In China Standards are Mandatory

The second main project was our participation in China’s standardization work. In China responsibility for establishing standards was in the hands of State organizations. Market players, as manufacturers and opticians, played only an advisory role. So China’s delegation was a strong representative of the consumer position. China was only starting to implicate itself into ISO work and was still very active to develop local  standards. One of the reasons was the fact, that certain ISO product standards were not yet finished. For example the Chinese market of spectacle lens surface coatings was in strong development and criteria as scratch resistance of lens surfaces and durability of AR coatings were of high importance for wearer value. Coating manufacturers used for the development of these added values complex combinations of different tests, including the time consuming wearer test. Such a complicated procedure was not practicable for the Chinese Testing Institutes, which had to evaluate and assess continuously physical and chemical resistance of different lens series.

So some engineers, working for these  Testing Institutes tried, for example, to determine the mechanical resistance of lens surfaces applying simplified tests, as for example steel wool scratching, and found rankings for different lens types, which did not agree with the experience of the spectacle lens wearer. This was due to the simple fact that the abrasion mechanism of a lens surface under real life conditions is more complicated than its simulation by a number of steel wool scratches. The testing and certification of the products on the market were the business of these institutes and they defended their simplified physical models with tenacity. So we had long and exhausting discussions  about the right test philosophy. What made the discussion particularly delicate, was the fact, that in China compliance with standards is obligatory. So a product could be of good quality in real wearing conditions, but would not pass the standardized test and could therefore not be sold on the market. So all our test series with the Chinese experts and the following negotiations were always strongly supported by our subsidiary. In order to convince the Chinese experts that Essilor would not try  to manipulate the results to its favour, we had to reveal partly our specific know- how, which we did with a certain reluctance.

The members of the Chinese standardization committee mainly came from the Testing and Inspection Centers in Shanghai (Dong Hua University) and Danyang and from the National Institute of Metrology in Beijing. They reported partly to different state ministries which did not always follow the same policy in the newly developing field of ISO Standardization. On one hand this competitive situation made cooperation with these Chinese organizations rather delicate. On the other hand in many meetings at Shanghai, Beijing and Paris with those institutes and experts, which were more internationally minded, we established first close relations and started common projects targeting practicable standards for the Chinese market. In this context we also welcomed the Chinese delegations in Paris and presented to them our R&D department and its projects.

 Even though we had tough business discussions, outside the meetings the Chinese  were attentive hosts, polite and a little reserved in the private talks around the meals, flexible and helpful organizing visits of  historical monuments. These regular meetings in China offered a wonderful opportunity to gather some lasting impressions of this fascinating rising superpower and his people. When in the middle of the 1990’s I strolled down the “Bund” in Shanghai, the historical colonial style buildings on the western bank of the Huangpu river were characteristic for the waterfront. Less than 10 years later the skyscrapers of Pudong, the new Shanghai district with more than 2 million inhabitants on the opposite eastern riverbank, dominated the scenery. Beijing is another example of the contrast between the great Chinese history, the Forbidden City , the Summer Palace , the Great Wall and the drawbacks of a too fast urbanization, the smog problems particularly in wintertime by dense motor traffic and a high amount of coal burning for private heating, power plants and industry. I remember a sunny summer day in Shanghai, where the sky was not blue anymore, but covered with a reddish haze. For somebody accustomed to strict German regulations concerning air pollution and environmental protection this was a striking experience. The people, whom I met and who were living and working in the over 20 million inhabitants metropoles Shanghai and Beijing did not complain about these nasty conditions, probably because we were foreigners.

 At one of the visits of the Chinese delegation at Essilor headquarters  we could discover, that Chinese taste had to become accustomed to the world famous French cuisine. It was the third day of the visit as one member of the Chinese delegation, when studying the delicacies of the starter menu card from stuffed goose liver over oysters to coquilles St. Jacques, whispered to me if it would be possible to have a bowl of boiled vegetables. Of course this was possible. For the Chinese delegation these visits always had a certain official character which was expressed by the presentation of gifts. So as I am writing these lines a nice little court lady, made of porcelain, on my desk is smiling on me. It is part of a pair of figures from porcelain given to us by Mrs. Liru Wang, chief scientist  from the Beijing Institute for Metrology, one of the persons, who dominated our first cooperation with  the Chinese standards organization. The other court lady figure used to be  in the office of Essilor’s Chairman reminding him of the great importance of the international standards work for our business.