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The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage Paperback – January 27, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dreaded by competitors, the China price has become the lowest price possible, the hallmark of China's incredibly cheap, ubiquitous manufacturers. Financial Times editor Harney explores the hidden price tag for China's economic juggernaut. It's a familiar but engrossing tale of Dickensian industrialization. Chinese factory hands work endless hours for miserable wages in dusty, sweltering workshops, slowly succumbing to occupational ailments or suddenly losing a limb to a machine. Coal-fired power plants spew pollutants into nearly unbreathable air. Migrants from the countryside, harassed by China's hukou system of internal passports, form a readily exploitable labor pool with few legal protections. The system is fueled by Western investment and, Harney observes, hypocrisy. Retailers like Wal-Mart impose social responsibility codes on their Chinese suppliers, but refuse to pay the costs of raising labor standards; the result is a pervasive system of cheating through fake employment records and secret uninspected factories, to which Western companies turn a blind eye. But Harney also finds stirrings of change; aided by regional labor shortages, rising wages and intrepid activists. Chinese workers are demanding—and gradually winning—more rights. Packed with facts, figures and sympathetic portraits of Chinese workers and managers, Harney's is a perceptive take on the world's workshop. (Mar. 31)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Presents the inconvenient truths about China and globalization that flat worlders have overlooked."
-Clyde Prestowitz, author of Three Billion New Capitalists

"Anyone running a company that outsources manufacturing to China, or is thinking of doing so, needs to read this book."
-Financial Times

"The gritty, corrupt reality of the Chinese economic miracle is the great business story of our time and Alexandra Harney has got it."
-Karl Taro Greenfeld, author of China Syndrome

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143114867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114864
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Paul Allaer TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's simply impossible to keep track of all the China-related books that come out these days. I mean, they're all over the place. I have a strong interest, both personally and professionally, and I try and read what I can, but quite a few of the recently released books seem to rehash the by now well-known theme of China as a manufacturing powerhouse and the correlating threat China may (or may not) pose internationally. This book, however, takes a slightly different take on things.

In "The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage" (336 pages), former Finantical Times journalist Alexandra Harney delves into the ramifications, primarily for the Chinese, of the ever-growing demand for cheaper products. Harney focuses her research primarily on Shenshen (a city that has grown from half a million to about 12 million in a matter of 2 decades) and the surrounding Guangdong province. Harney demonstrates how a lot of Chinese companies escape the "social audits" many American companies nowadays insist on simply by keeping parallel/fake records on hours worked by/wages paid to Chinese employees. Indeed, the plight of many Chinese workers is deplorable, and not helped by the weak (if that) enforcement of Chinese labor laws by the Chinese government, and the absence of a strong labor union in China. How ironic is that, China being a (so-called) Communist country. Harney spices the book with lots and lots of personal stories of Chinese individuals she interviewed for the book, and that makes it for even more interesting reading.

Harney ends her book with this great observation: "In the end, as much as the responsability seems to lie with Beijing, it also lies with the global consumer.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on April 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
China's share of the world's manufacturing output by value-added was 2.4% in 1990, and 12.1% in 2006. In 2006 its biggest exports to the U.S. were electronic machines and equipment; that year the U.S. imported $288 billion from China, vs. $55 billion exported. The Economic Policy Institute estimates a loss of 1.8 million job opportunities since 1981 as a result of this trade deficit with China. Meanwhile, direct foreign investment in China from 2002-2005 totaled almost another $250 billion that didn't go to the U.S. either.

In 1980, American manufacturers produced 70% of apparel purchased in the U.S.; by 1990 it was down to 50%, and only 9% by 2006. America now only produces 1% of its citizens shoes; etc. for numerous other products.

"The China Price" points out that there is intense competition within China - its coastal export regions have over 1,000 clusters producing specific products such as ties, socks, microwaves, etc., and within those clusters manufacturers have hundreds of direct competitors. This is due to ease of entry - available start-up funds and assistance from Chinese officials eager to increase employment.

Chinese law limits overtime hours, requires a number of worker protections. Unfortunately, inspectors are typically overloaded, often corrupt, and frequently deceived by managers hiding factories that don't adhere to the rules. (These managers have also learned to deceive inspectors from American companies seeking to verify compliance with humane employment conditions.) At the same time, many workers will not stay if they don't get enough overtime to make the incomes they desire ("I didn't come here to sit!"), and fear of investing in government-mandated pension plans due to restrictions on their coverage.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on August 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Discussions of free trade sing its virtues, while the reality is something different: the unequal terms of that trade, especially vis a vis China and the United States, where two sets of rules are at work. One result is the 'China price' and the growing imbalance in trade relationships. The larger picture shows the other side to globalizaton: the exploitation of cheap labor, disregard of environmental law, and the generally totalitarian nature of this mutant form of capitalism. This book usefully presents the information absent from most public media discussions of the issues of free trade and is an eye-opener. However, the portrait given is of an unstable situation that can't last forever, whatever new mutation lies down the road. Residents of the United States have been caught up in an ambiguous contradiction, the destruction of domestic industry, and the addictive temptations of Walmartization. As the wheel turns from this unstable new development in global capitalism to the next combination, some awareness of the disinformation created by 'economics' discussions in the United States is needed to correct the long-term destructive character of this confused, yet to some very profitable, constellation of capitalist trickeries.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Corbett Wall on May 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
There's so many China books out there. I used to try to keep up, picking up a copy between flights in and out of HK, but after the Olympics it just became impossible. Everyone is a China "expert" these days. Pretty soon there will be a book out called "Everything I Needed to Learn About China I Learned From My Cat." Sad will be that day.

Still, this is a different book, and highly readable. It was recommended by a friend in manufacturing who knows Harney well. The book touches on a common theme, but takes a different approach. Harney dives into only a digestible handful of angles to tell her story and get her point across. It should satisfy scholars, investors, politicians, and anyone wanting a deeper understanding of what makes the economic machine of China tick.

I liked the book overall. There are a few sections where things seem to get repeated over and over, and the balance between statistical reporting and telling a good story seesaws a bit, but Harney manages to be intelligent without getting preachy, and brings enough characters into it to avoid becoming one long newspaper article.

Living in China all these years, you become selective about what you read, and I can say that I definitely learned something from this book, and think that you will too.
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