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DIG DIRECTOR

Orville Schell
Orville Schell is dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has written extensively about China and is the author of several books about Chinese history and culture....




Timeline of China



 
 

China: Boom or Boomerang

Perhaps no other country has so many positive and negative trends as the home of a quarter of the world’s population.

(Page 3)

China as a Failure
If one, figuratively speaking, turns China over, however, and examines its progress not from the perspective of its strengths and the manifold visual signs of modernity that are everywhere evident in its cities, but from the perspective of its vulnerabilities, a very different picture emerges. It is one that leaves some observers wondering both about its fundamental stability and its long-term viability.

[The Economist on the dangers of China’s “reheated” economy]

For starters, there is China’s enormous population, approximately 1.3 billion, making it the most populous nation on Earth. It must find a way to maintain one-quarter of the world’s population on 7% of its arable land. As more and more of its agricultural land is converted to industrial use, housing and suburban growth, highway and railroad rights of way, golf courses, recreation parks, airports and shopping malls, its ability to feed itself is diminished.

Moreover, as the PRC, which once militantly eschewed materialism, becomes a consumer society, the per capita consumption of natural resources is skyrocketing. This has seriously strained China’s resource base, even as the nation has begun to import more and more raw materials and commodities.

[China Online, an independent Chicago-based website focusing on Chinese business issues, discusses this issue.]

In 2004, China overtook the U.S. as the globe’s largest consumer of industrial and agricultural goods, and the consequences have been catastrophic for the country’s environment. Whether sufficient costly technology can be brought to bear quickly enough to both allow the high rates of economic growth to continue and to begin to compensate for all the environmental degradation that has already taken place is one of the most important questions China faces.

When on Nov. 13 an explosion in Manchuria rocked a workshop at the No. 101 Chemical Plant at the Jilin Petrochemical Company, the world caught a glimpse of the kind of contradictions that will bedevil China’s continuous “economic miracle.” In this case, the contradiction was a particularly intractable one, namely between high-speed economic development and environmental protection. 

As more than 100 tons of highly carcinogenic benzene and nitrobenzene flowed into the Songhua River, officials and the state-controlled media lied about what had happened. Only after the downriver city of Harbin (with a population of 9 million) was forced to turn off its municipal water system for more than four days, putting the city on the edge of urban panic, were the rough outlines of the disaster revealed to the public and apologies for the deception made. But no amount of apologies is capable of remedying the fact that as industrialization continues apace and generates growth rates of more than 9% every year, there is no likely remedy for this contradictory dark side of China’s economic miracle. 

While there is an increasing awareness of China’s environmental problem, and while impressive strides have been made to understand the situation, the added increments of environmental degradation brought about by the growing population, increased consumer demand, the expanding industrial base, growing dependency on an export economy, greater human mobility and the consequence of ever larger resource use have so far meant that the desecration of the environment, as has just been so painfully made evident along the Songhua River, continues to far outpace any remedial action.

China now faces:

  • Having one of the fastest-growing but least efficient energy systems in the world.
  • Acid rain falling over one-third of its land mass.
  • 75% of its lakes and rivers seriously contaminated and half of the water in its seven major rivers being unusable even for agriculture or industry.
  • Having 16 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.
  • Very serious deforestation, especially in the foothills of the Himalayas.
  • Advancing desertification.
  • Precipitously dropping groundwater tables all over the dry North China Plain.
  • Not only have the consequences of China’s high-speed industrial growth polluted its air, contaminated its rivers and abused its land, but the degradation is having costly consequences on both its public health and economy. The health costs are as yet unknowable and thus incalculable. The impact on China’s GDP is estimated to be 8 to 15%.

    At the same time that China’s high growth rates have created winners, they have also created losers by radically expanding the gap between rich and poor. In a so-called “communist society” where many older people spent their lives fighting in “the revolution” for a more equitable society, this growing state of inequality has created dangerous tensions that have begun to manifest themselves as strikes, protests, demonstrations and riots.

    Although China’s leaders have talked repeatedly about the need for China to replace “the rule of men,” renzhi, with the “rule of law,” fazhi, the judicial system is still answerable to the Chinese Communist Party and still far from a model of due process and protection of rights, or the guardian of freedom of speech, assembly and religion, all guaranteed by China’s constitution.

    [Human Rights Watch’s section on China]
    [New York-based group Human Rights in China]

    Official corruption is epidemic and growing, while injustices are rarely addressed. Because there are few checks and balances—such as a free press—on the Chinese government and business, China has ended up as 78th on Transparency International’s best-to-worst ranking of corruption in 159 countries.

    China currently has 134 million people 60 and older, and that figure will jump to 240 million by 2020. But since it is still converting from a system in which all healthcare and retirement benefits were handled by a person’s state employer, it does not yet have a viable new pension system in place. For the elderly and unemployed, especially those whose State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) have failed, the consequences of this deficiency are dire and have led to dangerous levels of disaffection and unrest.

    China’s financial markets—it has two stock markets, set up in the late 1980s—have evolved into little more than gambling casinos manipulated by the rich and influential. This means that the markets remain unable to provide the country with sufficient investment capital to keep up with its pace of development. The result is that Chinese enterprises must rely either on foreign investment or capital from the state-owned banking sector, which itself is insolvent and saddled with a level of nonperforming loans that would make a normal commercial bank insolvent.

    Although precise figures are impossible to come by, it is believed that government pressure on banks to continue making “policy loans” to unprofitable SOEs has resulted in the state now owning some $500 billion of uncollectible debt. Whether China’s banks can find a way to write these loans off their books through state-funded asset management corporations and by “going public” without creating a banking crisis is still far from certain.

    In addition, as more urban workers are sidelined or laid off from bankrupted SOEs that cannot compete with the private sector and as the houses occupied by many urban workers are taken by the state for larger projects, urban unrest is growing. And because the state fears such unrest, pressure to extend new “policy loans” to keep workers off the streets remains.

    Because the party knows that so much of its ability to keep people both inside and outside of China believing in the viability of its leadership depends on its ability to maintain a favorable psychology around the idea of a “China miracle,” state banks find themselves caught in a serious bind. On the one hand, they are being urged to reform and become bottom-line focused. On the other hand, the state has few other monetary tools at its disposal to fund the economy and avoid unrest.

    Unfortunately, the crisis of incipient mass unrest is not limited to the cities. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the divide between urban wealth and rural poverty grows; officialdom at the township, county and provincial levels becomes ever more independent from central control and increasingly corrupt; and as injustices of every kind have increased, peasant outrage has led to thousands of local demonstrations, strikes, riots and even mass uprisings that are in certain ways reminiscent of the situation out of which Mao’s communist revolution initially arose.

    Indeed, Reuters reported that in 2003 there were some 58,000 instances of rural protest, a 15% jump over the previous year, and the rate of such incidents has climbed each year since. These rarely reported disturbances have left hundreds dead and required the mobilization of tens of thousands of paramilitary, People’s Armed Police and even People’s Liberation Army soldiers. In 2004 the number of instances of unrest was reported to have risen to almost 75,000.

    However, because incidents of rural unrest are rarely reported in the national press, it is difficult for Chinese (or anyone else) to get an overall sense of how widespread and how deep such disaffection among peasants actually is. But as one recent Chinese survey of the countryside, “An Investigation Into the Peasant Situation,” put it: “We observed unimaginable poverty and unthinkable evil. We saw unimaginable suffering and unthinkable helplessness, unimagined resistance with incomparable silence. And, we have been moved beyond imagination by this unbelievable tragedy.”

    Largely because of the situation in the countryside, over the last decade China has absorbed the largest migration in human history. One hundred million to 150 million peasants have left the countryside to seek employment in the cities, where they have fueled the economy with low-cost labor. But even as they have become an important part of China’s export economy, they have also added to potential instability. And,  estimates are that in the next few years tens of millions more peasants will swell this already mass migration, creating new pressures in city infrastructure. Because few have such amenities as healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits, all too many would be left destitute with no safety net should the economy slow down.

    Due to the policy of one child per family and the preference for boys, only 100 girls are now born for every 147 boys, which means that poor men have trouble finding wives, that kidnapping is rampant and that gender ratios in society are out of balance.

    Of all the flashpoints, there are few more dangerous than the Taiwan Strait. Beijing claims the island of Taiwan as a sovereign part of China. Taiwan views itself as de facto independent. China has 600 short-range missiles aimed at Taiwan and threatens to use force if the independence rhetoric becomes too intense. While relations with the U.S. have not been too bad of late, our commitment to militarily supply and possibly defend Taiwan against such attack could well draw us into a war with China.

    And then, there is the question of Japan, whose occupation of China in the 1930s and ‘40s remains a lodestone for anger and nationalist sentiment in China. Moreover, it is a sentiment that the party seems glad to exploit in order to better galvanize the Chinese people against some external opponent. (The party leadership remembers 1989 all too clearly.)

    It is not likely that China and Japan would go to war over the island territories in dispute, but because Japan has recently committed itself to including Taiwan as part of its own area of “strategic concern,” it is possible that Japan could be brought into a clash on the side of the U.S. in the Taiwan Strait, should conflict over the independence of that anomalous island ever erupt.

    Continued: Conclusion

     

    Dig last updated on Dec. 3, 2005


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    M Henri Day's avatar

    By M Henri Day, February 6, 2009 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

    «China needn’t be a threat, but she will be if its demands are continually appeased as the country’s global influence increases.» Threat to whom ? If a military threat can be judged by the number of wars of aggression a country has started in the recent past, then other countries than China certainly top the list….

    Henri

    Report this

    By stuart, February 3, 2009 at 12:55 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    “The most stunning development is the sense of accomplishment of China’s people.”

    I’ve been in China for the past four years. What you allude to is state-induced nationalism.

    China needn’t be a threat, but she will be if its demands are continually appeased as the country’s global influence increases.

    An unelected government cannot be expected to use its power responsibly. Talk of a ‘peaceful rise’ is just that: talk. Anyone who thinks the Chinese military will see out the next 10 years without engagement is kidding themself.

    Report this

    By John Hanks, July 25, 2008 at 10:50 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Any thing else breeds crookism in which there are just crooks, suckers, and lazy cowards.

    Report this
    rhetoric's avatar

    By rhetoric, May 11, 2008 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment

    Dear M. Henri Day,
    It was difficult to tell if your comment reflected confusion over what I had written, if you had a different view, or what.  You wrote “(sic!)” next to “the ruling class loyal to the power structure”, indicating either that you thought this was an error I had committed that you were reproducing, that this was a passage which did not make sense to you and needed clarification, or that you were trolling.  Indeed, it is difficult to write about China in English!  The translations, when they do make sense, are often misleading. 

    What would be the difference between a power structure and a ruling class? 

