Developing SE Asia

I’m a designer who just recently moved to Vietnam. When I lived in the states, I traveled often to work with vendors in China and SE asia. I still work with Chinese vendors, and admire their innovation and depth of knowledge of materials and processes. It’s an amazing industry. Hoever, after repeatedly seeing the impact of mass production on the environment/culture of China, I hoped that some of the other developing SE asia countries could create their own path, and not take China’s precise path for their own.

What can other developing economies learn from China, positive and/or negative?

Are there any over-seas Vietnamese designers who have considered moving back (or already have) to Vietnam to forge their own path?


You have a point here. Industry in Pakistan grew 19,3% last year with 30% growth in the engineering sector. Mostly fueles by local demand for cars and appliances. That said there is no Chinese style “workshop for the world” direction. But I wonder is there an alternative to that if you want to sustain 2 digit growth for long?

How is the scene in Vietnam?


One of the headlines on CNN this morning was a story about the acid rain conditions in Guandong Province (Shenzhen/Dongguan area) because of the lack of any pollution controls durnig the last 20 years. Industry has grown so fast (and corruption is so rampant) that people are going to begin getting seriously sick from breathing the unfiltered pollution.

  • Most of the metal plating in the world is done in China because of very few restrictions.

  • Smoke stacks belch out black smoke, with no scrubbers.

  • Chemicals are poured in holes, with the assumption no one will discover this for years.

One of the guys in our company has severe asthma and he can barely stand to stay there for more than a couple days. The sunsets are hazy because of all of the dust in the air.

As other countries develop they can take a lesson on what NOT to do from China. China is growing quickly today, but future generations will pay the price for today’s leaders looking the other way while China poisons itself.

I’m sure others have seen this also…

On the pollution point, very true!

Here in Hong Kong we have many days covered in a pollution induced haze. Whilst HK creates a lot of it’s own pollution a great majority of it also comes down from the pearl River Delta (the whole area covering Shenzhen, Dongguan up to Guangzhou). It is becoming a bigger and bigger problem and the government is having to take notice. There are efforts to start cleaning up the air in the area but it will take years, and I fear, a losing battle.

It’s a common problem with poor and developing countries who accelerate growth by rapid industrialization, the problem is it is now happening with 2 of the biggest population centres in the world: India and China. When these economies get to a point where the average person can afford cars (and it is getting close in China) the problem is only going to get worse.

Also in Hong Kong.

One of the big problems is that the countries that are driving the industrial growth in Asia (US and Europe mainly) are only interested in the lowest cost product. In order to meet this low cost need and to attempt to compete with neighboring countries, the added cost of putting in pollution control from the beginning puts these countries at a disadvantage. Also these countries are taking over manufacturing processes that have been banned in the US and Europe because of their environmental harm. Until environmental issues become as important as low cost (Europe is trying with RoES and WEES legislation) then nothing will be done. They have a lot of poor people to feed here.

So, as long as our requests are only for lowest price goods, we of the US and Europe are partially (at minimum) to blame.

PS: China will probably clean up their polution before Hong Kong. Hong Kong politicians don’t like to make the hard decisions in order to accomplish real policies for the public good.

Ya, I think the government should do somethings to control haze pollution. :imp:

Do you guys think that the laws to control pollution is strict enough in your country?

I too am a designer that moved to Vietnam (HCMC) from the states and have a similar perspective, but I feel that the main contributer from what I’ve seen to the pollution problem is cultural. (Population density, countless motorbikes, burning garbage, polluting water supplies, deseased animals etc.)

Factories require proper management and attention to detail. I visited a factory in Hanoi and the Aussie owner calls it five star production. Post tour I saw what he meant, the place was immaculate. The work spaces were like art galleries and the employees were encouraged to socialize. They also received higher wages than other local factories. These sort of standards are symbiotic. Respect where you work, live and play and change will happen. Not to mention more care in quality products. It’s not so one sided= us evil westerners imposing harsh standards pinching pennies and wasting where ever we can. Sure that happens and is norm, but I also feel alot of the responsibilty lay on the brands producing in these areas. (not just factory owners). If Nike has inspectors coming in to check what kind of toilet paper is in the worker’s bathrooms I think it’s gonna be a clean and safe place with workers that enjoy what they do.

Wishy washy ramble ramble

I am a designer in china and find questions all you refer. of course ,there are many things happen and they have bad effect to our environment ,but pls trust us we will do better next.also if u like please help us and welcome to china .then we can go to GREATWALL together. kelly in china

For starters,

Isn’t the internet in China censored? How would one go about discussing such issues without reprisals directed towards those participating from the Chinese side? They still worship Mao, and we all know what a noble guy he was. I don’t think the reality of the devastating pollution effects resulting from corrupt industry practices is going to hit the front page anytime soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if kelly works for the governement propoganda department. Of course, I could be wrong and maybe there really is going to be a concerted international effort to clean up China, but probably not until China publicly acknowledges that a problem does in fact exist, not that the U.S. can throw stones on this issue.

on another note, can anyone comment on the creativity gap between students coming out of western schools versus asian schools? I’ve talked with a number of english teachers in my travels and they were consistantly dismayed by the pressure asian societies put on children to conform and the effect that has on their ability to be original. Being part of a design community in Asia, are these effects noticable?


