Where are the Chinese Brands?

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It may feel like pretty much everything is made in China, so why aren’t there any Chinese brands that are household names?

People know Korean brands (Samsung, Hyundai) and Japanese brands (PlayStation, Nikko, Sanyo), but not one Chinese brand pops quickly to mind. NPR explores the idea and finds that Haier, a manufacturer of home appliances, is “probably the closest China gets to a known international brand.”

Haier has a US subsidiary and manufacturing facility, so some of its products actually read “Made in the USA,” which has helped keep some consumers from actually knowing it is a Chinese company.

“I think we got good people, we got good management, we got good products,” says Haier manager Gerald Reeves to NPR. “A lot of people don’t even realize this is a Chinese company, truth be known.” Is this lack of awareness the new great wall of China?[more]

Haier is investing in research and development but NPR observes that “many analysts” blame “China’s inability to develop and innovate to problems within China that go deeper than just the development of brands.” One of those problems, the site notes is that legal protection is lacking.

“If you’re going to innovate, if you’re going to be entrepreneurial, if you’re going to create and invent things, you need a legal system that can protect your invention,” says Paul French, a nearly 20-year resident of China who works for the Shanghai consulting firm Access Asia, NPR reports.

“The government should take the lead on that, and an independent legal system needs to be able to do that, and to respect the rights of entrepreneurs and innovators,” he says. “And at the moment, that is simply not the case here.” French has a laundry list of issues — intellectual property rights, a free Chinese press, the environment, pensions – that would all need to be dealt with in order to help China boost its brands worldwide.

Shi Yigong, the dean of life sciences at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a former professor at Princeton University, tells NPR that the culture is set up against innovation in China as well: He recently realized that when his children come home from school, he asks if they listened to their teacher.

“For someone who stayed in the United States for 18-19 years, who’s been really influenced by Western culture, still the question was, ‘Did you listen to your teachers?'” he says. “We are told to listen, we are told to accept. We are told not to doubt authority. So I think that element is very hard to do away with, because that’s part of our culture.”

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