    Well, in China the leadership, the CCP, is the power structure.  The ruling class serves at their pleasure.  In the past few decades, a ‘new’ ruling class has been created.  People have been plucked from obscurity and given positions heading corporations, etc., where they have wealth and power.  Those who had worked hard to establish the party, were learned, and/or skilled, have been overlooked in favour of, well, the best way I have heard it described is a certain randomness.  It is thought that this has been done deliberately, to create a ruling class which is both disposable and absolutely loyal/dependent, and generally incapable of adhering to any values other than those which are immediately dictated by the state, the values de jour. 

    I hope this clears things up for you, and, if you were trolling, by all means continue to draw attention to my post.  You may have more luck pursuing the argumentum ad hominem thread, however.

    Report this
    M Henri Day's avatar

    By M Henri Day, May 11, 2008 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment

    «Rhetoric»‘s choice of signature is apt, indeed ; his (?) commentary, in any event - «This [i e, making «the ruling class loyal to the power structure» (sic !)] is done through fear, the only option is absolute, unthinking, unswerving loyalty» - exhibits rather more advocacy than it does enlightenment….

    Henri

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    By rhetoric, May 10, 2008 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Looking back on this article from the perspective of the Olympic Torch relay, it seems unnecessarily equivocal and inconclusive.  Orville seems to be saying something wise and definitive about China, but he still retains that “gee whiz, aren’t the communists spiffy” tone he had when he first visited China as an enthusiast. 
      The first problem comes from viewing China in a universalist set of axises; communist - capitalist being among the most proximate.  Instead, it is best to view China from its own perspective, or from the perspectives of its neighbors.  One of the clear insights thus gained is that China sees itself as dynastic, and that establishing this new dynasty required rewriting all history and ensuring absolute loyalty.  Viewed from this perspective, the Great Leap Forward was not an accident of bad planning, it was a calculated drive to centralize power.  China didn’t trip over itself with communism and see the light of market forces, it evolved enough capacity for central authority to allow growth to proceed knowing that the wealth produced could be controlled.  The disparity between the rich and the poor, which again Orville sees in absolutist terms, is to be expected.  There is a ruling class and there are peasants in China, and peasants are paid only enough for subsistence.  The important things is to have the ruling class loyal to the power structure.  This is done through fear, the only option is absolute, unthinking, unswerving loyalty (which we have seen illustrated around the world in blog postings from zealous nationalists and demonstrations from xenophobic patriots).
      Orville keeps wondering whether, when, and how China will live up to his universalist, absolute standards, and ponders what will happen if they succeed and frets what will happen if they fail.  Since China does not see itself by these lights, his musing seem a bit absurd.  Nonetheless, Americans must take stock of what is happening in China and cognitize how the actions of the US government—no matter how ill-informed and inappropriate—will help or hinder a constructive solution.  Many of the responses to this article indicate that Americans are indeed contemplating this with more conscientious, or at least less equivocal, thought than Orville evinces.
     
    To start out with, concern for Tibet should be de riguer, if for no other reason than it offends the totalitarian sensibilities of the Beijing government (and there are other reasons).  Those who counsel quiet diplomacy are dead wrong.  The problem of Tibet is the problem of China itself: The Chinese people have been immiserated and re-educated and terrorized to the point of mindless xenophobic chauvanism.  And herein may lie one of the keys: The Chinese state is built on Han ethnic uber-chauvanism.  Ignore this, or try to explain it in terms of ‘they are really cultural relativists but they don’t know it yet’ and you’ve missed the foundational unifying thread of their society.  One of the other important things to acknowledge is that China is rapidly expanding, and claims ownership for the economies of Overseas Chinese.  The soverignty of Burma and now Nepal are as at risk as was the soverignty of Tibet seventy to ninety years ago.  Whether or not a country is free to invite HH the Dalai Lama to visit without fear of drastic economic and diplomatic reprisals is a good indice of whether or not it is under Beijing’s thumb: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Korea, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore all fit the bill. 

    Appraising China accurately does not present any clear and simple solutions.  It does suggest that trading with a slave labour economy will deflate a free labour economy, and we have seen that happen.  The glass is two-thirds empty, and most of the last third is backwash.

    Report this

    By Skruff, May 10, 2007 at 11:29 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    69082 by abenavides on 5/09 at 7:35 pm

    “then it is even worst and the same actions have to be taken sooner. We are selling ourselves cheap by buying cheap and paying with credit.”

    While I agree with the major thrust of your argument I must warn it is dangerous to be “all inclusive” with your statemements “WE” are not all buying Chinese and paying with credit.  There are committed citizens fighting the imposition of “plastic money” and walmart policy. I have no credit cards, and shop mostly for things I need at yard sales, and second hand stores.

    There are other ways to learn from where the products you buy are manufactured.  Did you know that one reason chinese goods are so inexpensive is we haev removed the (US) restriction against importation of goods manufactured using prisoner labor?

    RED China is still fighting us for superiority on the world stage.  As claimed by an earlier Communist leader… Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.

    Report this

    By abenavides, May 9, 2007 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment

    If I concurr then it is even worst and the same actions have to be taken sooner. We are selling ourselves cheap by buying cheap and paying with credit. We need to pressure our representatives to demand higher taxes on imports. I can replace my toaster because its stained or dirty instead of missing my favorite TV show for one time to clean the toaster simply because a replacement will cost me $7-10. I would consider it twice if instead it costed $25-30; besides it may keep someones job in my country.

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    By Skruff, May 9, 2007 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    68972 by abenavides on 5/09 at 9:27 am

    “Not all is made in China but most of those things that we really do not need are.”

    First part of sentence correct, secong part wrong.

    Look at the lables in your shoes. There is a joke in the millitary that if we declare war on China, we will have to go on bare feet as the millitary buys all its boots from Chinese manufacturers.  Waring blenders, some Maytag appliances, most toasters, most Kenmore (Sears) appliences, textiles (China and India) Bedding, and the new monument to Martin Luther King. 

    Whole towns have been descimated by the outsourcing of factories and jobs.  Check out Lawrence Massachusetts (Textiles and electronics), Lewiston Maine (Shoes and construction material)Rochester N.Y. (film, camaras and componants)and it doesn’t end there. when you call your “auto club” your caall will be directed to India 50% of the time.  Call catalog sales same thing. 

    Now, latelt, we’re learning our food supply is threatened because some of the ingrediants are contaminated in China.

    Stuff we don’t need?  maybe if you like being hungry and naked.

    Report this

    By abenavides, May 9, 2007 at 10:27 am Link to this comment

    Especially us Americans with our insatiable consumerism fuel China’s economy. We need to pressure our leaders to ban and tax imports and find formulas to recover manufacturing jobs. Not all is made in China but most of those things that we really do not need are. Giant retailers are taking advantage of our free trade and open market policies. We need to correct the trade imbalance. We need to stop buying more than what we sell. This is exactly why the average American is so much in debt.

    Report this

    By G.I. JOE, April 1, 2007 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Get real people. More people are murdered in the Western Nations everyday than in China.
    China will dominate the world through economics. This will also lead to advances in military power not seen in the history of mankind. Their 1.3 billion population cannot be competed against by the high paying lazy Western work force.
    The United States & the Western Nations will become third world nations if something does not change.
    The Chinese are building new cities and infrastructure at an unheard of rate.
    American and European companies are setting up shop in China to take advantage of the cheap labor. The trade deficit grows larger & larger. Most everything is made in China.
    Wake up people before you will be also working for the Chinese government at 1 tenth of what you are earning now.

    Report this

    By M Henri Day, March 20, 2007 at 11:30 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    I thought it not unlikely that other readers of/participants in this dig would find China editor Wu Zhong’s commentary, When ‘foreign intervention’ is welcome, published today in his «Sun Wukong» column in the Asia Times, of as great interest as I did….

    Henri

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    By TOC, January 19, 2007 at 8:47 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The wheels are about to fall off the Juggernaut. There is going to be hell to pay when they do.  Even a small recession will cause havoc in China.

    Six million people a month have left the countryside for the cities over the past few years. Does anyone actually believe that this is not a recipe for disaster?

    50,000,000 unemployed? 100,000,000? What is the effect on a normal downturn inthe business cycle that changes China’s growth rate from 9% a year to a flat economy or say 3% growth, to say nothing of negative growth. There are fortunes to be lost in China.

    Report this

    By Skruff, January 15, 2007 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Comment #47472 by Charles H Holston on 1/13 at 7:07 pm says

    “The Chinese have been duped….” 
    “...Because we in the west are the masters of imagination.”

    You sure got that right!

    Millions of Americans give their money to the State, willingly, purchasing lottery tickets which only one in 10,000 will win over $100.00.

    Do the math….. but they’re still out their buying!

    Report this

    By Charles H Holston, January 13, 2007 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The Chinese have been duped. As the corporatocracies of the U.S. and the E.U. et al. have invaded as they have in Latin America and India only to plunder the peasant labor resourses and the land. Why have China, India, and Latin America permitted this? Because we in the west are the masters of imagination, and as Pascal said, “imagination always overcomes reason”. It’s bluntly referred to as lying. The west has lied about our “successes”, we lied our way out of resourses, we need theirs. They in turn, as the latin American countries have learned, will do the same…

    Report this

    By Lee Sun Org, January 13, 2007 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Your viewpoint eflects he historical facts in Chinq between 1920-50.  My opinion is that this ‘Boomerang’ hinges on the leadership of China.  The consequences may depend how the folllowing factors could intervene and interweave.
    A.  How much will Chinese politicians honor their traditional social coalision force—Confucianism?
    B.  How much will they value the underlining humanism—as manifested by Laozi’s philosophy(not Daoism).

    Report this

    By Dan Wun, January 11, 2007 at 1:17 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    If you have ever looked closely at a “modern” Chinese building you would never buy one. At best their work is rough and unprofessional.

    Report this

    By M Henri Day, December 26, 2006 at 4:30 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Mr John Konop writes : «... This has been my point, we expect a Communist China to play by free market civilized principals. ...» The sort of free market civilised principals, I presume, that we have seen so strikingly exhibited in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan ? Let us hope that the Chinese leadership, as concerned as it is to learn from the United States how to be a great power on a global scale, does <u>not</u> proceed to emulate the free-wheeling foreign policy of its role model in the near term. In this case, there is a bare chance that H sapiens sapiens may just possibly squeak through through the first half of this new century….

    Henri

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    By Skruff, December 26, 2006 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Comment #43745 by Wayne Smyer on 12/26 at 4:15 am

    The sleeping dragon has awakned, bought up our 10 trillion dollar debt and now we are really screwed!The Bush Family strikes again!


    Of course Clinton’s MFN, and Nixon’s awakening the dragon….well that just doesn’t count.