Your remarks are most interesting more from the point of view of what you receive about China from the US media, versus the correctness of your statements. let me try to enlighten some of you who are controlled by the media of only 5 owners. it seems that sensational headlines about China are the only things that make it back to the US. This is very dangerous because I always tell people “China and the US are like Siamese twins that don’t know each other very well. We share the same stomach.”.

a) Isn’t the internet in China censored? - Yes and no. If you want to discuss political issues then China does censor. If you want to talk about making business better then everything is open for discussion. I tell people that China would legislate that everyone can walk around naked, as long as everyone accepts that there is only one party.

b) They still worship Mao - WRONG, in fact Mao’s birthday went by recently with almost no celebrations whatsoever. They will fully admit that Mao screwed up many things. He is mostly revered for creating the new Chinese nation, but the government that exists today would not make Mao happy.

c) China is fighting both corruption and pollution in a major way and do discuss this with the media. Recently many high ups in the government have been arrested for corruption and legislation is being enacted all the time against corruption. Also last year, Guangdong province closed 2.000 plants that were considered heavy polluters. China does have issues but they are working on them. They are planting more trees now than any country ever has. This is to present a positive face for the Olympics, but hey whatever it takes. Also before you start casting stones, you only need to go back to the 1960s in the US to see the river in Cleveland on fire and other environmental atrocities and depending on where you live in the US have you checked your air quality and smog levels lately?

d) Kelly works for the propaganda department - If this were true Kelly would type perfect English and be more polished.

e) creativity gap - First, you don’t have to be much more than a native English speaker to teach English in Asia, so I really wouldn’t make it sound like this is a highly educated group. Secondly creativity was not valued in older Chinese culture but this is changing. I have met many ID students in the mainland who are very hungry for knowledge and very creative. I think the ability is there in the younger generation, but the older generation, who runs most of industry, does not understand how to use creativity.

After my comments above let me make sure understand that I am not on these Americans who has come over and fallen in love in with China. I have a real critical eye towards how things are going here and see lots of opportunity for success or failure (it’s still 50/50 as to which way it goes). When I leave China in about two years I will breath a sigh of relief but I will truly be better informed as to what is really going on.


I appreciate the thought you’ve put into your response. To begin with, my perception of China was sculpted from my visit to Beijing and other provinces a little more than 5 months ago. Granted, a couple of weeks doesn’t really lend itself to a broad perspective, but I did get a dose of what I speak.

a. I had to hand over my passport to use the internet at a public cafe. What may or may not be allowed is not the point. The fact that information is controlled limits the capacity of the people to understand the problems they face, especially when buisness crosses politics, which we’ve established happens from time to time.

b. Mao’s face was all over the place. It’d be like walking around germany and seeing pictures of hitler hanging everywhere, and millions of people walking around without knowledge or reflection of what that image means. Deception on such a massive scale is disturbing, especially considering the degree of the cover up.

c. China may be doing this, but from what my ex-pat friends in China have told me from their own experience, what the Chinese government says, and what the Chinese government does, are often two completely different, if not directly opposite things. Heads roll at the top levels, and thousands of factories close? Sounds like a political powerplay to me, and there’s no way the government publicly admitted failure to its people. If they did, I’d like to see the press release.

d. Unlikely. Perfect english would be a bit suspect, don’t you think? I have to say though, it’s improbable that China would have much to gain from subverting our forums.

e. Does it take a highly educated person to know that something’s wrong when an entire class of second graders would rather hand in a blank piece of paper than draw something of their own creation for credit? As for the change, I think you’re right. They’re not stupid, and I imagine most Asian nations are recognizing, on some level, that ceativity is important to a future economy. That said, the educational system, social trends, and buisness institutions have a lot of momentum going the other way. Young Chinese/Asian IDers have a lot standing in their way, but who knows, it could make them stronger.

If I’m way off base on something factual, let me know, but for the most part, I have either had first hand experiences, or multiple conversations with those who have had such experiences for themselves. China is a Massive place and to speak in generalities is always a fools errand, but alas, we do what we must. I know some of my statements line up with sterotypes, but if the shoe fits…


It is so refreshing to have a discussion without the usual name calling, etc… that is often found at this forum. I also appreciate your very rational and well explained points.

a) Handing over your passport at an internet cafe - Wow that is bad. I am usually going to factories or hotels where no questions are asked, so I have to concede to your point that control of source has an effect.

b) Mao’s face everywhere - I spend most of time in southern China and have seen an almost absence of Mao. Maybe it is because Guangdong was the home of the Kuomantang which was kicked out by Mao (to Taiwan).

c) I have to differ, in a way, with your expat friend. The Communist Party (in Beijing) wants these problems solved and does create legislation to stop it. But China has a real problem with implementation at the local level. So yes, often it seems that they say one thing but do another. The problem is the doers do not always follow what the sayers say.

d) Agreed :slight_smile:

e) Sorry, I did not mean to imply your English teaching friends were stupid. Just maybe not always trained in seeing creativity. Yes it still has to be coaxed out because as the old Chinese proverb says “The tall nail gets the hammer”. Once get them to realize that the hammer is not coming they outwardly display their pent up creativity in amazing ways.

China is a Massive place - Amen to that :slight_smile:

Let’s not forget that the U.S. is polluter #1 in the world, as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. Let’s see who moves faster - the U.S. or China - to clean up their act.