Rectification of Names, 鸿海 Division

This is interesting. If you looked at the inside pages of the Wall Street Journal today, you saw a valuable story from China about the challenges facing an Apple subcontractor called Hon Hai Precision Industry. And in case you missed the name, I've highlighted the 20-odd places where Hon Hai is used in the story plus accompanying map and captions.


Now you might be thinking: Oh, no! Another Chinese company whose name I have to remember and that I have to care about. Calm down. As people who operate in China know, and as one "by the way" clause in the story points out, Hon Hai Precision Industry is none other than our old friend .... Foxconn.

From the start Foxconn, like a number of other Asian-based companies, has operated under an assortment of names:
  • Foxconn, the name you have come to know and love;
  • Hon Hai, its "real" name, written as 鸿海 in the simplified Chinese characters used in the mainland and 鴻海 in the traditional characters used in the company's home base of Taiwan;
  • 富士康, or Fushikang [approx 'Foxconn'], which is what the Chinese characters over its factory gates say.

To me this is interesting, as opposed to "mattering" in any heavy-weather way. The interest is that someone at the Journal has apparently decided that the paper is going to tough-love its readership into using proper Chinese names for foreign companies -- at the obvious expense of short- and medium-term comprehensibility. That is: if you were scanning the paper for news about Foxconn and saw a map with "Hon Hai Production Sites," odds are that for most Americans the synapses wouldn't fire.

Not long ago, the Journal was making the opposite trade-off between comprehensibility and linguistic fidelity. For instance in September:


The accompanying video, full of interesting insights about changing labor conditions in China, refers to "Foxconn" as consistently as today's story talks about "Hon Hai." FWIW.

A different level of interest lies in two quotes in today's story from Louis Woo, an official of 鸿海 / 富士康 who plays a major role in my current story that is part of our cover package (subscribe! *). One of his comments is about the importance of speed, rather than rock-bottom production cost, as the forcing factor in where and how the world's work is done. He says:
Introducing robots into the production of many consumer electronics would be inefficient because of their short production cycles, said Hon Hai spokesman Louis Woo. "By the time you are familiar or stabilize the process it is already the end of the product [manufacturing cycle]. Then there is another product coming up," he said.
The other is Woo's comment about changes in the work force like those I observed and reported on in my latest trip to southern China:
"The younger generation of workers these days, they don't want to continue to do boring, mundane, repetitive work, especially in the manufacturing sector," he said. "We have to begin to add more value in the process, otherwise it will be difficult to attract a young generation of workers."
Again, I am noting-for-the-record this aspect of the Journal's story, rather than complaining about it. I am thinking, though, that I need to change the title of my own article. Obviously the updated version should be: "Mr. Zhongguo Comes to America."
* Yes, yes, this is my own little joke. But I've learned recently that it's more than a joke. Actual paid subscriptions, both the "real" magazine and the soon-to-be-remarkably-improved iPad version, remain a quite significant part of our revenue. So, it's the holiday season! Give early and often. And thanks to the many people who've written in saying that they subscribe.