    Actualy, Thank Walmarts!  Oh yeah, I forgot. We’ve gotta blame everything on the Bushes so we can go on with our capitalistic hyprocracy after they are gone.

    Report this

    By John Konop, December 26, 2006 at 10:36 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    China: We Are Socialists!

    Beijing (FORTUNE) – Senior U.S. officials, led by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, arrived inside the Stalinist-style Great Hall of the People Thursday morning, briefed and breakfasted and eager to offer guidance to Chinese leaders on how to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the global economy

    According to the English translation of her remarks, she repeated six times that China was “sticking to” its “new path of industrialization,” and three times that China was “continuing to improve” on reforms already in place. Substantial free-market change wasn’t part of the equation. “By following a path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics in an independent and self-reliant manner,” she said, “we have scored glorious achievements that attracted worldwide attention.”

    At debate is China not playing by the rules of the trade agreement.

    CNN-But Paulson said earlier this week China could and should do more to reduce its massive trade surplus and revalue its currency. And a WTO report released Monday complained bitterly about continued rampant counterfeiting and piracy, policies limiting imports and regulatory barriers to U.S. service companies

    “We see troubling indications that China’s momentum toward reform has begun to slow,” US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, a participant in this week’s meeting, wrote in the Financial Times.

    This has been my point, we expect a Communist China to play by free market civilized principals. China has made it clear they will play under their rules and socialist system unless we stand up and play hard ball. Do you think the American economy can afford not to demand that China follow civilized rules of trade?

    Report this

    By Wayne Smyer, December 26, 2006 at 5:15 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The sleeping dragon has awakned, bought up our 10 trillion dollar debt and now we are really screwed!The Bush Family strikes again! Be afraid! be very, very afraid!

    Report this

    By M Henri Day, December 20, 2006 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    ‘The problem is in the US and it is related to a media that barely functions and when it does it is only good at fear mongering and not discussing important issues’.

    According to my understanding of the situation, David, you are entirely correct in the first part of your analysis, but the second part, I think, requires some modification - the problem, it seems to me, is not that the (mainstream) media does not function or only barely, but rather that it functions rather well in the interests of its corporate owners, which are hardly those of a majority of the citizens of the US or of the world at large. That the media does function very well indeed for its bagmen is obvious from the fact that a large proportion of US residents were convinced that Milosević et al were true monsters, that Saddam Hussein was an ally of Osama bin Laden, etc, etc. The next monster in the process of being created for the edification of the people of the United States (and us here in Europe, who also take our cues from the seat of Empire) is, of course, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom even US cartoonists who should know better delight in portraying as an avatar of Adolf Hitler. For a succinct analysis of the truth value of this particular proposition, one could do worse than to turn to William Blum’s latest Anti-Empire Report, at http://members.aol.com/bblum6/aer40.htm ....

    Henri

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    By David, December 19, 2006 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Bonjour Henri,

    Thanks for the comment.  What I meant is the US(actually I don’t see the fear mongering in Europe like in the US) in that China is not an economic or military threat to the US.  I remember that during the 80’s the media was showing the Japanese buying up assets in the US.  But at the end of the day the Japanese invested tens of billions of dollars in the US and created hundreds of thousands of jobs.  The problem is in the US and it is related to a media that barely functions and when it does it is only good at fear mongering and not discussing important issues.

    As for job security, don’t blame the Chinese or Mexicans but at our so-called American corporations, whose patriotic duty seems more intuned to finding workers willing to work for nothing.  Why are we (only the US) blaming poor citizens of developing nations for outsourcing jobs that were originally held by American citizens. 


    Thanks

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    By brian murphy, December 19, 2006 at 6:45 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    just like to commend Mr Schell on a very interesting article which attempted to give a balanced view, I really enjoyed reading it and though it is doubtful I will ever get to visit China, it really made me curious about such an industrious and complex country and the impact it has on my everyday life and the future of my children

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    By M Henri Day, December 18, 2006 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The answer to David‘s query as to why ‘we’ (I presume he means people in the United States, but this applies to Europe as well, if to a lesser degree) ‘are ... so worried about the growth of China’ is simple ; many people work at well-paying jobs to convince citizens of the US that China represents, at the very least, a potential danger to them and their welfare. (This, of course, is not something unique to China - consider the parade of bêtes noirs we’ve gone through this last decade, Milosević, Saddam Hussein, etc, etc, all of whom were duly compared to Adolf Hitler, and even those without a penchant of ‘conspiracy theories may begin to detect a pattern.) Why is this done ? Well, keeping a people frightened about external enemies who, it is claimed, threaten their liberty, is a well-known device for distracting them from internal forces who do, in fact, represent a clear and present danger to those liberties - just ask Herr Göring. or one of King George’s Attorneys General ! Thus the discrepancy in military budgets between the US and China is, in fact, even more striking than is evident in the statistics David presents - the US government spends more on the military than the rest of the world combined and expenditures today certainly are not less than 600 000 millionUSD per annum (remember that, aside from the secret fund, the costs of the war in Iraq and that in Afghanistan are no longer even included in the annual DoD budgets presented to the US congress - the apotheosis of creative bookkeeping, in which a War Department doesn’t include the costs of its wars in its budget !), and the estimate of the Chinese military budget is exaggerated in modo Rumsfeld. The real problem with China is that the leaders of that country are learning the art of becoming a superpower from a model that leaves a great deal to be desired - King George’s USA. This, indeed, is one of the reasons that it is so important that George and his entourage be stopped - pour encourager les Chinoises !...

    Henri

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    By David, December 17, 2006 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
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    Hi,

    I wonder why are we so worried about the growth of China.  I mean we are concerned about their military growth, our huge trade deficits, and their growing influence around the world.  But then again, it seems that we have forgotten that all of these things are not threat to the US except maybe the trade deficits but that has more to do with the American people than with the Chinese. 

    The US military budget is $ 450 Billion but the Chinese budget is roughly $ 60 to 90 Billion which would mean that the US has a vast military advantage when compared to them. 

    The influence has more to do with the failure of American diplomacy rather than successfal Chinese diplomacy.  While China is building economic and trade relationships around the world with all countries, the US refuses to talk to a handful of countries (Syria, Iran, Venezuala, and Cuba), whose policies we do not like.  This is childish behavior and we need to realize the whole world is not going to always agree with us on everything (ie Iraq).

    Ther trade deficits could be corrected with proper tariffs on Chinese goods which would automatically raise there prices to American consumers. That is something our government can do and we need to find out why they do not do that.

    Thanks,

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    By Skruff, December 1, 2006 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The American worker has been duped again.  Go ahead buy your next toaster from Walmart…

    Waring still builds toasters in the USA

    BUT

    No one builds an American TV, CD player, or telephone.

    Notice those KIA trucks where Fords and Chevies once ruled?

    Notice the Matsumora earth movers where South Bend’s Catapillar once ruled.

    It’s not about China, it’s about a sell out.

    We’re through, dead, third-world UNLESS we change now… All those little towns where they used to make things

    Passed through LAwrence Massachusetts lately?  Empty textile mills.

    Patterson New Jersey and the silk factories?

    and it goes on and on.

    Wake up!

    Before it’s too late.

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    By robert, November 30, 2006 at 10:05 pm Link to this comment
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    I have been to China at least 12 times in the last 5 years.  The most stunning development is the sense of accomplishment of China’s people.

    Fundamentally, the Asian sense of group awareness is helping China leap ahead of the individualistic western belief of individualism.

    Watch the future as Western Powers try to shock and awe each quarter of a year, while Asians consider others perspectives and formulate longer plans.

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    By jkoch, October 30, 2006 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment
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    True or false?  China’s foreign policy is very frugal and pragmatic compared to our own costly and pointless blunders and commitments.  For instance, does China give a hoot who rules the Mideast, just so long as it exports oil and LNG and buys Chinese goods?  Taiwan is the PRC’s one fetish, enough to provoke wars of words, but not any real violence or much weapons expenditure.

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    By E.W. Walker, October 27, 2006 at 12:49 am Link to this comment
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    There exists in the Chinese nation a great reservoir of hard-earned wisdom regarding human nature and the human condition in Nature.  It is possible, even likely, that this ‘commonwealth’ will be lost entirely to the world in the socio-industrial tsunami now sweeping over China.  That much of the Chinese population may itself be quite willing to forsake this ineffable treasure so carefully built-up and preserved for them by generations of their ancestors, in pursuit of a bigger piece of the globalism ‘bubble,’  is perhaps only to be expected given the “interesting times”  in which we live.  It does seem near certain that China will be among the front-runners when the civilized masses of humanity go drunkenly over the cliff of their towering ignorance into the abyss of their self-inflicted extinction.  “You let your magic tortoise go, then look at me with the corners of your mouth drooping.”

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    By Morf, October 25, 2006 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
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    I lived in Beijing for most of 1999 - yes the 10th anniversary of the Tianamen Square massacre (which, A. Never happened, B. was a Western conspiracy to undermine China or C. was a reasonable response to agitators & hoodlums).

    This is fairly typical of the “explanations” for any unexpected or unpleasant event. Yes, China is brimming with contradictions - as is the USA.

    The future of China is far from certain - or predictable. Whatever happens will certainly not be a unified progression - but I almost believe that there could easily be a near total collapse because of the inadequate - or non-existent - infrastructure - environmental, legal or ethical.

    If China goes under, it certainly affect the rest of the developed world - and unleash yet another mass migration/diaspora.

    It is to our advantage that China stabilize. As it veers it impacts all of us.

    Nothing unifies a nation and gives its citizens a sense of purpose and direction like war. If China becomes too unstable, it might pursue war with Taiwan as an obvious cultural unifier.

    Would we (the USA) hold to our commitment to Taiwan? Not likely.

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    By John Konop, October 25, 2006 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment
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    Economists Are Destroying America

    October 25th, 2006 by JohnKonop

    Economists, politicians, and executives from both parties have promised American families that “free” trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and WTO/CHINA would accomplish three things:

    • Increase wages
    • Create trade surpluses (for the US)
    • Reduce illegal immigration

    Well, their trade policies have been in effect for about 15 years. Let’s review the results:

    • Declining real wages for 80% of working Americans (while healthcare, education, and childcare costs skyrocket)
    • A record-high 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance (due in part to declining wages and benefits)
    • Illegal immigration out of control
    • Soaring trade deficits, much with countries that use slave and child labor
    • Personal and national debt both out-of-control
    • Global environments threatened by lax trade deal enforcement

    Economists Keep Advocating Policies That Aren’t Working

    Upon seeing incontrovertible evidence of these negative trade agreement results, economists continue with Pollyannish blather. Some say, “Cheer up! GDP is up and the stock market’s doing fine.” Others say, “Be patient. Stay the course. Free trade will raise all ships.”

