And Finally

Horns of a dilemma

China-made World Cup items spark controversy

Horns of a dilemma

Blowing China’s trumpet

China may not have sent a football team to South Africa. But it is still having a major influence on the tournament. Top billing goes to two of the most unloved Made in China items of the moment: the Jabulani ball and the vuvuzela horn.

Whether the duo should be a source of national pride is debatable – an alternative discussion is which of the two should be banned first. Ask a goalkeeper, of course, and the Jabulani would be booted straight into touch. But most of the rest of us would want to see the vuvuzela get the immediate trashing.

The tournament’s match ball was designed in the UK, and is sold under the Adidas label. But millions of the Jabulanis have been machine-moulded in factories in Jiangxi.

Supposedly, the ball’s high-tech panels make it rounder, which means that it can be more accurately struck. “Appalling” is the preferred verdict of Spain’s Iker Casillas, while England’s David James opts for a similarly aggrieved “dreadful”. Chile’s Claudio Bravo mutters darkly of a conspiracy “to prejudice goalkeepers”.

The vuvuzela is more controversial still. The horn’s origins are disputed, although it wasn’t until 10 years ago that a South Africa-based company began to mass-produce a plastic version. But as much as 90% of global production has now moved to a small number of factories in Zhejiang and Guangdong, the Chinese press reports.

Apparently, the vuvuzela at full volume can hit 127 decibels, not quite enough to match a jet engine’s roar but louder than a chainsaw in action. Inconveniently, it more than drowns out a referee’s whistle too. Not that the horn doesn’t have a fewpractical benefits. The National Business Daily was keen to mention another everyday application in South Africa: for frightening off baboons.

Even so, the vuvuzela doesn’t sound like much of a money-spinner, at a wholesale price of about Rmb2 (29 cents) apiece, on which factory bosses will be earning only a small profit. The horns are currently being sold in South Africa for up to $7.80. The Jabulani sells for a more impressive $150.

Jiao Chen, from the Centre of Economy and Diplomacy at Tsinghua University, agrees that there isn’t much major profit opportunity in vuvuzelas. “You don’t have a brand name on it,” he told the Global Times. “What you are doing is just producing goods that could give you a finger in a pie.“

That won’t stop factory bosses trying to sell as many horns as they can. And not just for export: the Chinese are buying them too, even though playing them can take some practice. “Some fans keep blowing until they lose their voice,” one shop owner told the Xinmin Evening News.

Not everyone is as keen to learn. “I was awakened at three in the morning by great noises from the neighbourhood,” a Hangzhou native complained to Qianjiang Evening News. “I found people blowing vuvuzelas long and loud, as Brazil had just scored a goal.“

One possible solution? Boost production of another item now making the World Cup rounds: ear plugs called Vuvu-Stops.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.