech Impact, as good a dumbphone as it was. I do dearly miss its physical keyboard tho.
          (4) These MP3 players are surprisingly useful. You just have to use ’em right. Remember CD players? Remember how you never knew the name of the track from the screen on the player, because most of ’em didn’t have anything they could display other than track number…? You use a displayless MP3 player the same way. You put a couple dozen to say fifty or so songs on a small (1-2gb) MicroSD, and you listen to them sequentially. They play in the order that they land on the card.
          (5) If you’re fool enough to use it with “thousands of songs”, unless you want to listen to them all sequentially and not ever skip around… I pretty well agree with you. That’s not how you’re meant to use the player, though. It’s for a few albums, tops, not for an entire music collection. For “thousands of songs”, I’d recommend the “6th Gen MP4 players” that are also common on eBay for about $13-15 and have screens (and can take up to 16gb cards, as opposed to 8gb for the displayless ones) — those are basically 6th Gen iPod Nanos (hence the name) with a rather clumsy menu system and nasty non-touch screen (128×160, instead of 376×240 for the actual iPod), but a few better features (actual video playback, for one). I have two of those as well; one has lines in the screen. I took apart the one with screen lines, briefly… chipset is an Artek AK2117 and I have the English-language datasheet that’s very easily available for it.

    1. I think one of the things you have to learn (as a westerner) doing business in China, and other Chinese speaking places, is that saying “no” to a customer is incredibly rude. I’ve worked with people who knew that westerners would not be offended, and that we expect to be told “no” when appropriate, but still could not bring themselves to tell me “no”.

      Again, it’s not wrong, it’s different from what we’re used to, it’s incredibly polite, people are simply being respectful to you … and we need to figure out how to talk to people and communicate

  3. I see your Bān Mén Nòng Fǔ (班门弄斧) and raise you one 青出于蓝 — the student eventually outperforms the master.

    There’s definitely more pressure to be successful as a group instead of as a single person in Chinese society, and that maybe explains the lack of a Jobs (or a Woz). But if you look at privately-held startup hardware companies, there are something like 18 Chinese “unicorn” hardware startups, and only one in the US (Leap Motion, and they’re having trouble delivering). There’s certainly no lack of innovation coming out of China.

    I’d argue (with a hat tip to a previous career as an economist) that the returns to professional/startup hacking are too large for qualified people to be doing it in their spare time and not earning money.

    致富光荣 (“To get rich is glorious” — Deng Xiaoping).

    1. The younger generations are spearheading a fairly fast change in attitudes. I work in China and find that the younger engineers tend to understand the problems better and quicker than the older engineers (a lot of my work is corrective action rather than development).

        1. Of the hundreds of small companies we deal with internationally, there are a few subtle differences in the engineering culture.
          In Asia, QC still means “sorting” into boxes for shipping, there is no packaging waste around the assembly lines, and everybody is micromanaged. Seriously, I don’t know how people over there can tolerate the overpaid nanny management style. There are still _many_ people with _no_ respect for people that do skilled work, and _only_ care about money. Letting people suffer from the consequences of their own ignorance is deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture due to the horrid history around the early British Opium trade, and numerous leadership structures with zero accountability to the citizens. Multiculturalism simply doesn’t work in China, and there is still a highly valued giant wall similar to the one Trump wants to build.

          It is inspiring to see domestic startups building their own unique works, and we hope the brutal side of their government leaves people alone to succeed at growing into their own international brands.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightened_self-interest

        2. If I was doing business in Russia, after work I’d probably be dragged into a bar to play ad hoc games of Russian roulette whilst talking enthusiastically about Putin’s incredible masculinity and getting blind drunk on the local vodka. In the USA it would be stuffing ourselves with burgers in a bowling alley and in England it would be a quick came of cricket whilst drinking some vial tasting flat, flowery real ale. What would be the extra curricular activity in Shenzhen?

          1. No, cricket is usually only on the weekends.
            Weekdays, it can often be the pub, depending on the work culture.

            Shenzen has karaoke, from what I’ve heard. Someone will no doubt correct me.

    2. > There’s definitely more pressure to be successful as a group instead of as a single person in Chinese society, and that maybe explains the lack of a Jobs (or a Woz).

      Wasn’t the CEO of OPPO electronics doing a bit of a Steve Jobs vibe with his fashion choices and mannerisms? Not sure if he’s regarded as highly but I got the vibe that he was trying to emulate Jobs to some extent.

  4. Until the last ten years, there certainly was respect and deference to engineers in China. The central party ran things very long term, so until this decade, China leadership had a 30 to 50 year plan for most stuff.Chinese planning has (was?) traditionally, been disciplined and purposeful and designed for the greater good (of at least the party). For about 10 years, China has not be run by engineering-based rationale, but by financial planners. So the well-reasoned engineer is no longer stylish in China. And we all know where the pseudo-science of Economics has taken us and what the MBA mentality hath wrought on America…

    1. One of my catch phrases when I’m off on a rant is “economics is a pseudo-science that kills people!” Of course, that statement is wrong but it good for starting an argument.

  5. Thank you for the insight @Naomi and for the further reading.

    I am about to take the helm of a team of engineers and factory in Shenzhen for a small American ODM and when it comes to all that this entails outside of engineering, I’m equal parts overwhelmed and excited. So, your post couldn’t come at a better time, though obviously I have a lot more researching and learning to do.

    – Robot

  6. I’ve been using 2 pcb houses in the last year and was hypothetically thinking of 讨价还价 haggling for a price, even though both have given excellent service. In western culture it is common practice to go from one house to the other until you have screwed the price down to almost zero – is it acceptable to do this in Chinese culture or would you be vilified as unscrupulous ?

