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Cheap Chinese Plastic?

Posted by Lyichir , Dec 10 2015 · 540 views

rant Lego
Just saw someone in another topic complain about "cheap Chinese plastic" being responsible for certain minifigure parts fluorescing under a blacklight, and it got me in rant mode. But since it'd be wildly off-topic there, I'm posting it here in my blog:

The myth of "cheap Chinese plastic" really needs to go away. It's not like ABS is some mythical formula only found in Denmark—it's a common material for manufacturing the world over. The only reason Lego's use of it is even remotely notable is that their competitors mostly use cheaper plastics.

The more likely culprit for fluorescent reds and greens is the dye, which Lego sources from various distributors around the world. In China, the dye, like the plastic, is sourced locally, not because Chinese dye is phenomenally cheaper, but because if you're manufacturing in China anyway (which Lego does for specialty parts like figs that benefit from cheaper LABOR, not cheaper MATERIALS), it's vastly impractical to ship either plastics or dye across the world and pay ridiculous import fees for something you can get for market price within the same country. The fluorescence is an inconsistency, but not because of any difference in cost so much as an aspect of color-matching that Lego doesn't test for. Why should they? Lego has literally never included a blacklight in a set or designed a set with that specific display method in mind

I'm really sick of the widespread and slightly racist notion that all Chinese goods are sub-par quality. Plenty of high-quality manufactured items, from iPhones to Lego, are produced there, simply because laborers there are accustomed to much lower wages than workers elsewhere—a boon for complex or detailed work that can't be automated to the same extent as other goods. There's an argument to be made that outsourcing labor to countries like China is exploitative and only perpetuates the lower standard for human rights there, but in all the whining I've seen from AFOLs about Chinese production, I don't think I've EVER seen anyone whose primary concern was the standard of living for the workers who made their plastic toys. Nope. All they ever care about is the end product, and if there are any deficiencies at all (real or imagined), the squinty-eyed Asians are the easiest scapegoats.



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The word I used was "cheaper" appended with a "probably". But, sure, go ahead and make me sound like a racist.
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The word I used was "cheaper" appended with a "probably". But, sure, go ahead and make me sound like a racist.

It's not just you, and I wasn't trying to accuse you specifically of being racist. I apologize if it came out like that. But the whole debate tends to get pretty toxic, and I'm absolutely sick of it.

 

There's a somewhat related topic on Brickset currently about a bootleg version of the Temple of Airjitzu set, and it's frankly a little appalling what sort of discourse is considered normal in the community. Bootleg sets are as old as the hills, and aren't unique to China, but members there are talking about how things like this are "inevitable" with Lego shifting production there, with the implicit message that those sneaky Chinese can't be trusted and lack Western moral values. Is there a possibility that Chinese production might abet bootleggers in that country? Sure—but I don't remember Lego fans demanding that Lego pull out of Eastern Europe back when most bootleg sets came from there.

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Fair enough, although I think I see your problem; everybody on Brickset seems to be pretty toxic. :P (But like seriously, I just avoid reading discussions there anymore, some people taking their hobby waaaay too seriously.)

I mean, quality was certainly a concern a few years ago, but it has gotten better, and I was just tossing an offhand comment about stuff like that. Nothing against the Chinese. Heck, the largest ripoffs of Lego come from Canada. :P

:music:
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Fair enough, although I think I see your problem; everybody on Brickset seems to be pretty toxic. :P (But like seriously, I just avoid reading discussions there anymore, some people taking their hobby waaaay too seriously.)

I mean, quality was certainly a concern a few years ago, but it has gotten better, and I was just tossing an offhand comment about stuff like that. Nothing against the Chinese. Heck, the largest ripoffs of Lego come from Canada. :P

:music:

I understand. To be honest, it was really the offhand nature of your comment that got to me in the first place.

 

The complaints about "cheap Chinese plastic" started pretty much solely based on unfounded xenophobic paranoia. After Lego first announced that they were moving production to China, pretty much ANY quality error could be expected to be blamed on that—even on sets that had no parts produced in China, like the brittle joints in 2007 Bionicle sets. Then, when Chinese production DID start, any and all quality defects in Chinese-produced parts were treated as if it proved that Chinese production itself were faulty, despite some of those issues being typical "growing pains" for a new factory and workforce and others being issues that were not at all atypical for Lego parts from any of its factories.

 

At this point, the narrative has gotten so widespread that the supposed inferiority of "Chinese plastic" is almost considered common knowledge, to the point where it's considered a valid explanation for any inconsistency under the sun. So when you, a member of the community whom I know and respect, just tossed that out as if cutting corners was the most obvious explanation for the weird fluorescence of some Chinese-produced minifigure parts, it kind of set me off—not because your comment was actually all that bad but because I've been dealing with those persistent complaints for so freaking long. But looking back, I definitely overreacted, and I apologize. I think I'm going to go ahead and turn off comments for this blog post—it was pretty passive aggressive and i regret making it.

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