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Wang Jingsheng: Why is Craftmanship Valued?

Source: Xinhua.net Date: 2016-05-11

 
In his government work report delivered to the forth session of the National People’s Congress, Premier Li Keqiang said “We will encourage enterprises to use flexible and custom-tailored production processes and foster a craftsmanship spirit of striving for the best, so that more types of products, products of a higher quality, and brand products will be made.” On 29 March, at the second China Quality Award Presenting Ceremony, Premier Li Keqiang stressed the importance of craftsmanship to quality and brand image. Craftsmanship has since attracted society-wide attention and recognition. It is needed for China’s mass entrepreneurship and innovation program, “Made in China 2025” strategy and national rejuvenation.

Craftsmanship and National Rejuvenation

We are closer to the goal of great national rejuvenation than at any time in history. China is No. 2 on the global GDP ranking. The Chinese people have made world-acclaimed economic miracles. Yet, neither the Chinese nor the outside world think China has been revitalized. Those obsessed with GDP numbers may say China will become a truly rejuvenated country when it has the largest GDP. Obviously not. Rejuvenation should be about culture and civilization. Economy is the most important basis. But it can not determine everything. One important factor for rejuvenation is product quality.

Product quality is seen as the symbol of the civilization of a country. The reputation of products concerns the dignity of a country. Some people may shrug this off as exaggeration. But a review of the world history shows that the civilization of a country whose artifacts were widely used and prized is usually predominant in the world. One Marxist view holds that consumption is no longer a pure economic activity, but a way of life and a symbol of culture.

The Chinese civilization was widely known across the world. Besides its profoundness, what attracts people most is perhaps the products made in China. The exquisiteness of Chinese goods was for a long time deeply admired by people all over the world, which resulted in long-standing Oriental frenzy. This is also why craftsmanship is so important today.

Both products of fine craftsmanship and the professional ethnics they embody are vital for the survival and development of a nation. The Chinese people’s diligence, resilience and relentless pursuit of excellence are part and parcel of craftsmanship. It is the lack of craftsmanship that gives rise to quality issues of China-made products and social issues we have today.

(1) Craftsmanship has created China’s splendid history.

Craftsmanship has always been in the genes of the Chinese nation. The Chinese history is one of innovation by Chinese craftsmen over the centuries. They created the unprecedented prosperity of our nation.

In Works of the Wise, it said “a skill is more worthy than a hundred hectares of land.” The ancient classic Book of Techniques also said “The wise create. The smart record it. All handicrafts are made by sages.” Historical legacies such as the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Siyang Vessel, Dunhuang Frescos and Zhaozhou Bridge are all symbols of craftsmanship. For instance, the Chinese black tea was well-sought after by royal families in Europe. The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas Fils has one sentence to the effect that “How could you claim to be from the royal family since you could not afford the Chinese black tea?” The Chinese people now go overseas to buy luxury products. But they have no idea Chinese goods were held in such high esteem in the West long time ago. China was a truly big exporter of luxury goods.

For a long time in history, Chinese tea, silk, porcelain were hugely popular overseas. According to Portuguese records, for over 50 years in the 16th and 17th century, the Chinese silk transported on Portuguese ships from Macau to Nagasaki was 1500 dan to 3000 dan. In 1575, the Spanish colonialists in the Philippines opened the “Pacific Silk Road” connecting China, the Philippines and Mexico. Ships sailing on this route may carry as many as 1,200 boxes of Chinese silk. In late 18th century, silk accounted for 63% of Chinese exports to Mexico. From the first year of the reign of Emperor Kangxi right up to the eve of the Opium War, over 70 percent of the cargos on ships from China to Japan were silk. Turn to trade in porcelain. China already boasted advanced techniques in porcelain making in Tang Dynasty. Chinese porcelains were sold to Japan, Korea, West Asia, South Asia and Egypt via the Silk Road on the sea. From 1405 to 1432 when Zheng He made seven voyages to the Western Seas, a large number of goods onboard were porcelain. From 1602 to 1682, Dutch merchant ships transported and sold 12 million pieces of porcelain, among which 10.1 million were Chinese porcelains, accounting for 98.3% of the total. Between 1684 and 1791, the East Indian Company monopolized China’s porcelain exports. About 215 million pieces of porcelain were transported to the UK. All these show that craftsmanship is deeply embedded in China’s traditions. We should look for it in our profound heritages and carry it forward.

(2) Craftsmanship underpins China’s strategy to become a strong country.

As is known to all, the Germans used to plagiarize and copy the British, French and American design and products. In 1887, the British parliament adopted an insulting trademark law, demanding all goods from Germany labeled “Made in Germany” so as to distinguish them from good-quality British products. Humiliated, the Germans made its own manufacturing strategy. The details-oriented and dedicated craftsmanship finally made German products famous all over the world.

As labor cost goes up, China is losing its advantages in traditional manufacturing. It is imperative to move up the value chain. Going forward, craftsmanship should guide our efforts to improve product quality and upgrade the manufacturing sector.

