Saturday, January 30, 2010
Chinese Chauffeurs during the 1920s and "The Squeeze"
Hi folks -- I had a student come in to my office the other day wondering about doing a term paper on the history of the automotive industry in China. In searching the literature I found this curious Department of Commerce report from 1923 entitled "Automotive Market in China, British Malaya, and Chosen." I promptly ordered this report from Ohiolink, and it had a number of interesting bits after review that I wanted to share with you. In 1923, no cars were manufactured in China, although there was a trade in body construction. The above photo shows an example of what was said to be the very fine work of Chinese craftsmen in body construction, and particularly paint and upholstery.
Secondly, there was a discussion of the corruption associated with Chinese chauffeurs. The term used is "the squeeze" and is discussed on page 11:
"Hardly anyone who has ever done business with the Chinese has failed to come into contact wit the multifarious forms of petty graft known to foreigners as "squeeze" and to the Chinese as "cumshaw." It is the greatest tax which industry and life of the country generally had to bear. Foreigners have tried to stamp it out, but in many lines of activity they have given up the task as hopeless. Wherever there is a transaction in buying or selling, hiring or "firing" is involved, it is almost certain that the squeeze enters. in many cases the acceptance of the squeeze is quite open, and there are many Chinese who regard it as a right. This is especially true in the automotive industry.
Squeeze beings with the sale of the car and follows it through its career until the last of its parts are utterly useless. Owners know that their chauffeurs are constantly collecting commissions, and many are aware that their employees are not above taking nuts and bolts to be sold to the native repair shops which will alter be put the same nuts and bolts back on the car when the chauffeur brings it in for repair, but they are helpless. the owners claim that it serves no purpose to discharge a pilfering chauffeur, for his successor will be no better. one of the sources of revenue to the chauffeur is the dale of gasoline drained from the car's tank and sold to native dealers at one-third its value."