    Even those economists who acknowledge problems with trade agreements offer us only half-measures—adjusting exchange rates, improving safety nets, and providing better job retraining. None of these will close the wage gap in America—and economists know it.

    Why Aren’t American Economists Shouting From Street Corners?

    America needs trade deals that support American families and businesses in terms of wage, environmental, and intellectual property abuses. Why aren’t economists demanding renegotiation of our trade deals? There are three primary reasons:

    • Economists are too beholden to corporations and special interests that provide them with research grants.
    • Economists believe—but refuse to admit—that sacrificing the American middle class is necessary and appropriate to generate gains in third world economies.
    • Economists refuse to admit they make mistakes.

    Economic Ambulance Chasers

    Now more than ever, Americans need their economists to speak truth and stand up to their big business clients. Instead, economists sound like lawyers caught chasing ambulances: they claim they’re “doing it for our benefit”.

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    By Jim Allen, October 25, 2006 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
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    China may (is) terrifying as it discovers its appetite for bread and butter as well as steel and gasoline.

    Recognizing THAT however, is also the only rational and “safe” solution for the mess we created in Iraq.  China has the “police” manpower, the engineering skill, the need for oil even greater than ours, and the ability to impose “social discipline” that we do not have and cannot have.

    We need to have the UN Security Council recognize that the mess that has become Iraq is also their responsibility and have China send in 350,000 UN Peacekeeper soldiers to disarm Iraq door-to-door and border-to-border until Iraq is able to develop their own non-sectarian secure police force.  The Chinese soldiers could be there in 90 to 120 days and all of our hated soldiers could be out of Iraq in 90 to 120 days along with the corrupt mercinaries of Halliburton and friends.

    It now only would bring peace and prosperity to Iraq and all Iraqis for the first time in 30+ years, but “would serve them right.”

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    By bob, October 17, 2006 at 6:00 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Circle the Wagons!    http://WWW.AMREN.COM

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    By John, June 11, 2006 at 10:39 am Link to this comment
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    #

    Comment #3667 by watertiger on 2/14 at 11:06 am

    THere is a turth you all ignored, which is Chinese people love their goverment, and PRC.
    You all treat MAO like a tyrant, but have you ever seen the pictures that million people cried for Mao’s death.
    —-

    So?  Millions of Soviets “loved” their government, and carried pictures of Stalin, Brezhnev, et al after their deaths.  They cried a lot too.  I wonder where they all are today?  Probably setting up McDonalds franchises in Moscow.

    People can change their alliances very quickly.

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    By watertiger, February 14, 2006 at 11:06 am Link to this comment
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    THere is a turth you all ignored, which is Chinese people love their goverment, and PRC.
    You all treat MAO like a tyrant, but have you ever seen the pictures that million people cried for Mao’s death.

    PRC is far more strong than you think. It would not collapse easily and shortly.

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    By David Rockwell, February 7, 2006 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Avarice can be ascribed to individuals, groups and perhaps even classes of people, but it is not useful to decribe whole populations or the human species.  On that larger scale we are a purely biological phenomenon, and we seek to perpetuate our genes any way we can.  Modern western nations may indeed present a successful model of civilization, in that a certain level of prosperity produces a stable population size and the luxury of democracy and liberal thought. Unfortunately, the world is now essentially a single economic entity, with an immense imbalance of wealth; the relatively pleasant life in the affluent West depends to a significant extent on the exploitation of labor and resources from the rest of the world.  This may seem immoral, but our species as an entity is not amenable to moral suasion, or to reason, for that matter. 
        China and most poorer countries would like to join the capitalist West (without the inconvenience of democracy, if possible) but there just isn’t enough land and oil to recreate American wealth there, or in the rest of the world, let alone create a stable country at that level of population.
        Of course, corporations are avaricious by their very nature. But again, no purpose is served by personifying them and trying to make them act like responsible human beings.  They are merely mechanisms created to accumulate symbolic wealth. They can’t hear us when we remonstrate with them.

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    By Jonas South, February 5, 2006 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment
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    David Rockwell (comment #44) wrote, ‘….when density overruns resources, populations invariably do whatever they can - conquer their neighbors, find more resources somehow.’

    So very true. Economic growth is measured with false yardsticks, then sold as a social imperative primarily because there are always more mouths to feed. But there is another part of the equation.

    That October day, the alpine town of Thun, Switzerland dawned cold and rainy, so I went shopping for an umbrella. The German made ones cost easily five times what I would have expected to pay back home. However, these were Titanium, well designed, and made to last, whereas back in California. the seven dollar Chinese made umbrellas would have lasted one season at the most. Which is the better value, and what is the real cost in human terms?

    German workers take four week vacations, have full benefits, and life is more secure and lived in a less toxic environment. The Chinese worker toil six days a week, suffer dormitory style living, just so that Americans can buy a lot for a little at Walmart.

    So much of what we are compelled by artifice to consume are trashy, and in the production of which, burden the environment with energy costs that threatens our very existence. The primary impulse for all this is avarice. As an admirer of Laotse’s writings, it pleases me to note that the evils of avarice are mentioned more often in his book than any other.

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    By David Rockwell, February 3, 2006 at 8:33 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    One of Lao Tzu’s most pertinent thoughts, in my opinion, is rendered by some as:

    “Small country, few people.”
    or
    “Reduce the size and population of the state.”

    There can be no other road to “sustainability”, in China or any other region. But it is a road we can’t find in our nature as a species.  China has attempted to stabilize their population growth, with inadequate results.  Like other countries, they drift closer to a tipping point; without a reduction in population pressure all their efforts at balancing just make their situation more fragile.  Population can be considered the prime mover of human history, on the large scale; when density overruns resources, populations invariably do whatever they can - conquer their neighbors, find more resources somehow.  If they can do nothing they starve.  We are all in a sufficiently fragile boat that any serious iceberg - the Maoist revolution, for example - can cause millions to starve.  And that too was not a huge blip in Chinese or world history.  Proportionately worse things are very likely on our present course.

    Lao Tzu felt there was an eternal balance in the elements of existence.  If we can align ourselves with the balance, harmony results; when we do not, the balance eventually and inevitably reasserts itself with a violence equal to the imbalance we have caused. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

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    By Jonas South, February 2, 2006 at 11:26 am Link to this comment
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    CHINA’S ORIGINAL PROGRESSIVE.

    ‘Nature replenishes that which is depleted, while man hoards that which is scarce.’ These words express a small part of what four thousand or so Chinese characters say in a discrete collection of socio-political and scientific observations. The originator of these insights was almost certainly Laotse, a sixth century BCE figure no less historical than Jesus. (For his name, ‘the aged scholar’, I use a spelling that is phonetically closest to it in Putonghua, rather than the common Wade-Giles based name, ‘Lao Tsu’, which sounds like ‘old pig’, or at best, ‘mouse’.)

    About two decades ago, two silk manuscripts were found dating to the 2nd century BCE. Years later, an even earlier manuscript was unearthed, this one written on strips of bamboo. I have spent the last six years studying the archaic characters, translating and correlating these three manuscripts with each other. I have come to the tentative conclusion that current versions of Laotse that are based on serially transcribed, interpreted and translated manuscripts of much later vintage, no longer can be relied upon as the sole repository of Laotse’s concepts. Yet, now more than ever, they are concepts worthy of reflection.

    The manuscripts were excavated from tombs located not too far from Duong Ting Hu, one of China’s largest lakes. In the two decades or so since, the water level of that lake has been depleted to near dryness more than once. Elsewhere, the legendary Yellow River also has run dry more than once, the victim of desertification and land mismanagement. It is ironic that Laotse, who lived at a time of what must have been comparative ecological paradise, should reach into the future to caution us about natural resources.

    What else might he have foreseen for the technologically advanced, yet managerially deficient 21st century man? How about this one for the world’s superpower: ‘The large country should hold itself low, like the mouth of the river, the floodplains of the world. Then the smaller countries will naturally gather to it, and the waters will calm themselves.’

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    By Ernest A., January 31, 2006 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment
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    Mr. Schell:
    When using such terminology as “true democracy”,  please specify if you are talking about the model promoted by the CIA sponsored National Endownment for Democracy or by one of the many US organizations responsible for overthrowing democratically elected governments throughout the world, (do I give you a list?.) The last success was in Haiti. Enough with the lies!  Fix your own country which is now a threat to the whole world. Rule of Law, Kiss my Ass!.  Stop the Corporations which are trying to control every aspect of people’s needs: health, water, energy, education, social security, etc. Human Rights: I bet the prisoners dying from hunger strikes in Guantanamo will be amused as well as the thousands of Iraqis killed by the technological might of “American Democracy”.  But, of course, all of that is forgotten as soon as we make reference to the “Bill Of Rights”, just like our thirst is quenched when we see a picture of a pretty young girl drinking Coca Cola. Lincoln’s thoughts about “fooling people” is now beginning to apply to the US government. We’ll see what happens.

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    By tharpa, January 30, 2006 at 11:02 pm Link to this comment
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    ” Have you ever wondered how a non-deistic society like China can be ‘moral’?”

    well, that is another interesting one, a ‘loaded question’ as is said.

    I am no expert on Confucius ( being much more educated in buddhism btw), but my limited understanding is that his ‘system’, as it were, is based on the cultivation of virtue, which I think Mencius did a far better job of expounding, and which the esoteric approach of Lao Tsu - as Confucius himself admitted - plumbed to far deeper depths, both philosophically and methodologically.

    But to anwer: a non-deistic system has no problem assuming that there is basic goodness inherent in life. Morality is not imposed by a code from on high, rather, in accord with classic pre-Confucian Chinese (and many other) approaches, is the art of joining Heaven and Earth, high and low, vision and practicality, wisdom and skillful means, the Middle Way (i.e. however you want to put it).

    In fact, this is why fundamentalist Asiatics are so pragmatic. Read Henry Liu’s articles in Asia Times Online. Extraordinary depth and breadth of understanding of both historical and contemporary dynamics.

    In fact, the deistic approach has a problem with morality: by relying on an external agent, or ‘expert interpretation’ (i.e. priest class) of the same, one abrogates responsibility for developing virtue, which is the core theme running throughout the Confucian paradigm. Sure, it can be abused or distorted like any such system, but at heart it is extremely modern, i.e. non-ideology or belief-system driven.

    The bedrock question here, and in answer to questions about whither forward is: what constitutes virtuous living?

    Are we answering that question in the West in terms of our political, economic, community and familial systems, all of which of course are mutually inter-related and inseparable? How many of our citizens, as they grow up and find their way in the world, regard the cultivation of virtue as the sine qua non of right living?

