I shall never forget my visit to the first CHINAFISH show in 1991.
The exhibition was held close to the entrance of the Forbidden City, right in the centre of Beijing.
I was driven to the show by an old man on a tricycle who staggered along the main avenue that led from the Shangri-La hotel to Tiananmen Square.This wide street was a sea of bicycles where only the occasional car could to be seen.
The show was basically uninteresting, only a few manufacturers were present and these proposed mainly some very low quality fishing poles.
Some foreign companies were also exhibiting, aiming to establish a presence in the Chinese domestic market.
A team of Japanese staff from Daiwa were displaying a nice set of reels that hung on the walls of their small booth.
On the afternoon of the second day, I visited the Daiwa booth again, but it was empty. The fellows were just sitting there with a desperate look on their faces: A crowd of eager visitors from the general public had suddenly swamped their small booth during the morning. By the time the crowd had left, none of the fancy new reels remained to be seen.
Things started moving rapidly a few years later:
The Korean Tackle manufacturers chose Weihai as a well positioned region for the delocalisation of their labour-intensive production and Weihai rapidly established itself as the world’s capital of Fishing Tackle manufacturing.
The mid-nineties became adventurous years for the product manager looking for new sources in mainland China. Air travel was still rickety and domestic flights could not be booked through overseas travel agencies but had to be purchased locally. More and more manufacturers were setting-up shop and you needed a strong stomach and a solid liver to withstand the exhilarated locals when they took you out for a banquet lunch or an after-meeting dinner. Many of them, plumbers or craftsmen with no-more than a small workshop had suddenly, from one day to the other, started receiving million dollar purchase orders from Wall-Mart buyers and such.
These pioneers had had the flair to develop a reel seat, a rod, a reel or a lure and advise a few trading agents of their endeavour. They were celebrating their newly acquired riches and their sudden access to the world market.
My mother had taught me always to finish the food that was on my plate. These were basic table manners in the West. It took me however a few years and many a bursting stomach to learn that the Chinese custom was to make sure that the guest left the table fully satisfied and that as long as I emptied my platter, more food kept coming and more dishes piled up in the centre of the rotating table.
Weihai was famous for its seafood and my new suppliers, noticing I was an adventurous eater made me discover all shapes and sizes of worms, slugs, and creepy crawlers. Whenever I mentioned that a particular sea-worm was popular bait in Europe, they would find it strange that anyone would want to fish with such expensive and delicate food!
The newly self-made Chinese Fishing Tackle manufacturers celebrated their success with numerous toasts of beer and rice liquor, often attempting to drink the customer under the table, only to end up red-faced and out-of-order long before their prey.
Being driven from factory to factory meant sitting trembling in the rear of a small car, with the agent and the supplier both happily shouting in their mobile phones, while the driver hooted at every living thing and vehicle that crossed his path.
The roads were scattered with enormous holes, piles of dirt and stones. Driving at night was a real hazard!
Public and factory toilets were easy to find. You only needed to follow the strong smell that emanated in all the buildings including the newest airports. Cities were basically composed of large avenues surrounded by shacks, separated from the road by an area of wasteland composed of mud and garbage.
Road works were executed by armies of workmen, generally dressed in their Sunday suits with little or no heavy machinery at their disposal.
In the last few years, ever since the real boom started in China and the country got nominated as the host for the 2008 Olympics, the improvements have been absolutely staggering.
It is with total amazement that the seasoned traveller notices the progress that has been achieved all over the Peoples Republic of China. I remember attending an ASA seminar in 2003 and listening to a speech about the development of China. The speaker, an experienced international affairs consultant attempted to convince the audience that China could never develop in a sustainable manner as it lacked raw materials, energy and fresh water. Well, I believed that gentleman to be wrong at the time and even more presently. Not only is China securing its supply of fresh water through ambitious dams and better water management; it has recently established strategic relations with most African countries thus securing a rich source of raw materials and fossil fuel and creating further outlets for its domestic production of consumer goods.
What the French said in 1973, after the first energy crisis: “On n’a pas de pétrole, mais on a des idées!” (“We have no oil but we have ideas!”) is totally applicable to China.
The Middle Kingdom is steaming on its way to world dominance at a staggering speed and never has the concept of free economy been so applicable and so thoroughly applied.
The now massive domestic airlines run on time, luggage is quickly delivered, hotels are new, more and more advanced buildings, civil construction and roads are sprouting all over the country at a bullish pace and the Chinese universities claim to produce 600.000 new engineers every year.
The young new Chinese graduates are the latest yuppie-style consumers and they juggle as easily as their European or American equivalents with mobile phones, internet communications and MP3 players.
Chinese fishing tackle manufacturers have now plenty of English speaking staff and this has done away with the need for translators and further improved efficiency in communications.
The Olympic committee and the local governments have contracted the most advanced and innovative architects for the construction of the Olympic venues. It is a real pleasure for the eyes to see a country making such efforts in modern artistic architecture.
Mentalities are also changing and the example is coming from the top.
As it strives to organize the most successful Olympic Games ever, the country has engaged on a massive educational program for the general public.
I sat in a plane this week, watching a 20 minute program explaining how to be polite and welcoming to the foreigner visiting the country. The results are already visible. Efficiency combined with Asian charm is the recipe to success and China is right on the path.
Real estate prices are soaring at double digit rates and city centres are reaching for the skies with more and more futuristic looking sky-scrapers.
The country has engaged on a national cleaning-up effort and all the motorways and large avenues are surrounded by large areas of landscaped vegetation encasing massive beds of roses.
Many old and unsound Fishing Tackle factories have been demolished and the new industrial buildings are the demonstration of the confidence of management in the long-term role of China as the worldwide source for our trade.
Manufactured products are now reaching premium grade as engineering skills permanently keep on improving and “cheap and Chinese” is becoming an endangered species.
Easy access to cheap labour is nevertheless becoming a problem for the factories as workers strive to improve their living standards and companies compete for skilled blue collar workers.
Will China remain a strong supplier of Fishing Tackle in the next decade?
_I believe it will!
The permanently improving engineering qualities and the dynamism of the companies to innovate and search for new markets ensure a stable future for the Chinese Fishing Tackle industry.
Should we worry that some prices are increasing presently?
_Most of the increases are coming from the cost of the raw materials and not yet from increases in the labour charge.
The shortage of labour could jeopardise the production of labour-intensive items such as snelled hooks, rigs and cheap rods and reels in the medium term but I believe factories will respond by improving the working conditions, offering more perks such as on-site residences and canteens thus stabilising their specialized workforce.
Productivity and efficiency gains combined with the acumen of China’s exceptional business minded culture will do the rest.
Louis Tchertoff 2007-05-30