          1. Bad luck.

            The Chinese will simply reduce the quality as your offer decreases. Cheaper metal, less time cleaning, less current through the machine, cheaper components, etc. Very rarely will they say it can’t be done, but the taped together result you get likely won’t work.

    1. I’ve seen people, mostly managers, do that, without ever realizing that they were getting less and less with every price drop. The easily quantifiable bottom line is attractive, but the actual costs will be higher than expected. Especially when quality issues mean souring client relations and costly support and rework.

  7. What I have learnt from working with Chinese suppliers is that the best way to get what you want is to specify extremely clearly what you want. Don’t give any room for free interpretation of your requirements, as the supplier will try to do the least amount of work that satisfies the requirements. Also, if you give them suggestions on how to solve a problem, this is exactly how they will solve the problem. And don’t expect that it will work the first time out. The supplier will find a loophole in your requirements.
    I usually use the following example:
    Requirement: You shall write a function takes in a list of numbers of returns a sorted list.
    Implementation: You write a function that returns an empty list, as this is by definition sorted.

    1. Yes, this is usually fine so long as you don’t want any creativity or problem solving on the part of your suppliers.

      I have Taobao stores that I order parts from by giving part numbers. I also have ones that I can tell them what I want to do and they’ll sell me 150rmb worth of parts they think might work.

    2. One other trick: Make one call-out on the mechanical drawing literally impossible to manufacture with conventional tools in their factory.

      Send this drawing out in a quote to five or six factories.

      Five of them will say, “No problem”, quote you a price, having never looked at it.

      One of them will say, “WTF is this callout? That’s impossible”. That’s the one you hire. Never, ever deal with the other five.

      Source: Lived there for a while while running a company. This is the only way to not get burned.

      1. Nice.

        I agree with the bit about giving every possible detail, by Eric. I had a tool made, and they cut corners you wouldn’t ever consider! “Welds” that held 5mm steel reinforcement plates on that were perhaps 5A, that tore off with minimal force. “Polished stainless” that was in fact chrome plated – looked fine & polished, but as a bearing surface, it simply galls, and, of course, made the parts oversized!

        You’ll get there eventually, though. Just needs 3 or 4 iterations.

  8. This reminds me of the Greek myth of Daedalus and Perdix. Perdix was apprenticed under Daedalus, but Perdix was a more Ingenious craftsman than his uncle Daedalus. Daedalus Became envious of Perdix for his accomplishments, (IE inventing the saw) and pushed him off a cliff. Athena (the Greek goddess of wisdom and ingenuity) smoted Daedalus and turned Perdix into a bird to save him.

    So “Don’t show your saw to Daedalus,” and “Don’t show your axe to Lu Ban,” have a similar moral, but completely diffrent reasoning.

    I hope I’m not misinterpreting Lu Ban’s historical contributions by comparing him to a Greek myth about an envious inventor.

  9. Excellent and very interesting article ! It makes me think of a book I read a year ago : “Poorly made in China” by Paul Midler. It explains a lot about the mindset of Chinese manufacturer and how “things work” in the manufacturing sphere, where loosing face and other very specific nothing are explained. If there’s anybody that has first hand experience dealing with Chinese manufacturer and have read the book, could they confirm that what it talks about is (still) relevant. It seems every report I hear and read about manufacturing in China corroborates the book, but it never hurts to have multiple sources for your information. I discovered the book after Chris Gammel talked about it on the amp hour, I found it entertaining and very interesting.

  10. If I watch CGTN and their avoidance of certain discussions I always think that they need to fix their situation, and I don’t mean anything radical per se but, you know, fix it so they can still do their thing but not under this uptight downforce that keeps the wrong things stagnant and works against them in a really needless way.

    But then again, when I saw Japanese news the reporters all seemed to act like freaking hostages and looked/acted scared on some level, so the same can be said of Japan it seems.

    1. I worked for a major Japanese company here in the U.S.
      It was a cultural experience to say the least. A particular instance stands out, one evening the Site Manager spent 5 minutes with an employee “reaming him a new one” in the presence of co-workers and a client.
      Another co-worker mentioned months later that this particular company was behind the curve in employee relations, that most Japanese corporations have begun to treat their employees better.

  11. I think it is the problem of the upper management. Individually Chinese people are as creative as anyone else in the world, it is the politics that is ruining the engineering ingenuity.

  12. A good approach is to build an example of what you expect to your standards using an excellent (but unaffordable) Western company. Then take that working “standard” to china and build penalties into your contract that forces then to deliver a product at the same or better quality. Be sure to quantify your sample clearly in documentation with lots of pictures and metrics. When (and it WILL happen) you get crap anyway, let the penalties kick-in. Don’t expect to really be paid anything against the penalties, but hold them over their heads heads, publicly if necessary to “shame” them. The “Save Face” obsession will kick and you might actually get something close to what you expect. Don’t think you’re building bad relations fighting about this process with the Chinese. Once the deliveries are “dialed-in” and their making MONEY, all that nonsense disappears. Money is the key to longevity once you get production working. Money is the ultimate pivot point in Chinese culture, but it takes time to get to that point. Be patient. Don’t expect anything to happen in a timely way until everything is dialed-in and tuned.

  13. I have never met a creative chinese person that has come up with 1 single original thought. They are experts at coughing up facts and math, but they really SUCK as creating something new. That’s why they copy everything; it’s their culture.

  14. Some folks also order double the number of boards needed then “hand pick” via optical methods the best ones to go ahead and populate. Interesting hack: using X-rays to screen suspect parts for small builds as sometimes they will change specifications mid-reel.

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