By Michael Colligan, Get A Grip On Lighting
America and the rest of the world that uses electricity is completely flooded by super cheap, low-cost LED light bulbs from China (never mind smartphones and other electronic gadgets). How did this come about? It is an interesting story. Worth understanding if you sling light bulbs every day for a living.
It starts with the greatest human catastrophe of all time, which is the period in China between 1927 – 1979. Like most things involving China in the 20th and 21st centuries, the scope of upheaval, devastation and human tragedy in this era is impossible for Americans and Westerners to fathom. To put this in perspective, the casualty rate of the first part of the Chinese Civil War alone (1927 – 1937) makes the American Civil War, in all its devastation, look like minor skirmish and a statistical blip.
We need to get into the weeds a bit in order to understand China’s rise and how they came to dominate so many industries so quickly. Imagine if Britain decided to invade America in the middle of the American Civil War? Well in 1937, Japan invaded China and the two sides in the Chinese Civil War decided to put hostilities on hold and become “co-belligerents” in order to drive the Japanese out of China. This was easier than it might have seemed from the outside because Japan, like Germany, premised their 20th Century expansion on grounds of ethnic and racial superiority. The Japanese government at the time was racist from top to bottom, and racism leads to grandiosity, irrational decisions, and eventually to disaster (more on this later).
But the war against Japan was a one-sided affair, significantly weakening Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army the Kuomintang (KMT). Yes, General Mao and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), did skirmish with the Japanese guerilla style during the war. But Mao was basically biding his time; stealing and stockpiling Japanese military equipment and ammunition in preparation for the resumption of the civil war.
When China (KMT and PLA), the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, Mongolia, America, and others eventually defeated Japan (no America didn’t even come close to doing it alone) the KMT was exhausted. Somewhere between 12 and 18 million Chinese people were dead (mostly civilians and not including the 7 million from 1927 – 1937), the country was in shambles, and famine and chaos reigned. But General Mao and the PLA were stronger than ever. They saw their chance and took it, and this is the beginning of the story of Chinese dominance of the LED trade!
Huh? What is the Circadian Canadian talking about?
Yeah, it is hard to see, but this is where the story of our industry kind of begins. But to tell the tale properly requires that we suspend our disbelief. To piss off everyone equally, here comes a “what if” American allegory loosely based on events that occurred in China between 1945 and 1979.
With allegorical license fully deployed and tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us imagine that American society and politics had become completely polarized. Even the silent majority and people who rarely paid attention were openly taking sides. The “truth” was becoming something politicians manipulated, claiming absolute truth or total lies, no nuance or analysis (people hate losing what they have more than they value gaining what they don’t, and as political compromise starts to break down people become entrenched). In our fictional scenario, a deep distrust for those on “the other side” begins to form in the land of the free and the home of the brave; rather than solving problems, leaders engage in one-up-manship and deceitful machinations. Looking to consolidate power rather than improve the standards of living.
So, let us pretend that Bernie Sanders is a maniacal military genius all ginned up on some crazy communist ideology; hiding his enormous ego by spewing lies of a glorious socialist future to anyone who will listen. “Promises, promises” – everything will be ok once we are in charge and redistribute all the wealth properly. To back up his tough talk, he has armed a band of disaffected hipsters. We need to give him a name, let’s go with Chairman Bernie.
In the other corner we will use Donald Trump. Why? Because it’s just too perfect and hilarious and I’m Canadian. In this version of events he is a viciously divisive fellow, officially in charge, representing people from an ethnic majority along with elites, aristocrats, moneyed merchants and the rest of the bourgeoisie. He seems glorious, daring and in charge, but be careful. What he says goes or you are screwed, and he tends to shoot from the hip and talk a lot of shit. And not everyone is as loyal to him as he thinks. He is dangerous, only in our allegory of course, because he lacks a strong supporting cast of lieutenants. Why? Because he pisses everybody off. Let’s call him Director General Trump.
A civil war breaks out and Holy Emperor Wu! Who would have thought? Chairman Bernie and the rebel hipsters defeat Director General Trump and the US military. With mass defections and the mainland in full-blown chaos, Director General Trump and those left and loyal to him retreat to Cuba to regroup and fight another day. Director General Trump claims to be the legitimate government of America in absentia. The war doesn’t end but the shots cease to fire.
After the retreat, Director General Trump, like most paranoid dictators would, declares Martial Law, sets up a police state and maintains it for 38 consecutive years! He is in charge for life. During this period, he proceeds to execute or imprison anyone suspected of supporting Chairman Bernie. If you were going to live in “America 2,” the Real America, you do what Director General Trump says or it’s a throat slit. Interestingly enough and concurrently, Director General Trump and those he deems loyal (all the people with experience making stuff and who have all the money) turn Cuba into a major manufacturing hub for electronics and begin to export these gadgets around the world.