As stressed by President Xi Jinping, the ultimate goal of supply-side structural reform is to improve social productivity. People should be put first. “It is important to strengthen good-quality supply, reduce inefficient supply, increase effective supply, make the supply structure more adaptive and flexible, and improve total factor productivity. This way (In this way), the supply system will better meet the changes in demand structure.” As pointed out in the Made in China 2025 strategy, without a strong manufacturing sector, there would be no prosperity of a country and a nation. To build an internationally competitive manufacturing sector is the sure way to improve overall national strength, safeguard national security and become a world power.

Upgrading means that products should be adapted to the needs of the changing time. The design and quality of products should be constantly improved. In China, some products are in over supply. There are also products that are rejected by consumers due to their low quality. A case in point is milk powder. Ever since the melamine-tainted milk scandals, there has been growing distrust in Chinese dairy products. They all buy milk power made in the US, the Netherlands and New Zealand. If people don't consume milk power made in their own country, what a shame for the country. Some people go to Japan to buy toilet seat covers, most of which were actually made in China. And China does not have its own brands.

According to the statistics of the Ministry of Commerce, China’s exports in 2015 increased by 13.4%, up by one percentage point over 2014. Between January and November, Chinese exports outnumber those of the US by 667.2 billion dollars, remaining the largest trading country in goods. But in most of the overseas markets, Chinese products are at the lower end of the value chain. Chinese products have far inferior reputation than their foreign counterparts. Many people choose Chinese products only because of the low price. This has impeded China’s manufacturing. The lack of craftsmanship is the fundamental reason for it.

Manufacturing is the mainstay of the national economy and the foundation for a country’s prosperity. Quality should always come first. Craftsmanship that is details-oriented and values quality is the soul of the manufacturing sector. Together with innovation, it should underpin China’s strategy to become a strong country. Only this can facilitate the transition from Made in China to Created in China, from speed to quality, from products to brands, and finally from a big manufacturing country to a strong one.

(3) Civic Ethics are Forged Through Craftsmanship.

Civic ethics are closely related to the revival of a civilization. Craftsmanship represents the pursuit of perfection and is vital for improving civic ethics.

Craftsmanship is an important part of civic ethics. It is first and foremost manifested in professional ethics, which is not enforced through law and institution, but by the “strength of morality” as stressed by Premier Li Keqiang. Laziness, counterfeit and fraud all symbolize the loss of professional ethics and moral degradation in a country. To promote craftsmanship, efforts must be made to break away from such immoral acts and ensure that these should be punished.

As evidenced in ancient Chinese poems, craftsmanship has always been valued throughout the Chinese history. The Chinese civilization was respected worldwide because the exquisiteness of Chinese products and the inherent craftsmanship.

The Germans pursue perfect product quality. The Japanese see quality as important as their dignity and reputation. And the Swiss are well known for their loyalty and dedication which helps them secure a strong position for their banking and watch making sectors. Such fine qualities in national character have contributed to the manufacturing and commercial successes of these countries and won respect from other countries. Civic ethics and craftsmanship are mutually reinforcing.

To achieve national rejuvenation, China must promote craftsmanship. Dean Kamen, a great American inventor, said “Craftsmanship is not only one part of a nation, but also a source of its vitality.” China still has a long way to go to achieve rejuvenation. Cultural revival is the key to national rejuvenation. Therefore, craftsmanship must be forged into Chinese national character and power the rejuvenation of the Chinese civilization. When Chinese products prevail in the world, the greatness of the Chinese civilization will be appreciated by people across the world. And the Chinese people will be truly respected.

Craftsmanship and Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Craftsmanship is the pursuit of perfection. It includes fine qualities such as patience, dedication, innovation and diligence. It is incorporated in all sectors and every stage of production and quality control.

(1) Craftsmanship should be the value guiding “mass entrepreneurship and innovation”.

As President Xi said, innovation is always an important driving force behind the progress of a country and a nation. “Mass entrepreneurship and innovation” is a major step taken by the government to promote economic reform and development and implement the innovation-driven development strategy.

According to statistics, newly registered businesses grew by 21.6% in 2015, equivalent to 12,000 per day. 13.12 million urban jobs were created, more than expected for the whole year, becoming a highlight in the economic performance. Mass entrepreneurship and innovation have become an important tool for creating employment and upgrading industries, driving profound economic and social changes in China.

Mass entrepreneurship and innovation calls for innovative mentality and spirit. This, however, is not enough. It should be guided by craftsmanship which is rooted in past achievements.

Craftsmanship and innovative spirit are not contradictory. Rather, they are complementary. The innovative spirit should be supported by craftsmanship, while craftsmanship needs to draw strength from the innovative spirit. Innovation features opening thinking and audacity, whereas craftsmanship is details-oriented and relentlessly pursues perfection. When it comes to commercial value, innovative spirit is more reflected in the leapfrog development of products. Craftsmanship is about the quality and stability and of products. In the wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, craftsmanship could correct the irrational behaviors, boost innovation and upgrade traditional industries.

Craftsmanship and innovative spirit are embodied in a product. Craftsmanship is the basis of product making which should also be guided by innovative spirit. A product of superior quality meets the new needs of the market. It is also the result of details-oriented perfection.

(2) Craftsmanship will help address mistakes in mass entrepreneurship and innovation.

