The problem of “Chaobuduo” (and how it effects reproduction furnitures)

 Chinese workers love to use the phrase ¨cha bu duo¨ (pronounced "Cha Boo Daul)
Chinese workers love to use the phrase ¨cha bu duo¨ (pronounced “Cha Boo Daul)

Chinese workers love to use the phrase ¨cha bu duo¨ 差不多 (pronounced “Cha Boo Daul) which directly translates to ¨not very far off  (meaning approximately or roughly)¨ Unfortunately, in almost all case it usually works out to be not even close,  in otherwords,  “cha tai duo”  (meaning way too far off).   Workers see no need for exact matches and approximations are always seen as “close enough.”

In fact, at times it almost seems like Chinese workers pride themselves on their ability to do things as “cha ba duo” as humanly possible – as if there is some secret, unspoken competition to see just how far you can go while still getting away with it.  Will they accept 80% correct? 70%? What about close but not exact?

Some real world effects of “Chaobuduo” on our industry:

  • The stool, bench or chair, which does will not balance evenly on the floor (probably when you were pointing this out at the factory, you were told “don’t worry, its not the chairs feet but the rough floor of the factory which is uneven.)

  • You asked for ten and they left three behind. (chaobuduo).
  • On that custom-made cabinet, everything was done right according to the written specifications with the exception of the specific “type of finish” you requested.
  • It was “mandarin orange-yellow” instead of “lemon-yellow.”
  • The outside of the cabinet was perfect – the insides of the cabinet were left unstained.

Preventing Chao Bu Duo

One can see how this clearly presents real challenges when building products to spec.  Some suggestions on avoiding (or if you are lucky outright preventing) the “Cha Bu Duo” problem:

  • Be very clear in what your expectations are (and the desired result). Assuming that the Chinese worker making your lamp will know better then to not use the cheapest (and most dangerous) type of wiring is a receipe for disaster.
  • Leave no details undiscussed. This means colors, fittings, wiring, materials, edges, insides, outsides, undersides, oversides, you name it – if you don’t discuss it and give instructions beforehand, then you are probably in for a surprise.
  • Don’t fall for the “well some customers prefer it to be this way” trick. And yes, this IS a trick. Maybe it is true that somewhere these is a customer who does not mind that half the cabinet is unstained or the fittings missing or any other excuse.  If YOU didn’t specifically ask for it to be that way, then its not according to specifications.
  • Be willing to pay a little extra. Maybe this goes countrary to what works back home, but in China, paying rock bottom prices will also get you rock bottom quality and even more so importantly, rock bottom attention to the important details. Unless you are Walmart, there is no high quality at rock bottom prices in China. In fact, Walmart only gets “reasonable quality at rock bottom prices.” The lower the price the more you encourage them to “just knock it out and get on with the next one.”

Related Books & Reading

Classic Chinese furniture: Ming and early Qing dynastiesClassic Chinese furniture: Ming and early Qing dynastiesWritten by an authoritative furniture historian, Wang Shixiang, this book provides beautiful color plates, basic knowledge, and detailed descriptions of many important pieces.
Classical Chinese Furniture from Weiyang: Historical Introduction and Descriptive Analysis Vol. I & II (Rasika)Classical Chinese Furniture from Weiyang: Historical Introduction and Descriptive Analysis Vol. I & II (Rasika)In recent decades, Chinese classical furniture from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries has become a major focus of international collector... Read More >

4 Comment

  1. Will Guffey says:

    As with other articles on the “Blog” this was an enjoyable and informative read. It makes plain some of the real world challenges that must be dealt with in sourcing goods from China.

    Obviously, though, dealing in an environment where “fudge factors” are inherent to the system is not acceptable for purposes of building long-term business relationships. I am, thus, curious as to whether a guild concept could be created whereby members would join the guild based on clear guidelines regarding ethics and responsibility and could be “booted” from the guild (and lose face) for not performing honorably. Something akin to the eBay feedback system which is understood in many parts of the world. Only, in this case the feedback would come from customers of the vendors in a business-to-business context…rather than a retail context.

    Food for thought. An entertaining and informative blog. I hope it will serve as a catylst for increasing accountability among Asian vendors in a broader sense.

    Will

  2. Roger says:

    This is actually a great idea. I suppose first we would need to develop the criteria in which they are evaluated against. Also, some sort of fair guidelines for resolving problems when/if they arrise.

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