Synopses & Reviews
A landmark eyewitness expos of how China's factory economy competes for Western business by selling out its workers, its environment, and its future
In The China Price, acclaimed Financial Times correspondent Alex Harney uncovers the truth about how China is able to offer such amazingly low prices to the rest of the world. What she has discovered is a brutal, Hobbesian world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies combines with ubiquitous corruption and a lack of transparency to exact an unseen and unconscionable toll in human misery and environmental damage.
In a way, Harney shows, what goes on in China is inevitable. In a country with almost no transparency, where graft is institutionalized and workers have little recourse to the rule of law, incentives to lie about business practices vastly outweigh incentives to tell the truth. Harney reveals that despite a decade of monitoring factories, outsiders all too often have no idea of the conditions under which goods from China are made. She exposes the widespread practice of using a dummy or model factory as a company's false window out to the world, concealing a vast number of illegal factories operating completely off the books. Some Western companies are better than others about sniffing out such deception, but too many are perfectly happy to embrace plausible deniability as long as the prices remain so low. And in the gold-rush atmosphere that's infected the country, in which everyone is clamoring to get rich at once and corruption is rampant, it's almost impossible for the Chinese government's own underfunded regulatory mechanisms to do much good at all.
But perhaps the most important revelation in The China Price is how fast change is coming, one way or another. A generation of Chinese flocked from the rural interior of the country to its coastline, where its factory work largely is, in the largest mass migration in human history. But that migration has slowed dramatically, in no small part because of widespread disenchantment with the way of life the factories offer. As pollution in China's industrial cities worsens and their infrastructure buckles, and grassroots activism for more legal recourse grows, pressures are mounting on the system that will not dissipate without profound change. Managing the violence of that change is the greatest challenge China faces in the near future, and managing its impact on the world economy is the challenge that faces us all.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This gripping, beautifully reported book lays bare the tumult of hope, fear and skullduggery that exists behind the ubiquitous "Made in China" label. It should spur manufacturers, investors and consumers to worry a lot more about where everyday products come from."
-James Kynge, author of China Shakes the World
"Harney has given us an almost forensic field guide to the strikingly low cost of labor intensive goods manufacturing in China. By systematically sifting through the factors that cheapen the production process, she has denied us the luxury of uncertainty. Some may find the ethics and inevitability of Chinese production conditions debatable, but no business person involved in global sourcing will be credible claiming ignorance of the basic facts in light of Harney's work."
-Daniel Rosen, Principal, China Strategic Advisory, and Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics
"The gritty, corrupt reality of the Chinese economic miracle is the great business story of our time and Alexandra Harney has got it. She has explored the factories, dormitories and urban slums to reveal the devastating cost-to the planet, to American workers, and to Chinese citizens-of the China Price."
-Karl Taro Greenfeld, author of China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic "With unusual insight and reportorial perseverance Alexandra Harney presents the inconvenient truths about China and globalization that flat worlders have overlooked. This book is very important and is a must read for those who want to understand how today's world really works."
--Clyde Prestowitz, President of the Economic Strategy Institute and the author of Three Billion New Capitalists.
"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."
"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
"Financial Times" correspondent Harney uncovers the truth about how China is able to offer such amazingly low prices. What she has discovered is a brutal world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies exacts an unconscionable toll in human misery.
In this landmark work of investigative reporting, former Financial Times
correspondent Alexandra Harney uncovers a story of immense significance to us all: how China's factory economy gains a competitive edge by selling out its workers, environment, and future. Harney's firsthand reporting brings us face-to-face with a world in which intense pricing pressure from Western companies combines with ubiquitous corruption and a lack of transparency to exact a staggering toll in human misery and environmental damage. This eye-opening expose offers, for the first time, an intimate look at the defining business story of our time.
About the Author
Alexandra Harney was a reporter and editor at the Financial Times. She has reported from Japan, China and the United Kingdom, among other places. From 2003 until early 2006, she was the FT's South China correspondent based in Hong Kong, where she still lives. A 1997 cum laude graduate of Princeton University with a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs, Alexandra was born in Washington, DC and currently lives in Hong Kong. This is her first book.