Chairman Bernie and the hipsters can’t believe their luck! “Justice and Equality for all” they proclaim, and immediately begin to implement all those fantastic ideas they’d been cooking up over single batch craft brewed pale ale and homemade Merguez North African lamb sausages. But after a while not even Denver’s best cappuccino or the craft brewed stars and stripes ale can appease Chairman Bernie. He grows mercurial, secretive and paranoid. Things get worse when they start to run out of the basics. I mean even a low-brow hipster has an herb garden, but what are you gonna do, “grow your own hops?” Eventually, the hipsters begin to turn on each other and everyone starts to starve.
Chairman Bernie is as paranoid as it gets. In Chairman Bernie’s world, equality means equity in the distribution of starvation and terror. He brags about the casualties and the starving and claims it’s all Director General Trumps fault. The once proud hipsters now kowtow and genuflect to the “mighty Chairman, defender of the people.” Instead of focusing on economic development, however, Chairman Bernie, now increasingly isolated and paranoid, spends all of America 1’s resources developing weapons and a consistent tension exists between America 1 and America 2. A further tension begins to develop between both Americas and the rest of the world.
Near the end of his life, Chairman Bernie is paid a visit by another corrupt world leader, and they shake hands. Chairman Bernie doesn’t listen, but the hipsters kowtowing around him jockeying for power are, intently. The corrupt world leader points at America 2 and says – “do it like that.”
Eventually, Chairman Bernie and Director General Trump die. America 1 is a complete disaster of starvation and tyranny and America 2 is a serious police state that puts the German Democratic Republic to shame. But hell, they are good at making stuff. Both the Chairman and the Director General maintain spiritual control from the grave and cults develop around both of their legacies.
America 1’s new leader, the Hipster King, remembers the advice of that corrupt world leader and looks across the strait at America 2 (Cuba) and all the wealth and technology being developed and says “ok, come back, but only the guys who know how to build factories, and you can only build them in Florida. And, yeah, you can bring your dirty money as long as you are willing to perpetuate our lies, not yours. You must agree that Chairman Bernie was a mighty, honorable leader, the Founding Father, the new George Washington for our great nation of the people, and Director General Trump a traitor!” You guessed it, lightED reader – money talks and bullshit walks.
Back to reality and The China Question. Who is this corrupt world leader character modeled in our little allegory? What President in U.S. history do you think would have the stomach for striking a deal with a communist dictator responsible for killing more people than Hitler and Stalin combined? It is none other than Richard “the trickster” Nixon back in 1972. Look at the smile on his face as he presses hands with the greatest murderer of all time – Chairman Mao. Heck, if you put a red suit, white beard and wig he could be the Chinese Santa Clause – Ho. Ho. Ho. Forget about the slaughterer of tens of millions of his own people. But Tricky Dick showed Mao what was up – the American Way! The jolly old Chairman wasn’t quite ready to take over the lighting business yet, but those in his inner circle were listening intently to what the unindicted conspirator had to say.
Oh yeah, baby. If you are over 40, you might remember popular national monikers which you don’t see much of anymore: “Made in Taiwan” and “Made in Hong Kong.” Well, in 1979, there was a small fishing village backwater in China with a population of 30,000 people close to Taiwan and right across the water from Hong Kong. It is called Shenzhen.
After Chairman Mao died (not Bernie – no more pretending) a dude named Deng Xaoping, who had listened very closely to Nixon’s advice, declared “To become rich is glorious!” What he really meant is “we have more cheap labor than you can dream of or imagine, and these racist Americans think we are an afterthought because we aren’t white.” He was right. He set up a special economic zone geographically close to Taiwan and Hong Kong. He allowed factories to be built in public-private partnerships with the dudes who knew how to make stuff from Hong Kong and Taiwan on the premise of “Technology Transfer.” Technology transfer is the exchange of opportunity with the price being intellectual property. He then carried out the “normalization of relations” with the United States recommended by “Richie Rich” Nixon.
Believe it or not, in 1979, seven short years after it was revealed that he was crooked, Deng insisted to then-president Jimmy Carter, that Richard Nixon, the Wizard of Watergate, the man that all future political scandals would be named after, be invited to the White House dinner to symbolize the continuity of the Mao-Nixon initiatives.
And Holy Emperor Wu again! The frickin’ President of the United States of America, far and away the most powerful man on the planet, acquiesced to Deng’s request! The unindicted conspirator rolled in hot to seal the pact.
Never mind the Great Leap Forward or the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; with the spirit of Chairman Mao invoked, the greatest heist of all time, the rise of Shenzhen and China in general was officially toasted by Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Deng Xaoping at the Whitehouse in 1979; a deal with the devil? Sorry, this was a deal between devils and our little industry hasn’t been the same since.
Tagged with The China Question