    We wonders, aye, we wonders…

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    By tharpa, January 30, 2006 at 10:32 pm Link to this comment
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    Jonas South wrote:” Have you ever wondered how a non-deistic society like China can be ‘moral’? Assuredly, it was not through the Confucian ‘thou shalt obey this authority, and thou shalt do that duty’ mantra. Rather, it was through a cultural fabric of folk stories, popular novels, poems, commemorative festivals, and operatic plays. Weaved into this rich fabric are the stealth teachings of Laotse. It is no accident that the more anti-imperial the tale, the larger the audience. You enjoy leaf-wrapped rice pudding? It was once used to hide secret messages to resist an unjust ruler. The Judge Bao kung saved more innocents by being more Zorro than Solomon. The rescue of a lowly ant from drowning led to success in a national examination when the ant insisted on sitting where the kindly scholar had missed a brush stroke. My parents told me hundreds of such tales; they stood me in good stead until college. The lessons in justice, respect for life, love, honor, and truth are so beloved by every generation that they actually gained importance with time, until now.”

    I think you answered your own question/quibble in some sense as well as demolishing yr own point, namely: Confucianism was a product of and contributor to a cultural container, and certainly involved far more than the overly simplistic reduction of ‘thou shalt obey this authority, and thou shalt do that duty’. Sometimes society must have treated itself (and each other therefore) that way, but most of the time it didn’t. Any family sitting around the dinner table knows that nobody agrees about anything, let alone all members of the same village, let alone all members of the same - let alone different - class in the village, the region, the country etc.

    Cultural atmosphere is known as ‘zhong chi’ in the texts, usually translated as ‘ancestral chi’. It is the energy that pulses when the whole group sits around the fire enraptured by a good story, or all stunned by portentous news, or in modern times, all cheering as the home team scores a goal/point/strike-out/victory against the opposition. Shared juice, let us say!

    The bedrock Confucian guidelines are a product of and contribution to underlying daoist principles which involve
    a) tuning into how reality works
    b) learning how to dance well within it.

    Daoist perception had no problem - except politically/bureaucratically/egotistically - absorbing the reportedly overwhelming, widespread influence of Buddhism once it began to penetrate, because buddhism is similarly not so much an ideology as a process.

    Chinese culture is quintessential Asian culture which is a rather advanced mix of both awareness-wisdom and everyday practicality.

    That doesn’t mean that modern Chinese are consciously tuned into this sort of thing; most of them are not, I suspect. But through long-term cultural osmosis, which exists both on the physical-genetic as well as the mental-atmospheric level, they are the inheritors of what their ancestors have bequeathed. How else can one learn to spice the noodles just so in each region!?!

    So in response also to M Henri Day who asks what the solution is (as I did in response to the excellent introductory article which has inspired this interchange):

    I won’t say I believe, rather that I hope that as China becomes comfortable with being once again part of the present world economic system (as she was of yore but not of late), she can dig down into the wellspring of her inherited cultural wisdom and take the modern paradigm to a new level, a more workable and sustainable level. Indeed, she has no choice. If China continues with the post-industrial ‘capitalist’ model ad infinitum, then within no more than a decade or two, most of her people will be starving and a huge revolution from below will be the result because resources simply won’t provide enough for her to provide low-wage, high value-added products to the rest of the world whilst her own population remains poor. It just won’t work. Nor do they want it to work that way, I am sure.

    They will have to find a way to create a sustainable economy for one quarter of the world’s population. How? I don’t know. But they have to.

    I will offer one suggestion: I live - by choice - in a marginalised part of Canada, Cape Breton Island. Local community life here is strong, vibrant (overly conservative) but real. Classic. The huge international switch that has to be made in the next century is a return to local culture, wthout abandoning many of the advantages that mechanical (industrial) technology affords. This will effect how nation-states and inter-national relations are structured, because the emphasis has to begin to come back to the ground, to local culture, to immediate situations. If large centralised nations/entities cannot make this happen in an organised, global fashion, then widespread dysfunction/war/famine etc. will make it happen more ‘organically’, but far less comfortably.

    The age of the huge nation-state/hegemon is passing. And strangely enough, it is the largest entity in the world (China), which must lead the way out of this trap.

    In a nutshell: perpetual growth is not perpetual progress and yet for a community/country to exist with stability and health, wealth of some sort or another must be generated. This is the challenge.

    China must meet it. America will not.

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    By Jonas South, January 29, 2006 at 3:00 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Tharpa, in your recent post (#36) you made several good points, one of which is that, in the current mad dash to - somewhere, ideology is of little concern to the Chinese man in the street.

    By contrast, from the second century to modern times, Confucian ideology was very important. It was the social glue, and apologia of absolute rule, for succeeding dynasties. Confucianism provided the ideological cover for the imperial order, which in turn declared it supreme. The two fed upon each other, not unlike the relationship between the European monarchies and the Catholic Church.

    This was not always the case. For one shining ‘moment’, roughly from around the fifth century BCE to the first century CE, the teachings of the dao master Laotse held sway in many quarters. (According to Carl Sagan, a similar golden age existed in the Ionian isles, until the age of Plato, the proto-Christian.) The rulers of early Han actually applied Laotse’s teachings for some decades, with more than satisfactory results. However, Laotse was anti-imperialistic, and the darker side of human nature, and Imperial Confucianism, prevailed for almost two millennia. Yet Laotse-thought lived on in cultural memory.

    Have you ever wondered how a non-deistic society like China can be ‘moral’? Assuredly, it was not through the Confucian ‘thou shalt obey this authority, and thou shalt do that duty’ mantra. Rather, it was through a cultural fabric of folk stories, popular novels, poems, commemorative festivals, and operatic plays. Weaved into this rich fabric are the stealth teachings of Laotse. It is no accident that the more anti-imperial the tale, the larger the audience. You enjoy leaf-wrapped rice pudding? It was once used to hide secret messages to resist an unjust ruler. The Judge Bao kung saved more innocents by being more Zorro than Solomon. The rescue of a lowly ant from drowning led to success in a national examination when the ant insisted on sitting where the kindly scholar had missed a brush stroke. My parents told me hundreds of such tales; they stood me in good stead until college. The lessons in justice, respect for life, love, honor, and truth are so beloved by every generation that they actually gained importance with time, until now.

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    By M Henri Day, January 29, 2006 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
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    I think tharpa and Bruce Yaeger make essential points - how long will our global resources suffice to support the kind of social and economic organisation that has existed in the «West» since WW II, especially now that such populous countries as China and India also seem to want to join the fun ? One important matter that remains unaddressed, however, in their postings is the manner in which the changes that are bound to come will come - if we examine the immediate aftermath of the previous «1930s-style credit collapse», we see an interregnum characterised by militarism, fascism, and devastating war. Is there any reason to believe that the consequences will be less severe this time ‘round ? My consolation is that I can hope not to be there to see them, but younger people may have cause to curse my generation for our inability to implement Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty….

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    By Bruce Yaeger, January 28, 2006 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
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    Regarding U.S.- China relations
    The U.S. is China’s largest debtor. Our debts to China, in the form of mortgages, form a substantial portion of U.S. GDP. What happens when China starts to revalue its currency and raise its domestic interest rates in earnest? What happens to the U.S. when easy credit from China disappears?
    I believe that increased mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures will occur as this process develops. Faced with non-performing mortgage loans, China would then assert a right to claim ownership of collateral. That collateral would consist not of U.S. coastal real estate, but rather of the direct U.S. investment in China - the factories and machinery used for China’s exports. All that industrial plant is new and state-of-the-art. China has the technical skill to operate and maintain it.
    What I envision is a 1930s-style credit collapse, with China as creditor and the U.S. as debtor. There will be a lot of pain on both sides, but China’s workout of the debt will be easier than ours, since China will remain competitive in the world’s economy for the reasons given above. The U.S. will decline to the standard of living of Mexico, with all the attendant social turmoil and political unrest, of course.
    For more opinions along this line, see http://www.prudentbear.com.

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    By tharpa, January 28, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Well, I just stumbled onto Truthdig from a link to Vidal’s recent article, and then started rooting through some of the excellent articles here. My thanks and congrats to the organisation.

    This article does an excellent job of not only presenting a good plus and minus perspective, but also providing links to a wide range of views on the topic, which is the future of China.

    My thoughts for some time have been, simply put:

    first, that although we often think of modern China as beginning with Mao, in fact there is a continuity of history going back a long time; although circumstances today are unique and different from those in the past, at the same time, there is nothing all that new under the sun.  Reading Gunder Frank’s ‘ReOrient’ provided an excellent window not only into non-Eurocentric history in which the role of Asia was more accurately portrayed than is usual in Western contexts, but also into long term cyclical developments in cultural diasporas (such as China/Asia), as well as the (to me) surprising insight that apart from industrialisation, so-called ‘capitalism’ has remained remarkably unchanged, or at least essentially the same, for several thousand years.

    Secondly, I believe that what is happening in China (which I have yet to visit although I was in Asia for a year in 1990), is, despite any cultural particularities with either the long or short term frame of reference, simply that they are rejoining the world economic system. In short, after a long-term decline starting somewhere around 1750 - 1850 ish, and after a period of internal decay and turmoil, they have come back, and in so doing have to adapt to new technologies and modes of doing things. On some level, that is all that is going on, and ideology really is a minor concern.

    On the other hand, what truly interests me the most about China and what is touched on but not dealt with in the article, is where is it going? What is a successful model? My belief is that the post-industrial economic model has a fatal flaw, namely that it is predicated on wage arbitrage, i.e. a wealthy economy becomes one by exploiting labour and resources of less wealthy ones. Even if this predicate is overly simplistic or incorrect, a similar way of putting this is that the modern economy depends upon perpetual growth and in so doing is predicated on making money, usually by adding value to something or other, and most often by keeping the raw materials as cheap as possible so that manufactured goods can retain profit margins and thereby engender such growth.

    The question facing China in fact is the question facing the entire developed world. And because she comprises such a huge percentage of the world population AND is in a current stage of both catching up with and perhaps becoming the leading world econoomy - both in quantity and later on quality - we all have to wonder: how are they going to pull this off?

    Is it possible to run a world economy on the perpetual growth model? Can raw commodities such as energy, trees, arable land, water and so forth be available in sufficient abundance and economies of scale that not only China but India, Malaysia, Africa, South America, Russia and so forth can all become as developed as France, Germany, UK, Italy, the US?

    Personally, I don’t think so, but also I have no way of knowing one way or another. At the same time, I am hoping that as China becomes more comfortable with having transitioned into being basically a ‘normal’ country in the contemporary world situation, that she also reaches deliberately and intelligently into her past. Many of the wisdoms developed in both the buddhist and doaist traditions which form part of the inherent character of Chinese (and Asian) culture have much to contribute in this regard, in terms of how to structure sane, sustainable, dynamic and sophisticated cultures. This is what I am looking for.

