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How communication gets distorted in Chinese factories

Have you ever wondered why one of your suppliers promised you that something would get done, and then it never got done?

I bet every experienced importer has dozens of similar stories. But, most of the time, it is due to lack of organization rather than lack of honesty.

It usually follows this sequence:


  • A top manager is made aware of a big mistake, and decides to correct it.
  • The middle managers look for a quick-and-dirty way of solving (or hiding) the problem.
  • The customer notices it, and gets very upset. The supplier is unable to present any explanation. Conclusion: “they can’t be trusted”.


The reason is that middle managers have other problems to deal with, and they don’t understand the whole context — how important the customer is, how bad the mistake was, how late the order already is…

They know that putting out fires and changing priorities creates a lot of confusion, which decreases productivity — and that’s exactly what top management keeps repeating to them. So they think they act in their company’s interest. After all, taking shortcuts allows them to save costs — again, their boss keeps telling them this is priority No. 1.


The root cause is the lack of training of managers and the lack of procedures. By the way, large manufacturers (say, above 2,000 workers) are better organized and tend to avoid this problem.

The most dangerous time is when the boss is not present. Two weeks ago, an importer told me about a factory owner who had invested in massage parlors, who didn’t give enough time to the factory, and who was reluctant to hire someone to replace the production manager who had left him. No need to mention, this manufacturer’s reliability was going downhill at a fast pace.

Is it only manufacturers?

I have also seen this phenomenon at work in trading companies. I remember a bad case, 5 years ago, where an entire production batch was unacceptable. The boss of the trading company came from Hong Kong. He decided to re-produce (mostly at his expense, since he was buying the materials).

But his staff talked with the production workshop owner and decided to attempt a repair… And we rejected the products again, for the exact same reasons. The improvement was very, very minimal. The client was furious.



If you count on a supplier to do something, and you can’t afford to be disappointed, there are basically two solutions:



  • Get status reports from the supplier, and send someone to check progress from time to time;
  • Station an inspector on site for monitoring what is going on.



Related article: Supervising production in china


What do you think?


Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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