This seems right out of a Joseph Stiglitz book: China is officially in Italy’s backyard. The IHT reports that the Italian city of Prato is now full of Chinese immigrants working at illegal garment factories — but ooh, the clothes they make are stamped with “Made in Italy”.
It’s difficult to put my finger immediately what exactly is wrong with it, though. When we buy a “Made in Italy” product, we pay a premium for the promise that this garment (or at least part of it) was made in Italy, and perhaps the unspoken promise of better workmanship. Is there a promise that the item was made by an Italian, though? That can’t be — the label doesn’t make any promise as to the race or nationality of the manufacturer (or indeed its staff).
Perhaps, then, it is the aversion to “Made in China” that makes the hypothetical Prada-queue-jostling Chinese noveau riche taitai uncomfortable. We know some people avoid the “Made in China” label because they associate this label with lower quality, due to the assumed lower quality control systems in China (this blog expresses no opinion on this matter). The realisation that these are the same people making the items stamped with “Made in Italy” thus shatters the belief that Italian-made items are of better quality. The question, then, is whether it is right to associate quality with the Europeans, and its lack of with the Chinese — no answers here.
Have a look at the comments in response to the article as well. Part of the discussion is rather heated, and one starts to wonder if the article did the Chinese any injustice. I end here with a quote from the article:
The Chinese are very clever. They’re not like other immigrants, who can be pretty thick,” said Riccardo Marini, a textile manufacturer and the head of the Prato branch of Confindustria, the Italian industrialists’ organization.