Ballpoint pens. They seem like a weird thing for the most populous country on Earth to focus on, especially with so much else happening in the world. There are Donald Trump’s overtures toward Taiwan. There is the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague about China not having the right to expand into the South China Sea. Heck, there’s even the story about the kids who have to climb a 2,600 foot cliff to get to school. Although, to be fair, the Chinese government is now building those kids a road. Yet, China is going bananas over its ballpoint pens.
Last year, China produced over 38 billion ballpoint pens. For those keeping track at home, that’s 80% of the world’s production of the writing utensil. However, 90% of those ballpoint pen tips arrived via import from Japan, Switzerland, and Germany. The problem involved the delicate machinery required to produce a quality pen. As the name suggests, there is a tiny ball housed inside of a casing at the tip of the pen. That casing connects to an ink reservoir, which allows for smooth, easy writing. At least it should. In 2015, Li Keqiang, China’s Premiere, called out the country’s pen industry by stating that using a Chinese pen made writing rough.
For years, the government praised domestic industry for its ability to produce Chinese knockoffs of major foreign brands. While this is still a common practice in the country for many industries, ballpoint pen manufacturers are held to a higher standard. That exclusion forced Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group (TISCO), a state-owned steel company, to invest millions of dollars in ballpoint pen technology. Earlier this month, the company announced its success. Within two years, the company plans to produce writing utensils made of entirely domestically sourced and designed parts. The extensive media coverage of the triumph has overshadowed other important events. Most notably, the latest floating city, which some claim is a portal to another dimension.