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A Year without Made in China

(美)萨拉·邦乔妮 Sara Bongiorni   

胡宗锋  苦丁(译)

CHAPTER THREE Rise and China

第三章 中国崛起(七)

There are benefits to China-free living. It’s been weeks since I’ve felt the agony of stepping on a hard-edged Chinese toy in my bare feet, a sensation that I typically experience at least once a week while rushing through the living room.There is less clutter in the house, since after I gather old toys and clothes to drop in the Goodwill bin I don’t fill the place back up with new Chinese merchandise. I feel empowered when I discover that I am not completely locked out of the market for Easter fun. I buy Mexican eggs filled with confetti that come in a box covered in encouraging slogans, like “Say no to drugs” and “Say yes to education.”We have an Easter egg hunt with the Mexican eggs and some leftover Chinese plastic ones from the year before. Easter, the first Chinese holiday of the year, is a success.


All the same, I face a new problem relating to the boycott: I can’t see at night when I’m working in my office. My old desk lamp died on me, and due to a shortage of lamps in our house I don’t have a spare to move from another room to take its place. So I sit in the dark on nights when I’m scrambling to meet a deadline and rely on the glow of the computer screen to illuminate my papers. I try a series of solutions, including intense focusing of my eyes and propping a flashlight on some books so that it casts its beam on my notes, but these remedies are unsatisfactory in the extreme. I need a lamp, and lamps are from China, or so I conclude after a couple of joyless afternoons of local shopping.


Then a small miracle happens while I am idly flipping through catalogs one morning. I spy a nice-looking lamp with a reasonable price tag. Its description is missing the telltale word Imported, which I’ve learned is catalog-speak for Made in China. I dial the customer-service number and ask for the lamp’s country of origin.


“USA,” the customer-service rep tells me.

I nearly drop the phone.

“I’ll take it,” I say.




A lamp is not normally cause for celebration, but I jump from my office chair and race out the front door a few days later when a brown UPS truck lurches to a halt in front of our house. Back inside, I rip open the box and send Styrofoam popcorn shooting across the living room floor. But the next thing I see stops me cold. Inside the top of the box is a clear plastic bag containing a thin piece of curved metal. And on the outside of the bag, writ large in black capital letters, are the words Made in China. I sink a little. No, I sink a lot.


I crouch down to examine the outside of the box. Made in USA,it proclaims.Well, not entirely, I think.With a heavy heart I crawl around on the living room floor collecting the pieces of Styrofoam so I can repack the box. On the return slip I write that I’m returning the lamp because it was not as described, since it was described as American. Then I push the box next to the front door so I can mail it back later in the week. I don’t have the stomach to return it right away.


A couple of days pass.The box remains in its spot by the door. It’s become a convenient place to throw unopened mail and children’s jackets. I tell myself I haven’t had the time to mail it off, but the truth is I’m wondering whether I should keep the thing. Maybe using Chinese parts is the only way the company that made the lamp—or most of the lamp anyway—can cut costs and stay afloat. Maybe without a few Chinese components here and there the place would go belly up all together, or ship over to China and set up business there, like everybody else is doing.

“Keep it,” says Kevin, who’s been listening impatiently to my soliloquy.

几天过去了,箱子还放在门口,这倒方便了堆放未拆封的邮件和孩子们的衣服。我一直说没有时间寄,其实我是在想该不该留下这盏灯。或许使用中国零件是台灯厂降低成本并赖以生存的惟一出路。 或许要不是各地的中国零件,他们早就“白肚朝天”撑不下去了,亦或是早就像很多人那样搬到中国去了。


He can’t sway my decision, but I know who can. I track down the number of the Los Angeles lamp maker and call them to explain my predicament. The man at the lamp company is suspicious at first, but then he warms up and gives me a fast lesson in lamps. He tells me there were hundreds of American lamp makers just a decade or so ago, including 40 or more in Southern California alone.Today, he can think of only four or five in the entire country, he says.


“It’s almost 100 percent due to China,” he says.

His company has endured because a family, not expectant stockholders, owns it and because it specializes in big lamps that don’t fit well in cargo containers. He gives me a status report on the remaining U.S. lamp companies, noting that a high-end firm in Miami is “having its lunch eaten by the Chinese,” who are masters of cheap knockoffs. I ask him about the Chinese part in my lamp box.A consequence of so many factory closures is that you can no longer get American-made components, he says. Light switches are no longer made in the United States at all, for instance, he says.

“At a certain point you have to go overseas for parts,” he tells me.




We hang up and I sit and think about lamps. Maybe it’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but it’s odd to think that there is no longer such thing as an American-made lamp, at least not strictly speaking.The lamp sitting in the box by the door is probably as American as a lamp can get these days, but, not unlike my daughter Sofie, it’s a mixed-heritage product, with China contributing essential parts. I get the same mournful feeling as when I realized American tennis shoes were a relic of the past. I feel something slipping away, but I’m not certain what it is.

我们通完电话后,我坐下来琢磨台灯的事。也许这不是什么震撼人心的新启示,但一想到再也没有美国制造的台灯——至少不严格地来说是这样——就让人觉得怪怪的。家门口箱子里的台灯很可能就是目前能找到的 “最美国”的台灯了。但台灯不像我女儿苏菲,苏菲是个遗传混血儿,根本的东西是中国的。当我意识到美国网球鞋也已是历史上的过往云烟时,我感到同样的悲哀。我知道有些东西正在从我们身边悄悄溜走,但又说不出到底是什么。

I keep the lamp. I decide Made in USA on the outside of the box trumps Made in China on the inside. It’s not an entirely satisfying decision. I wish I had a boycott rulebook to guide me, because one of the problems in making up rules on the fly is you’re never sure if you’re making a decision out of convenience or conviction. Either way, there’s no time to dwell on the lamp. Kevin is threatening rebellion after losing the replacement pair of sunglasses from his secretary. And he’s made an alarming announcement. He says he wants to buy an inflatable backyard swimming pool for the children. He didn’t just say he wanted to buy a pool for them, but that he will buy a pool for them, a statement that is ominous if you happen to know, as I do, where inflatable pools come from these days.