    But I’m not holding my breath. WWIII is looking more likely, unfortunately.

    But that is a whole other topic. Perhaps!

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    By Jonas South, January 26, 2006 at 6:03 am Link to this comment
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    Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that China has replaced Britain to become the fourth largest economy of the world. In a sense, this is the central question Dean Schell poses: What exactly does it mean to have a ‘large economy’?

    One fifth of humanity happens to be organized into one political entity, and predicated on that fact alone, we say China is now the ‘World’s Fourth Largest Economy’. Within this entity resides many times more individuals than the next largest economy, and the one after that, and the one after that. Each of these Chinese individuals live and toil under vastly inferior conditions than the now inferior-ranked economy-Britain, and the one after that, and the one after that.

    China is very good at providing ‘stuff’ to the rest of the world, including to herself, but she is very poor provider of what makes life decent for the individual Chinese. To say that the people have made progress is to say that they are no longer drowning as fast. Yet, even by that meager measure, progress has stopped, or soon will.

    What does it mean to be the World’s Fourth Largest Economy?  It means, in the absence of a political voice, its citizens relinquish even more power to its leaders, who now have even more money to buy ‘peace’, to consolidate their hold. It reminds me of a super beehive, growing grotesquely larger than normal, but no new queen bee ever emerges to lead them to new horizons, to build a new hive. Eventually, this hugely inefficient super hive must crash of its own weight to the ground.

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    By curt, January 22, 2006 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment
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    The western world has been the victim of massive hipocrisy on China. We’ve been sold out by both conservative and so-called liberal governments who want to kow tow to the great economic opportunity called the People$ Republic of China.

    China commits more human rights violoations and censorship of its people than any country in the world. But we figuratively all look the other way, because we want to make a buck.

    There is no justification for this totalitarian state hosting the next Summer Olympics - none whatsoever. There’s no justification for anyone putting up with their posturing and threats concerning Taiwan and Japan. No justification in western companies becoming complicit in censorship and oppression of political dissenters. No justification in the defacto slavery of the peasant class as workers in factories producing for developed countries.

    It’s time for the world to wake up on China. Sure there has been progress, but the fact is that this is a totalitarian state, whose hunger for resources to feed developed countries’ consumption habit will lead Asia to environmental catastrophe in the very near future.

    Wake up!

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    By Dick Ginnold, January 20, 2006 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment
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    Great overview. With world-wide instant communication and increasing contact with foreign family members, tourism and immigration by Chinese citizens, the average peasant and worker is becoming aware of international income disparities. The 44% national savings rate is coming on the backs of China’s workers. The rising rate of protests, may be proximately about land use and development, but are finally about the power and greed denying Chinese lower classes and peasantry a fair share of progress.
    The Chinese are master adjusters and when they start adjusting to this and reducing their growth and reserves, the dollar will take a licking and we had better be ready.

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    By AC/Shen, January 11, 2006 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment
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    Comment #80 by M. Henri Day. ‘the fate of the environment in China is closely tied to the fate of the environment in the rest of the world ; pollution is no respecter of national boundaries.’

    While I am ethnic Chinese, I was visiting China from my home in the Berkeley hills, not far from Dean Schell’s. But you point is well taken; somewhere we must take a stand against wanton destruction of the environment, ‘if only in self-interest’, as you said.

    My point was made too obliquely, I admit, but it is that the problems are so interelated and complex that the only rational course in one lifetime is to escape to a clean environment, harbor one’s strength and health, and plot local strategy.

    Lest you think that the U.S. represents that santuary, consider this example: California is the only state that permits the commercial sale of unadulterated cow’s milk, and even here, there are only 30 odd Jersey cows providing raw milk for 30 million people. The rest of us drink hazardous milk that is dead, with denatured proteins and oxidized cholesterol. In the milk industry, vulture economics, environmental degradation, and iatrogenic diseases perfectly drive home the point that even for the First World, the game is very nearly lost. (For more information about raw milk, consult http://www.WestonAPrice.org.)

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    By toc, January 11, 2006 at 12:51 am Link to this comment
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    The whole discussion of china will very rapidly change to how to manage its collapse. This will be the great geopolitical probl;em we will face in the next five to ten years.  In light of this fact, the idea of China making war anywhere other than on chinese soil in a civil war or being considered a world military super power is ludicrous.

    The worries about an invasion of Taiwan are baseless.  How do they get a million man occupation Army across the straights and then provide the logistics to support that army.  Take a look at the cost of our 138,000 troops in Iraq.

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    By M Henri Day, January 8, 2006 at 7:33 am Link to this comment
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    I entirely agree with AC/Shen that a 12 thousand million USD monthly increase in China’s foreign reserves hardly begins to compensate its people for the environmental destruction that the policies of the last 25 years have engendered. But I hope that he or she will, in fact «look back», even if only in self-interest, as the fate of the environment in China is closely tied to the fate of the environment in the rest of the world ; pollution is no respecter of national boundaries. And besides if all of the nearly one and one half thousand million Chinese decided to relocate due to pollution at home, who is to take them in ?...

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    By AC/Shen, January 7, 2006 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment
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    For six weeks, the muck over Beijing never cleared. Even from my twentieth floor window, the sun was always hazy and the sky was never blue. China has nine of the ten most polluted cities in the world, and almost half of the children had detectable levels of lead in their bodies. Can $12 billion a month increase in foreign reserves compensate for all that this pollution mean to the populace? My answer was no, and I left China and never looked back.

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    By der_Alte, January 1, 2006 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
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    It is almost comical to see comments from people arguing we should ‘defend’ Taiwan & not let the mainland take it back. Meanwhile we’re getting our butts kicked in Eyerak where we are ‘trying to plant democracy’. Haven’t we succeeded ingiving democracy a pretty smudged face? China is Japan’s problem, Taiwan is China’s problem & God-knows we’ve got plenty of our own.

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    By toc, December 24, 2005 at 6:45 pm Link to this comment
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    I think this article is excellent in that it attempts to give a balanced and somewhat comprhensive account of the situation in China. Its main problem is that it looks at things from only the shortest of perspectives, 20, 30, 40 years. It is like trying to tell the date and the year by looking at the second hand of a clock.


    The situation in China most resembles that which existed at the end of the Han.  A weak imperial government, China’s now is little more than a “paper tiger” and will be proven so with widespread unrest in the provinces. The rule of Eunuchs. Concentration of Power in the hands of New Mandarins.

    China is a freight train rushing headlong for collapse, economic, environmental and social. The divisions between rich and poor, the environmental disasters in the making, the destruction of farmland, the attempt to control the situation by a corrupt and decadent Party an absence of the rule of Law all point to it.

    Also, and most importantly, there is no mention of China as the Empire it still is.  I see a much greater probability of China breaking up, and very rapidly, than China continuing to develop at the rate at which it has recently.

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    By M Henri Day, December 19, 2005 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
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    Historical parallels can be instructive, but the human actors who make history are not compelled to repeat them. Comparing post-1949 China to the «cruel» Sui Dynasty which was followed by the glorious (less cruel ?) Tang may have its appeal to certain opponents of the present Chinese regime, but the analogy seems (to me) more psychological than real. China’s position in the world today and the constraints under which her leadership operate are very different from those obtaining a millennium and a half ago. One of the major tasks facing that leadership today, as it has been for more than a century, is what model to choose in order to strengthen the country and make it wealthy, in order to allow it to play a major role in the modern world. Deng Xiaoping’s assumption of power after Mao’s death meant that the search for models based on purely theoretical considerations was abandoned ; thereafter all models were, in according with Deng’s «black cat, white cat» philosophy, to be chosen on a pragmatic basis from those which had proven themselves in real life. This inevitably meant that the model chosen was the United States (a country the size of China could hardly be expected to model itself on the social democracies of Scandinavia). The rapid economic growth, at the cost of enormous economic degradation and widening social and economic gaps, that we have seen over the last quarter century are a result of the interaction between the model and the domestic resources (which were not inconsiderable) that China brought to the task. The question for those of us that hope for a peaceful, democratic, and environmentally sustainable development in China, is, of course, whether the United States (in practice rather than theory) during the last 30 years can be said to have constituted a model for such development….

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    By Jason Campbell, December 19, 2005 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
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    Dean Schell does an excellent job highlighting the inherent contradictions of China, (although contradictions are present the world over) and as to the future, he is correct that no one can entirely predict what a future China will look like.

    Double-digit economic growth for over two decades is indeed impressive and people rightly ask whether the costs to its citizens and the environment will be worth it.

    China’s present leadership is very adept, like bamboo, at retaining its strength through flexibility. The Communist Party will not collapse, as some assert (and have been asserting for decades), it will simply morph.

    China’s diplomatic efforts around the globe through trade and not force, has found willing partners on every continent. While the U.S reputation is in tatters, China is signing trade agreements with countries the likes of Canada, Brazil, and the EU. And arms deals with the EU are soon to follow as sanctions are ultimately lifted. Certainly relationships (mainly driven by energy or security demands) with countries such as Sudan and Uzbekistan are troubling, the U.S does not have the moral or economic leverage to judge these.

    While high profile spats with Japan exist, those same spats occur with South Korea, and to this end South Korea and China have allied. No one who knows the region expects future conflict between S. Korea and Japan. And as regional groups such as ASEAN expand, Japan will realize it needs a growing and stable China, and will spurn them to their own detriment.

    As for Taiwan, the PLA would not preemptively invade Taiwan, and the Communist Party is aware of this. The political mood in Taiwan is leaning towards reconciliation with the mainland, not war. Taiwan would face more pressure internally if they tried to amend their Constitution than from a military invasion from the mainland. China would not launch a war just to save face. Rather they would use their far greater economic and diplomatic clout (much as Russia is applying to Ukraine and Georgia presently) to bring Taiwan back. Much of the heated rhetoric stems from a $12 billion weapons deal that the U.S. and certain elements in Taiwan are trying to pursue.

    Speaking of Russia, recent joint military training operations adds to China’s ability to project strength without the need to use force.

    As for the downside, rural unrest exists (and has always existed). Recent moves, such as reducing and eliminating rural taxes will help. Drawing untold millions into urban employment acts to reduce rural unrest. Ultimately what allows stability is if each generation is able to enjoy a higher standard of living than the previous. Do the people see a brighter future for their children. And this is the case in China, despite the widening gap between rich and poor. A middle class in sizable numbers never existed before in China, but that is quickly changing.

    Corruption is a human condition, not a Chinese condition or a Communist condition (witness the breathtaking scope of lobbying scandals in the U.S. at present or the saving and loan bailouts of the 80’s that cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars). How corruption is dealt is the more appropriate question, and in this regard, the Party knows it must contain it or risk losing credibility. Jack Abramoff and Randy “Duke” Cunningham can count their blessings, for they would be executed had they lived in China.

