Chabuduo: China's culture of "it's fine"

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Don’t forget chabuduo’s close cousin, meibanfa (“There’s no way”). Usually this is the first response one will receive upon ponting out a problem which no one really feels like taking responsibility for.

…though on the balance, I may have just been one of those troublesome foreigners that just never “got” the system.


They are not built well

Tis true, tis so true.


Shou ga nai!


Gong Hey Fat Choy!

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People point to building disasters in China as proof of a lack of Chinese craftsmanship or engineering, but let’s be clear, it’s a lack of - or failure to enforce, which amounts to the same thing - government regulation, specifically building codes. Whenever some Republican talks about how we need, to compete with China, to get rid of government regulation, I think of things like this, the fatally contaminated food products, and the pollution so bad it’s knocking the hell out of life expectancy. Yeah, sounds great.


Moushiwake arimasen deshita!

(Translated: “I can’t help you, but at least I can be civil about it.”)


It’s curious. On a historical scale(the kind of very broad, vague, handwaving one that doesn’t require me to remember specific timelines; just to have been to a bunch of museums), China really has a very impressive reputation for precision craftsmanship(priceless Ming vase, not just a weapon in Worms Armageddon…), not dissimilar to Japan or Korea; and while ‘made in China’ is often a bad sign because it means ‘we’ve done everything we can to cut costs on this, moving to China was only one step’, one cannot really doubt their ability to produce high-spec gear when the contract actually specifies that.

Is it just that most of the historical shoddiness rotted away/never made it into a museum? Did the…rather brutally tumultuous… recent Chinese history throw a spanner in the works in a way that(similarly dramatic, though different in kind) upheaval in Japan and Korea did not?

In this vein, I’ve never understood the deal with Chinese software: Russia, and the former Soviet republics generally, have a very strong reputation in that area; despite never having matched the west in semiconductor fabrication and computer availability; more or less falling apart at the end of the cold war; and not developing the substantial electronics manufacturing base that China and some others have. Even when they essentially had no computers; they still had strong math and computer science.

China, despite having a great many people, some of them very sharp indeed, and a reputation for math education, is usually atrocious news when it comes to software. I’ve never understood why.


If you’re wondering where the Chinese precision craftsmanship goes, well, chances are you’re looking at it right now.

I wouldn’t say that. An iPhone may be a precision piece, but one person did not build it. And even if they did it was designed and engineered to be assembled relatively easily with the correct tools in a quick fashion.

I think a lot of their craftsmanship goes into modifying what is already there:


Everytime someone talks about our future Chinese or Indian overlords I think about these things. I feel like in America we are riding a wave of infrastructure surplus and as we reach the end of life of our infrstructure backbones I worry that we won’t rebuild in the same vein. How can they catch up when they have to rebuild and deal with stuff that is so roughshod/ramchackle.


Slightly different nuance, I think. At least in Japan, you can generally be certain that engineered things will work as designed and if there is a problem, someone somewhere will commit sepuku for it. From what I remember, this phrase is used more to signal that the current system can’t be changed and we just have to accept the shitty things it deals us.


Me: What!!! I just got a 300,000 yen parking ticket for parking in front of my house?
You: Shou ga nai!


I think your analysis is working at the wrong level.

“China” produces plenty of fine craftsmanship, such as the most popular drones in the world. When some group of Chinese decides they want to do quality work, they do. Just like any other human society.

For example, Japan was associated with crap manufacturing until a group of Japanese engineers invited an obscure American to a meeting.

The relevant question is, “why are large chunks of Chinese society apparently willing to live with this.”

I don’t know the answer, but I note that Chinese political leadership heavily invests in keeping its citizens voiceless and feeling powerless. Curiously, Japanese manufacturing became quality focused during period that Democracy was forced on Japan at gunpoint.


In high school, my Chinese teacher, a wonderful character (persona non grata in both the PRC and Taiwan) told the class a Chinese story explaining the “chabuduo” philosophy. I don’t remember exactly all the details, but it ran something like this:

The grandfather of the family gets sick, and seems to be on his deathbed. “Chabuduo” say all of his family.
They go to a Chinese herbalist for medicine for him and he gives them a bunch of herbs to steep in hot water, and warns them they mustn’t let them boil. They take the herbs home and the mom puts them on the stove, and then forgets the pot until it’s boiling away merrily. “Chabuduo” they all say, and give it to him anyway.
The grandfather drinks the medicine, and almost immediately gets worse and dies. “Chabuduo” they all say.
Then the police come to investigate, and arrests the whole family for homicide. “Chabuduo” they all say.


My step father from rural Colorado uses the popular American version quite liberally to announce the level of effort and attention to detail that he’s willing to invest in a specific task: “Good enough for government work.” You don’t want to know what popular American phrases he uses to describe Chinese people…


I would say lack of engineering is a result of failure to enforce. I´m sure there are plenty engineers in China who know perfectly well what is done is severely faulty, but don´t have the power to do anything about it.

For a project I was working on recently, I had to research regulations of a number of countries regarding safety inspection periods and methods for certain kinds of publicly used structures. Turns out in China they aren´t inspected at all.


Sounds like China needs a new cult


I’m wondering if it’s really wise to apply such a broad brush when describing cultural attitudes towards precision.


I think this may be related to an education system that values knowing the correct answer over critical and creative thinking. As the average Chinese student when an event took place (such as a local civil conflict) and you get the answer. Ask them why and it’s harder to get an answer. Ask them what should have taken place and you are off script. This may be related to the importance of exam scores when it comes to determining the rest of your education.


Richard Feynman made a very similar criticism of the educational system of um… Brazil, I think. Yeah, Brazil.


A friend told me a story last night about watermelon farmers who were forced by their district manager to overspray the watermelon seeds with growth hormone. Because the plants weren’t ripening fast enough to meet his production quota.

The problem was that even after being picked from the vine the watermelons kept growing. In markets and homes people had to deal with the problem of exploding watermelons.