In the not-too-distant past, I've seen several references to Taiwan's old reputation as the font of all consumer junk. You know, the way Taiwan used to be, with it's clogged skies and sooty factories, turning out cargo ships worth of Barbie dolls, second-rate microwaves and vacuum cleaners, cheap clothing and plastic items - basically all the stuff that's now Made in China, busy across the strait ensootening China's air.
There's this post on Regretsy: "Eventually. Hot Topic starts making their own version in Taiwan, and the circle of ****ery is complete".
There's this post, clearly confusing "Made in China" with "Made in Taiwan" - a recurring theme I saw when planning my wedding - people either praising or complaining about knock-off items "Made in China" or "Made in Taiwan". I've seen this on older forum posts, including in private forums (from which I don't feel comfortable taking quotes - if people prefer to keep their forum private I will respect that).
Here's the thing - all of us who've been to Taiwan, or even follow global economics, know that while you can still find consumer products Made in Taiwan, really, the vast majority of them are now Made in China, or Made in [Insert Southeast Asian Country/India/Bangladesh Here]. Taiwan's gone from making the world's cheap pens and plastic dolls to making the world's semiconductors, research and development heavy ODM computer products, high-end whiskey (I'm not sure it's as good as they say it is, though) and top-rate tea.
So...what is it with people back home still associating Taiwan with, well, cheap pens and that Dustvac they once had that broke after six uses? Is it that they're just not aware that little bits&bobs and shoddy electronics are no longer made here, or do they not care, or worst of all - do they think that Taiwan and China are basically the same place? Do they really think that all of their super-fancy computer products are made in the USA and that Taiwan is stuck with flashlights and knock-off handbags? Heck, the super-fancy computer products are often designed in Taiwan and yet, like your umbrella, also made in China (not always, though - some Taiwan design manufacturers do have Taiwan-based fabs).
I don't really have an answer to that, but wanted to comment on the phenomenon.
And yet...here in Taiwan I'm seeing a move in the opposite direction.
There are tons of indie designers here that are gaining a lot of local support, both for their talent and for the fact that they are Taiwan-based. The weekend market at the Red House Theater is packed, and a similar (but pricier) marketplace set up in a building at Kaohsiung's Pier 2 was equally crowded when we were there. I'm a big fan of the handmade soaps, locally-designed and made earrings and necklaces, reprinted vintage advertisement postcards and locally designed and printed postcards and notebooks to be found all about, as well.
I've also been hearing more and more, as my years in Taiwan march on, from friends and students that they purposely buy and prefer to spend their money on products Made in Taiwan - that rather than treat the label with derision, as many in the West still do, they treat it as a source of pride. As the quality of Taiwan-made products has increased quite a bit, this makes a lot of sense. If you look around, it's rarer to see "Made in Taiwan" stamped surreptitiously on the underside of something, a little half-embarrassed mark in plastic where it's hoped that nobody will catch a glimpse.
Now, you see it sewn right on the side of hiking boots (my old pair, which were worn through due not to lack of quality but simply how much I wore them, had just this label prominently displayed). You see it stamped on the front of food products in proud sans serif. You see it on stickers announcing that these batteries or that scarf were made not in a dodgy factory in China - which is fairly often run by a smarmy Taiwanese boss, but we won't go there today - but produced in Taiwan and therefore of superior quality.
I have students who always buy I-mei sweets ("guaranteed to be made in Taiwan", said one), who give their college-bound children, nieces and nephews Datong electric cooking pots ("it's kind of a tradition. Every college student has one. It would be so sad if they stopped making them"), purposely choose a Chimei TV even though other brands seem more prestigious, and are happy to say they own an Acer computer - which, while not as durable as the competition, do make up for it in price. The other day I was given an ice cream sandwich (probably I-mei, but I'm not sure) in class - they had hundreds of extras in their freezer, left over from a trade expo - with "MADE IN TAIWAN" printed in huge white letters in a black circle on the front.
"Made in Taiwan is a sign of quality," one student remarked, "although I'll buy imported products as long as they're not..." (shudder)..."made in China. Of course sometimes I can't avoid it, but I try."
I'm no social scientist, but I'm going to put my neck out there and say that this feels like a trend to me - just like the old "Made in the USA" or "Buy USA Made" hullaballoo back home.
I, for one, am happy to see it.