My Chinese business anecdote

It has been a year since the world began to realize the severity of the pandemic that began in Wuhan, China. The Chinese government has blocked efforts to determine whether the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has hosted a Biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) lab since 2015. Anyone familiar with Chinese standards of care and compliance can be forgiven for questioning the capacity of Chinese to safely operate a BSL-4 lab. Imagine if the same people who “translate” Chinese product instructions into English translate specifications for containing the most dangerous biological pathogens into Chinese.

A few years ago a Chinese exporter of gun scopes contacted me to ask if I could recommend him to domestic distributors.  He said his company was already making scopes for the U.S. market, but selling them white-label instead of under their own brand.  I figured they were probably supplying the chintzy scopes used for Airsoft, not optics that would meet the standards of even the cheapest American firearm shooter.  He insisted their scopes were being sold for use on real firearms.

Skeptical, I talked to him further and emphasized, “You’re not going to succeed here if you can’t meet the minimum performance standards and specifications everyone expects.”  I went back and forth a few times explaining and detailing the various standards and levels of performance.  He declared that their scopes would meet the most stringent specifications I had described – that they actually test their products to meet those – except he wasn’t sure about how they would hold up on medium cartridge recoil.  So I said, “I can run the tests including heavy recoil on medium cartridges.  Send me some samples.  I’ll test them exactly the way I described, and if they are up to spec I’ll publish my review and introduce you to some distributors that will take a serious look.”  Soon I got three scopes in the mail.  The very first test was water immersion.  (The second test is normally freezing to condense and show any tiny amount of water vapor that might have penetrated during the first test.)  I explicitly told him via email that water immersion would be the first test.  So I put two of the three scopes in a shallow tub of water and bubbles started coming out of them.  I hadn’t even gotten to the standard test depth of 1 meter.  We’re talking like 2 inches, and these things were filling with water like a submarine with a screen door.  A day later the external fasteners on one of the scopes showed visible rust. I emailed him photos, and noted that I was disappointed that I hadn’t even gotten to the point where I look through the scopes.  Now, despite this abysmal product sample failure, he still followed up with me several times over the next year.  Each time I said, “I can’t help you if you can’t show me a product that does what you say it will do.”  Apparently statements like that don’t translate into Chinese….