    Human rights are the area that the Party is most vulnerable on and that I find most shameful. But as China matures and becomes less insecure about its future role in world affairs, I believe it will change. The slow pace may seem unbearable, but we only have to look at our own history to see how long it takes for human rights to be adequately addressed, and it does not have to happen at the expense of the state.

    Simply put, the Communist Party is slowly but surely building a federal government that will continue to unite the country. They are adept enough at using nationalism to maintain order as fledgling institutions, such as an independent judiciary, and sound environmental policy emerge.

    Collapse of the Party would be ruinous to the majority of China, and the world. The U.S. economy is so intertwined with China’s that it would devastate our business community. One simply has to know that Wal-Mart, by itself, is China’s eighth largest trading partner.

    Last year President Hu said that “democracy is a blind alley.” As he says this, he surely must know that Communism is just as blind. There is a new way that both sides have yet to discover. We will all have learn to change how society is organized. And who knows, if cooler heads prevail, maybe we can both learn this from each other.

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    By Tony N, December 8, 2005 at 5:00 pm Link to this comment
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    Sustainable development is preferable.  However, China may have calculated that it doesn’t have the luxury of a slower approach to economic development since oil contraints are increasing in future (exacerbated by increasing U.S. control of world oil supplies). 

    Update on that toxic spill in China (see newspaper article below).  At least the Chinese system has accountability, deterrents and consequences to stop or discourage bad things from happening again in future:  the system holds individuals accountable and/or individuals personally hold themselves accountable.  Compare China’s approach to what was reported in the weeks after the Hurricane Katrina disaster at the U.S. national, state and city levels.  China’s approach is not perfect, but which approach would you prefer to have seen in the recent U.S. disaster?

    Independent (British newspaper): “Official blamed for Chinese toxic spill is found hanged”

    “A senior official who tried to cover up the discharge of 100 tons of toxic benzene and nitrobenzene into the Songhua river in north- eastern China is believed to have hanged himself.

    Wang Wei, vice-mayor of Jilin City and the local environmental chief, reportedly committed suicide on Tuesday. “I’d heard he’d died at home yesterday. We’ve heard he hanged himself,” a senior city official said yesterday.

    Mr Wang had been widely quoted as denying that an explosion on 13 November at a Jilin chemical plant would result in contamination of the Songhua, the main source of drinking water for millions of people in both countries.

    “It will not cause large-scale pollution,” he told the Chinese media two days after the blast. But, eight days later, the city of Harbin was forced to suspend water supplies to 3.8 million residents after the levels of the carcinogen nitrobenzene in the Songhua were found to be 30 times the maximum safe level. It took a further 10 days for officials to admit publicly that the Songhua had been polluted. The incident caused widespread panic in Harbin, prompting the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, to fly to the city to reassure residents.

    The toxic chemicals continue to flow in the river towards Russia.

    Mr Wang’s apparent suicide came on the same day that China’s State Council launched its inquiry into the incident, which has dented public confidence in the authorities and highlighted their reluctance to report bad news, as well as straining relations with Russia, downstream of the polluted water. The Songhua turns into the Amur river when it reaches Russia and Mr Wen has written to his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, apologising for the spill and confirming China will take full responsibility for the incident.

    Li Yizhong, the director of the National Bureau of Production Safety Supervision Administration and head of the inquiry, vowed to punish those responsible for the explosion and the subsequent cover-up.

    “Anyone who is found guilty of dereliction of duty will be harshly dealt with,” said Mr Li. “People who are found to have provided false information to investigators will be punished severely. Anyone found trying to cover up the cause of the accident and any passive attitude to the investigation are deemed deception and defiance of the law.”

    Heads have already started to roll. Last week, Xie Zhenhua, the chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration, China’s environmental watchdog, became the highest-ranking official to resign after a pollution accident.

    The head of the Jilin branch of China National Petroleum Corporation, who operated the chemical plant responsible for the discharge of the benzene, was reported to have been dismissed. The explosion at the plant killed eight people and injured a further 60.”
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article331790.ece

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    By FJ, December 6, 2005 at 2:40 pm Link to this comment
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    Having seen the results of China’s rapid development firsthand a number of times, it is hard not to be impressed with the monumental change that has taken place there over the last 20 years or so. On the other hand, the Chinese have created a number of powderkegs that have the potential to cause one huge bang, especially if they all go up at once.

    It’s dangerous to underestimate the importance of sustainable development (in all regards). Just looking at the result that economic or political turmoil has had in democracies in the 20th century makes me worry for the potential harm such turmoil could cause in an aspiring 21st century superpower like China.

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    By a reader, December 4, 2005 at 9:32 pm Link to this comment
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    Very interesting comments and observations.

    I believe the PRC’s internal contradictions will cause it to go to war with Japan and the US in the not too distant future. Of course, this will only accelerate its inevitable demise.

    The economic differences, reflected in the different regions, will contribute to the fragmenting of the country with Tibet and Xinjiang becoming independent; Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian - China’s richer provinces - could easily break apart from the central government.

    The Sui Dynasty was a short and cruel dynasty. It was a transition dynasty from the break up of the Song Dynasty. The Sui ushered in the greatest period of China’s history - The Tang Dynasty.

    Well, the PRC is another short, cruel “dynasty” that will usher in a “New Tang Dynasty” which will see the establishment of democracy and a new flowering of Chinese culture and civilization.
    The PRC is doomed. It will collapse from its internal contradictions. It’s history will be even shorter than that of the former Soviet Union.

    Many people confuse the “culture” of the PRC as “Chinese” culture. This is incorrect. The PRC and China are not the same. The PRC is just one of the many dynasties in China’s history and it will fade away along with the peculiarities of its cruel dictatorship; there’s nothing permanent about it, however, China will live on.

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    By Yan, December 3, 2005 at 6:45 pm Link to this comment
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    Thanks for the essay.

    I agree China’s economy will also be cyclical for sure. But correctly or not, I am personally sort of optimistic on the long term development of China. I think the problems behind the booming of economics were known by both government and intellectuals. “Toward what is China aiming?” Better life for people.

    “For example, what will be the ultimate fate of the Chinese Communist Party, which now rules unilaterally?”
    Who cares. smile

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    By dave trapp, December 3, 2005 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment
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    First, I complement your efforts to present insightful and accurate reporting on current subjects and on issues.  This is a critical task in a democracy and one the traditional media is currently doing poorly.

    Secondly, I appreciate your piece on China.

    But as a chemist, physicist and laboratory hygienist, I caution that technical matters are often poorly communicated in the media, so that one should remain vigilant against reproducing errors or exaggerations.

    In particular consider the second paragraph mention of “more than 100 tons of highly carcinogenic benzene and nitrobenzene flowed into the Songhua River.”  The concern about environment impact is appropriate, but your detail is misleading.  Benzene is a major component in gasoline and is believed to have carcinogenic risks.  But its risk of causing liver cancer is primarily due to career-long commutative exposures rather than the brief exposures common to those of us who occasionally get a whiff of gasoline odor or have actually touched the liquid.  I have limited first hand observations, but theory is consistent with repeated reports by reputable scientists that the low boiling point components (such as benzene and nitrobenzene) in petroleum spills largely evaporate into the atmosphere within hours of such a spill, leaving asphalt-like residues to cause harm to the environment.  So the “highly carcinogenic” is wildly exaggerated, and the notion that the benzene and nitrobenzene pose the bulk of the environment risk is probably erroneous.

    The world-wide need to balance industrial grow with protection of the environment should not be diminished by such errors of detail.

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    By M Henri Day, December 3, 2005 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
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    Presumably, both people on the mainland of China and those residing on Taiwan will be able to find the wisdom required to peacefully resolve the question of the nature of their relations - in particular if certain circles in the United States and not least, Japan, are not allowed to exert too much influence on the matter. Note the results of the latest Taiwanese election (http://en.chinabroadcast.cn/2238/2005-12-4/51@285560.htm>)....

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    By Obbop, December 3, 2005 at 8:45 am Link to this comment
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    Reading the writing of those ready to allow Americans to bleed, perhaps die, while defending Taiwan from Chinese agression…. I ponder how many advocating taking up arms to defend Taiwan will be in the fron lines so as to experience the wonders of shrapnel and other possibly lethal projectiles entering their bodies.

    Those who shout out for war the most are seldom in a position to fight that war.

    Real brave, people. Back up thine aggressive stance by enlisting or sending YOUR progeny to fight.

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    By Mary, December 3, 2005 at 2:32 am Link to this comment
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    Thank you for a fascinating article, Dr. Schell.  What happens in China certainly will affect us all.  One thing that frustrates me is that there is no reason for China to have such a poor energy infrastructure.  We in the west could have done our part in sharing renewable and efficient systems that would allow them to enjoy a higher standard of living without being so destructive to the environment.  This would have been a wise investment for us all.

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    By Jeffrey M Moskin, December 1, 2005 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment
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    “‘Taiwan is just not important enough for us to fight over.’ So the US is just going to let China preemptively attack a democratic ally of ours? If the US lets China take Taiwan it loses all military and political credibility in East Asia, besides the fact that an invasion of Taiwan by China would be morally reprehensible.”

    Nearly 100 percent of the semiconductor chips that go to the mainland for those DVD players are designed and manufactured in Taiwan. Most of the manufacturing know-how is from there as well. Oh, and their engineers “speak our language” - - -Mandarin- - -

    It would be SUICIDAL for China to even think of attacking Taiwan. It is all talk and posturing.

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    By Tony N, December 1, 2005 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment
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    Here are two more contradictions to think about.  China’s Hong Kong remains the world’s freest economy, ahead of the U.S.  (#12 on the Heritage Foundation’s ranking) on economic freedom.  Hong Kong (#39) is ahead of the U.S. (#44) on the annual worldwide press freedom index (Reporters Without Borders).

    When evaluating mainland China’s economic growth, consider a few things.  The U.S. and many other Western countries developed modern economies over the course of up to a few centuries. Some countries (Britain, U.S., France, Netherlands, Spain, etc.) leveraged the economic advantages of colonial imperialism along the way, and some still do it in more subtle ways (usually). Hong Kong, for example, was originally taken from China in the mid 19th century after an Anglo-Chinese Opium War (which resulted in large part because the British tried to push the drug opium on an unwilling China to pay for trade imports from China).  Yup the British resorted to being international drug pushers to drive their economic development.

    In addition, Western countries have had environmental and natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina disaster in the U.S., Love Canal chemical dumping in the U.S., Seveso dioxin crisis in Italy, 1952 smog disaster in London, major oil spills, Three Mile Island near nuclear disaster in the U.S., 1953 flood disaster in Netherlands, or Walkerton water contamination in Canada), or have contributed to environmental disasters in developing countries (e.g., Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal). 

