Chapter 5

Brand China

The year 2008 saw scandals erupt from China at a rate that seemed to outpace the country’s supersonic economic growth rate. It was also the year China was to host the summer Olympics, which would brand the country as a thoroughly modern nation rising to superpower status. Unfortunately for the nation’s image, this was also the year consumers discovered the paint on toys that American toy maker Mattel was sourcing from China was laced with toxic lead. Soon after the toy debacle, American buyers discovered Chinese producers had tainted pet food and toothpaste exported from China with the plastics-derivative melamine. The concentration of melamine was so heavy in the pet food that thousands of family pets throughout the United States died. The scandals laid a devastating blow to the image China had been working to project to the world in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

Country images are important to the bottom lines of nations and the extent to which they are able to successfully export products and entire industries across borders. America after World War II successfully exported its fast-food and fast-drink culture around the world with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola leading the foray. Germany exports its image as a producer of well-designed, well-engineered, high-quality engineering products. The Danes export a spare, elegant design aesthetic in their personal-use items. China exports Fake.

Can China reverse the image its exporters and its government are conveying ...

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