Friday, March 12, 2010

Views on No China

I finished Sara Bongiorni's A Year Without "Made in China" in record time. It was a well-written book, if a vaguely unsatisfying one. While her tale explores the hassles of living without Chinese products for a year—all the things they gave up, the compromises they made with their children, the conflicts that arose in their marriage, the things that they lived without, if only for the year—the conclusion is a letdown.

Bongiorni doesn't come to a solid conclusion, not one that I wanted. I suppose it was unfair of me to want a concrete answer or directive, just as I wanted her entire book to have more specific, factual data about where to buy things not made in China. I was unrealistically looking to her and this one book and her year of experiment as a guideline, hoping to find a relatively easy way to live without China mapped out for me.

Instead, I got an interesting story, with a limp conclusion. Bongiorni ends the book saying that the year showed her the general global independence on China, raised her awareness of where the items she purchased came from, and prevented her from buying a lot of crap (because most useless, cheap stuff is manufactured in China). She notes that she was lucky: their TV did not die in that year, their computer did not need to be replaced, and she was able to live without a few electronic things like a blender and a new vacuum for the year. Lucky, because China has the monopoly on these items. Lucky, because she didn't have to test her resolution to her boycott by living without these items.

But did she go back to buying Chinese items? Yes. Was I let down by this? Yes. Was that unrealistic of me? Yes.

Since I finished the novel, I've done random hunts for where products are made. In the vet's office during a recent trip, I discovered they had a poster and a soap dispenser made in Canada, a calendar made in Singapore, but the plastic models of hearts and cat reproductive organs were made in China. I happened to be wearing a shirt made in Guatemala and a coat made in Canada (I decided not to drop my drawers to see where the pants were from). I'm sure the cat carrier was made in China, but I didn't traumatize my cat more by flipping over her cage while she was in it.

Thanks to TikiBird's comments to my "China, China Everywhere" post, I have a lot of places that sell USA products to research for future items. And TikiBird's response also prompted a set of new, unanswered questions: Has it gotten easier to live without China since Bongiorni's book was published in 2005? Has a greater emphasis been placed on locally made items? Have advances in the Internet and online businesses made it easier to buy non-Chinese products from smaller dealers?

But I think the question that is weighing the heaviest on me is the obvious one: Do I want to attempt my own boycott of China? The answer is as unsatisfying as Bongiorni's conclusion: I don't know.

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