    China doesn’t have many of the advantages of Western countries (although it has a few of its own).  China ‘started’ from a low baseline in 1978.  China has had only 27 years to fast track on Western-style economic development.  This country has over 1.3 billion relatively ‘backward’ people (over four times the U.S. population) living on a land area slightly larger than the U.S.  Unlike the U.S., China is an ancient country with a complex, ingrained culture, some aspects of which go against the grain of Western economic culture.  Add to China’s interesting economic relationship with the U.S. is their concern that American military bases now surround China, even though China hasn’t really been going around invading other countries in its modern history (relative to the U.S.).
    http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ch.html

    China’s development process is relatively unique in terms of scale and pace of transformation “moving the economy from a sluggish, inefficient, Soviet-style centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented system.”  It isn’t going through a mere transition. It has trying to do what hasn’t been done before by any other country in modern history faced with similar conditions.  With such complexities, China’s economic development will be inconsistent—this is an old country undergoing teenage growing pains. For many more years, China is unlikely to be manageable as a stable economy. China will make wrong moves (or think it’s making wrong moves), destabilize, retrogress, bactrack, jump learning curves, etc.  Major contradictions, mistakes and problems are bound to happen during China’s development.  Indeed, we can expect a far, far bigger disaster than the Harbin toxic leak to inevitably occur in China eventually. Unfortunately.

    Of course, Western critics will find issues in China that are contradictions to Westerners, unless we can see China’s development from a longer range perspective. Seen a 100 years from now, the Harbin contaminated water episode will probably be a relatively minor issue in China’s economic history, and indeed in Western economic history.  China’s financial system will eventually develop, and who knows might even influence how Western financial systems are managed.  So will its observance of Western rules of law (even as the U.S. government reneges on the rules of law whenever it is convenient, e.g., U.S. softwood lumber dispute with Canada).  Corruption will continue to be a problem for some years.  Should China’s environmental degradation since 1978 be considered in context America’s environmental degradation since the 19th century and the degradation of the environment in countries due to the operations of U.S. companies (e.g., toxic legacy of American oil companies in South America).  Civil unrest such as what occurred in the late 1980s is inevitable.

    Orville Schell brought up many interesting issues for thought and appropriately ended with “what standard should we judge (China’s) progress?”  To that, I would add “By whose standards should we judge China’s progress?  What right do we have to judge China?”

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    By M Henri Day, December 1, 2005 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Professor Schell is certainly correct in that «almost no China specialists have ever been particularly prescient in their prognostications about that country’s future» ; indeed, we are generally much better in prognosticating the past. But if that past is any indication - and as no theory of historical development has ever been shown to be empirically adequate, it is the only one we have - China (but not necessarily the present government) will survive a downturn, just as it has survived many others during the last two millennia of its history. As long as human states continue to exist, it seems reasonable to assume that China will be one of their number, perhaps not occupying precisely the same territory that it does today, perhaps not necessarily unified, but in some form. Yes, too many people chasing too few resources is indeed a great problem facing the Chinese today, and this difficulty is hardly alleviated by the fact that the model being emulated is one in which the political acquiescence of the population is bought with unsustainable consumption of irreplaceable resources. (Indeed, one might note that «it is far from clear that [the model country] has the political legitimacy, deeply enough rooted political institutions, or shared set of values to help it survive a downturn».) But the impression I get is that the present Chinese leadership is aware of this problem as a problem, and is attempting to address it in a serious manner, more than can be said, perhaps, for the leadership in every country in the world. But even should they fail, my best guess as said is that some sort of recognisably Chinese polity will survive the crash. Fortunately I am not likely to be around when this prediction is tested, so the risk of me having to eat my hat is minimal….

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    By Greg Bishop, December 1, 2005 at 6:18 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    “o the US is just going to let China preemptively attack a democratic ally of ours?”

    Uh, yea, look at S. Vietnam.  Or Chile, Argintina, Iran…

    We’re allies as long as it is convenient.

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    By Orville Schell, November 30, 2005 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    In response to my University of California colleague Brad Delong, I would agree that things in China have gone far better than anyone predicted during the dark post-1989 days. But, what explains that success? Good vsionary planning? Strong leadership? A national psyche exhausted by any kind of turmoil? Good luck?

    The danger is that even the best economy tends to be cyclical, and it is far from clear that China has the political legitimacy, deeply enough rooted political institutions, or shared set of values to help it survive a downturn.

    It must also be said that almost no China specialists have ever been particularly prescient in their prognostications about that country’s future. The best we can do is a kind of double entry book-keeping of the plusses and minuses we can observe in what has been a very contradictory situation over the last century and a half.

    As to Wintermute and whether Taiwan is worth fighting for… I personally do not believe that any functioning democracy is worth throwing over the side to keep some other sort of the peace - commercial or otherwise. We Americans forget that we spent a quarter of a century “supporting self-determination” and “building democracy” in Taiwan.

    As to Stuart Kingsley’s comments wondering about the ruling Communist Party’s ability to survive… I would not be quite so ready to write it off. Party leaders have ellicited an impressive flexibility and adaptability in the last few decades, even to the point of essentially abandoning Mao’s revolution in all but name. Remember, no one thought the Party would survive in the early 90s as the USSR and Eastern Europe imploded.

    Even when it comes to controlling the Internet, one has to take one’s hat off to the Party. They have done an impressive job “using” it for business and state communications, while keeping it neutered politically. This may not be a level of control that will be easy to maintain, but we are witnessing one the great petri dish experiments in China as to the Internet’s fundamental controllability by some entity that really wishes to do so.

    Finally, in response to Henri Day’s note that China has made some impressive progress on the environmental front, particualrly in forestry, I would say this: They have some notable success projects, but over-all the environment, forestry included, is under a savage assault. There are simply too many people using too few resources. And, as their expectations about consumption arise - to wit auto-kultur - this problem will only grow.

    Thus, no matter how many remedial actions have been taken, China is still losing ground environmentally. This is the finally inflexible edge of the envelope that the country confronts.

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    By Robert Green, November 30, 2005 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    i’m with alf—taiwan is a real democracy.  surely that, AND nothing else, should be what a liberal democrat cares about.

    excellent essay.  it won’t matter much when the world’s resources and environmental degradation/global warming make all of this a blip on the radar.  we’re going down, and without a major technological leap forward, we’re going down hard.  china will just make it happen faster.

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    By M Henri Day, November 30, 2005 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    China - and more particularly, various generations of a disparate Chinese leadership - have been searching for the keys to wealth and power at least since the country’s defeat at the hands of Great Britain in the First Opium War. The premier model since 1979 has been the United States, and if residents of that country feel that the Chinese mirror distorts their country the way one’s image becomes distorted in the reflections from mirrors in a fun house, it would be wise to remember that the Chinese leaders are less impressed with what their counterparts in the US say (save when they are taking lessons in the noble art of modern «spinning») than with what they do. That this has led to a society with enormous disparities of wealth in which the interests of labour and the environment are sacrificed to those of capital and rapid «development» is hardly surprising. Still, one should not underestimate the capacity of the present Chinese leadership to deal with these problems - these are intelligent people whose view of reality is not entirely «faith-based» and who have demonstrated a certain capacity to see the world and Chinese society for what they are. Note also that in certain areas, the Chinese record is, in fact, rather better than Professor Schell indicates ; thus, for example, while deforestation does remain an important problem, it is being addressed, and recently the FAO commended the success China has had with its afforestation programme (http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2005/1000127/index.html)....

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    By tim, November 30, 2005 at 6:32 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Hasn’t China been loosely unified for a well over a thousand years… maybe two?  I’m a little off on my history.  Maybe the instability and fiefoms that were mentioned would create a potentially beneficial uprising in the long term.  They can’t go on like this forever.  Or can they.  I forgot how accurate we are at predicting political and economic futures.

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    By Alf, November 30, 2005 at 1:29 am Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    “Taiwan is just not important enough for us to fight over.”

    So the US is just going to let China preemptively attack a democratic ally of ours? If the US lets China take Taiwan it loses all military and political credibility in East Asia, besides the fact that an invasion of Taiwan by China would be morally reprehensible.

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    By Stuart Kingsley, November 29, 2005 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    The ruling communist party in China cannot survive more than another 4 or 5 years.  They have let the genie out of the box by opting for a modicum of free enterprise.  And China is not really a country any longer; it has become a collection of fiefdoms.  They are very unstable and violence on a large scale is probably inevitable.

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    By Scott Ahlf, November 29, 2005 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    China is simply the last great industrial power—-
    With immense population, collapsing ecosystems, pollution,
    cities the size of Chicago we have never heard the name of,
    no superstition based economic miracle will save China from the
    Second Law of Thermodynamics—-
    But, within the stage of late stage capitalism,
    pretty impressive, along as one doesn’t travel outside that box, and look at the complete developing picture-
    Humans are good at short term problems, but not wired for
    long term problems, especially the one’s quickly approaching-

    Report this

    By henry oz, November 29, 2005 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    147 to 100 on the male/female, fine example of the unity of opposites law being broken, but then
    if females are seen as egg crates and the male the materialists canon fodder, why not?

    Time is on the DMs side and it is more so in the East where you won’t find leaders pounding the table with their shoe whilst threatening economic warfare.

    Just watch out when democracy & communism meet, Marx’s projection?, for hands down it will beat democracy &/or state capitalism.

    Accept the highest degree of thanks for your excellent essay.

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    By Wintermute, November 29, 2005 at 4:59 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Thanks for the fine roundup. THIS is the country we need to focus our best attention on. Taiwan is just not important enough for us to fight over. A more imteresting question is what Japan will do: re-arm or look to Uncle Sugar?

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    By Steve Fuller, November 29, 2005 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    It will be interesting to see how both China and the US each deal with their growing wealth gaps between rich and poor.

    Report this

    By Brad DeLong, November 29, 2005 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment
    (Unregistered commenter)

    Nevertheless, things have gone much,  much better than you would twenty years ago have dared hope that they would go, yes?

    Report this
     

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    Dig Director's Blog

    Dec. 3, 2005

    I would agree that things in China have gone far better than anyone predicted during the dark post-1989 days. But, what explains that success? Good visionary planning? Strong leadership? A national psyche exhausted by any kind of turmoil? Good luck?

    The danger is that even the best economy tends to be cyclical, and it is far from clear that China has the political legitimacy, deeply enough rooted political institutions, or shared set of values to help it survive a downturn.

    As to Wintermute and whether Taiwan is worth fighting for… I personally do not believe that any functioning democracy is worth throwing over the side to keep some other sort of the peace - commercial or otherwise. We Americans forget…

    - - -
    Nov. 28, 2005

    Coming Soon: Postings from Orville Schell.

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