Mass entrepreneurship and innovation is in full swing in China and has made good progress. But there have also been some misunderstandings in its implementation. Some government agencies are too obsessed with new ideas and new packages, and assume that mass entrepreneurship and innovation are brainstorming in the context of the Internet. Some people focus too much on the new economy and think traditional industries are hopeless and are eager to eliminate all traditional industries. And some local governments see it as a campaign, not real industrial upgrading. And they therefore only go through formalities. This may cause imbalances in industry and employment. This may risk becoming an empty slogan and sabotage the whole economy.

In this process, traditions should not be negated. Nor should mass entrepreneurship and innovation be a campaign for immediate success. Joseph Schumpeter once said to the effect that it is necessary to turn chaos into an orderly exit. This is critical of the ignorance of traditions. Craftsmanship could well address this issue.

(3) Craftsmanship can help train players of mass entrepreneurship and innovation.

The soul of mass entrepreneurship and innovation is innovation. And it is the people who innovate and decide what kind of products will be made. In this sense, craftsmanship is an important factor for the success of mass entrepreneurship and innovation. Together with the innovative spirit, they are the two wheels and wings, both of which are indispensable.

Craftsmanship should be part and parcel of mass entrepreneurship and innovation. Those who start businesses should be dedicated and committed to their goals and always strive for perfection. Innovators should focus on details and not be complacent. With this people could go long on the path of innovation.

How to foster craftsmanship?

Craftsmanship won’t be fostered overnight. There has long been ignorance of craftsmanship in society. Though “workers are the most glorious in China”, it is more often than not empty words. An ordinary worker is often belittled regardless of his profession, skills and efforts. Before the Cultural Revolution, there were eight levels of wages for workers. The eighth level could match the wage of an engineer. Back then, workers were respected for their skills and had a pathway for promotion. Is there still a pathway for workers? No. They have no other alternatives but study for diplomas. The eight-level wage system was scrapped for “bourgeois reasons”. Today’s marketplace has been flooded by fake and shoddy goods. Workers are not respected for their efforts. Then how to foster craftsmanship? To change this, efforts must be made on the following fronts.


(1) Craftsmanship should be part of the national education system.

The current educational system focuses on diplomas, theories and intellectual achievements to the neglect of practical skills and morality. This is a major reason for impeding craftsmanship. To reverse this, craftsmanship must be included in China’s national education system from compulsory, basic, higher and vocational to adult education. This will forge a spirit of pursuing perfection in students.

(2) Professionals should be trained.

Since the reform and opening-up, China’s market economy has developed very fast. The country, however, does not boast many brands. Workers only toil on assembly lines. Over the past 30 years, migrant workers have travelled back and forth between urban and rural areas. This is not conducive to craftsmanship. Nor is it responsible for migrant workers. This should be addressed with industrial upgrading. China must have a stable capable workforce for manufacturing. Workers should be encouraged to hone their skills and expertise. This way, they secure space for personal development, win respect in society and become pillars in their respective sectors. China needs to draw on other countries experiences. Take Italy for example. Job candidates are selected based on their skills and competency, not diplomas or certificates. Graduates from vocational schools can easily find well-paid jobs. This is attributed to the country’s long-standing commitment to vocational education. The technicians produced by vocational schools are the backbone of those countries’ manufacturing sectors. Italy has a complete primary, secondary and higher vocational education system. Germany has a dual-track vocational education system where schools and businesses establish partnerships. China also needs to establish such partnerships between educational and business communities to put in place a modern vocational education system and professional certification system, so that China would train a large pool of professionals in different areas.

(3) Favorable institutions and systems should be built to foster craftsmanship.

Incentives should be given to technical professionals to improve their economic and social status. Promotion pathways should be created for workers so that they will have a sense of achievements and motivation for further progress. Quality standards should be strengthened. Without first-class quality standards, there would be no first-class products. China is yet to reach the minimum standards of developed countries in quality and safety. Therefore, there are so many low quality standards in the market. While strengthening quality supervision, the government should raise quality standards and give more power to industrial associations in product inspection and accreditation so as to create synergies for effective supervision. IPR protection and market regulation should also be strengthened. There should be zero tolerance for counterfeit products and shoddy goods to ensure bad money won’t drive out the good. This way, those who copycat and make fake goods will find no foothold in the market. Technological innovations will be protected. And businesses will be more motivated for innovation.

(4) The value system that supports craftsmanship must be established.

An enabling social atmosphere must be fostered for craftsmanship, which should be a norm guiding the manufacturing sector and a value in society. The government should play a leading role to make sure that the pursuit of perfection becomes a prevailing value in all sectors and craftsmanship is part of the national character. The entire society should hold in high esteem skills and creativity. Skills should be given more prominence than academic credentials. The market should also play its due role. Market supervision should be established to eliminate those who fail to comply with market principles.

A thousand journey starts with a single step. “For any difficult undertaking, efforts must start with easy things. And details must be attended to.” Craftsmanship is needed for individuals, a society and a country in innovation, entrepreneurship and national rejuvenation. Only in this way can the Chinese nation win more respect and can the Chinese nation becomes more brilliant.