April 30, 2006
Written by C.N.
About a year ago, the Chinese high tech company Lenovo bought IBM’s famous computer business unit and along with it, IBM’s much-heralded ThinkPad series of notebook computers. There were some apprehensions about a Chinese company acquiring a major U.S. company’s high tech assets, but the deal was finalized without much of a hassle.
Now however, many consumers are becoming more wary of purchasing IBM/Lenovo computers now that they know it’s made by a Chinese company. Is this an example of ethnocentric stereotypes against the Chinese (and by implication, against Asians and Asian Americans in general)? You be the judge:
Lenovo has still not gained the mindshare or the respect that the ThinkPads command. In fact, it has, to some extent, alienated ThinkPad’s fans and taken a sales hit. In my immediate vicinity, those who owned ThinkPads have now traded up to an HP or a Toshiba. None of them went back to their ThinkPads.
After asking for a clarification, I was told, “Who wants to buy things from a Chinese company?” Clearly, this isn’t a sensible answer and is derived emotionally (subjectively) than objectively, but could you really blame them? And there in lies Lenovo’s problem.
China today is synonymous with inexpensive labor and average quality workmanship (similar to the way Japan was portrayed in consumer electronics decades ago until it changed its image). Similarly, no one wants to purchase anything consumer electronics related that’s made in China and is sold by a Chinese company.
The article does note that Japanese companies had this perception problem up until about 20 years ago. Since then, Japanese electronics are now generally considered superior to American electronics. Similarly, is this perception against Chinese computers (and other Chinese consumer goods) likely to eventually change with time?
Or is the situation different now because China is a communist country and also a military and political rival (not just economic as Japan was) with the U.S.? India is in a somewhat similar position as an emerging economic power but Americans generally don’t have the same kinds of suspicions about India that they do about China because India isn’t considered a military threat by the U.S.
On the one hand, I would say that since China insists on engaging in many forms of repression and human rights abuses at home, their international reputation is inevitably going to take a hit, as are their economic prospects, illustrated by their current struggles selling Lenovo computers.
On the other hand, it bothers me that Americans are apparently so quick to dismiss a Chinese computer manufacturer, based almost entirely on biased perceptions — the kind of biased perceptions that can easily be transferred over to other Asians and to Asian Americans.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Lenovo, China, and the Fall of IBM Computers" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/04/lenovo-china-and-the-fall-of-ibm-computers/> ().
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