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China Is Here

Posted on Jul 17, 2009
Flickr / Haldini

By David Sirota

GUIYANG, China—Before planning for and making the transglobal trek to the most populous country on Earth, I knew mainland China mostly through television and movie screens. My sinologists were Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Egg Shen, the crotchety shaman from “Big Trouble in Little China”—a Cabinet of advisers who left me, ahem, unprepared for my voyage east.

Thus I was thrilled when, upon arriving here, a Peace Corps volunteer handed me a 1997 tome called “Red China Blues.” Written by Chinese-Canadian journalist Jan Wong, the book tours a nation on the verge of superpowerdom, and it ends by suggesting the country’s industrialization may mean “the future of China may be the West’s past.”

One excursion does not make me a China guru, but I can report with some confidence that when it comes to economic growth, Wong is right. China is walking in our shoes—and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

On my trip (which you can read more about at, I’ve seen America circa 1900: coastal metropolises of towering wealth hemming in a polluted and destitute heartland. Two Chinas, as John Edwards might say—one you constantly hear about and another hidden from view.

In Hong Kong, I gaped at the sleek office towers, fine restaurants and nouveau riche—the “miracle” endlessly celebrated by The New York Times’ Tom Friedman (China is a place of “wide avenues, skyscrapers, green spaces, software parks and universities”), Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria (“China’s growth has obvious and amazing benefits for the world”) and most of America’s Very Serious Commentators. Indeed, according to MIT’s Yasheng Huang, China’s best-known cities are known for tricking incurious observers into portraying the entire country as “sanitary … largely free of grotesque manifestations of poverty [and] one of the most successful countries in tackling income inequality.”


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Of course, in Guiyang, a coal-mining town of 3 million in China’s poorest province, I found exactly the opposite—the darker side of the “miracle.”

Here in the countryside is the soundstage of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick—filth-covered tenements slapped together with crumbling cement and kitchen tile; limbless paupers with burned faces begging for food; an atmosphere choked by soot, exhaust and the stench of human excrement.

Scholars insist this is the unavoidable consequence of a country being run by the Chinese Communist Party—an extreme version of the Republican Party that couples Genghis Khan’s intolerance with Hank Paulson’s authoritarian capitalism. Pundits assert that China’s inequality, which according to World Bank data now rivals our own Gilded Age, is just a necessary evil—the obligatory pitfall of nonetheless positive Western-style development. And while some Americans may lament international poverty, many are too distracted or unsympathetic to care about seemingly far-flung tragedies.

But, then, the challenges China poses aren’t about Save-the-Children altruism, and they aren’t distant triflings. As none other than “Big Trouble in Little China” presciently warned, China is here—and we cannot simply cite inevitability as reason to ignore its metastasizing problems.

We’re not talking about the United States in 1900—a country of only 76 million people pigheadedly despoiling its way into the 20th century. It’s 2009, the planet’s already on the brink of resource exhaustion and climate catastrophe, and China is 17 times more populous than America was during our industrial era.

If we just sit back and listen to those who pooh-pooh the complaints and celebrate supposed “miracles”; if governments refuse to strengthen international environmental policies; if the world merely hopes for the best as 1.3 billion Chinese pursue old-school smokestack industrialization, then there’s not going to be much of a world left.

Our future won’t be that gleaming Hong Kong skyline we keep being told about—it will be downtown Guiyang.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). Find his blog at or e-mail him at

© 2009

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By Folktruther, July 17, 2009 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

A good digest, race to the bottom.  But it is also the case that the chinese CP, like the old Mandarins, are more concerned with power than profit.  they want to make China a the leading world power and think ahead decades in those terms.

And they want to do it without war, since they have such an advantage economically.  they are a progressive force in the world until their ruling class becoames corrupt, in the usual way, oveer historical time.

Paracelsus, globalization was formulated by the US ruling class to destroy American unions and for American firms to produce goods cheaply abroad and export them to the US.  China is a progressive force in the world but, that doesn’t mean that the US shouldn’t protect its people economically.  But the US ruling class is now completely predatory, wanting its profits now and not worrying about the future.  After them the deluge.

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By MeHere, July 17, 2009 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Folktruther, all very good points!

China and many other countries do not see the US -the largest and oldest industrial polluter- implementing comprehensive environmental policies. And they see how the US is voraciously consuming cheap merchandise (mostly unnecessary junk,) regardless of the industrial processes involved. This scenario tells them that if they themselves implement serious environmental policies, they’ll be at an economic disadvantage. It’s a concern that has been voiced by a number of nations.  It is a problem.

Hating China, all 1 billion plus citizens?  No hate, please. The only ones who benefit from this kind of hate are the profiteers and the politicians.

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By Paracelsus, July 17, 2009 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

@ Folktruther

Sirota reiterates the standard plaints of Western imperialism.  Without mentioning that it was China that signed the Kyoto agreement which the US rejected, it is China that pioneering a vast increase in wind and sun energy not the US, it is China that has demanded fuel efficiency of their cars not the US, etc, etc.

I read that China is planning to build 562 coal burning electric plants.

Also the Kyoto protocol doesn’t affect China, because they get exempted for being a developing nation.


I don’t think its great to hate China or any country.  It consists of a fifth of humanity and hating people is why the West is degenerating so quickly.

I think it is more a matter of self preservation for America citizens. We need to protect ourselves from slave goods. Friedman and Zakaria, are the ones worthy of hatred. They keep pushing for us to be a flat earth, and yet I see no benefit from 40 years of this free trade nonsense.

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By race_to_the_bottom, July 17, 2009 at 8:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have spent some time in China too. It seems that nobody in the US understands what is really going on in China, with the possible exception of some elements on the right. Superficially, China resembles in some respects the industrial revolution which took place in the advanced capitalist countries. The differences are important. In the US, for example, large corporations had and continue to have enormous influence and corrupt and own the political system with the goal of enriching themselves. In China, while there are rich people and tycoons, the government has a controlling interest in the strategic sectors of the economy and such people are not allowed to run the show. Nobody can suggest that the leadership of China are puppets of financial and industrial oligarchs.

The current leadership of China can be seen as the new Mandarins in a legacy which goes back thousands of years. They are almost all engineers by profession and are totally conscious of their role in history. In Chinese history, a regime’s legitimacy is measured by how well it takes care of the people and the nation. If it fails to do so it is said to have lost the Mandate of Heaven and is therefore illegitimate and deserves to fall. Their view extends decades and centuries into both the past and the future.  They understand that they are building a first rate industrial base with the required infrastructure, but in the world that they live in certain unpleasant compromises must be made which have unpleasant consequences, but the bottom line is that they physically control the new assets and can dismiss their multinational “partners” at any time they choose.

It is indisputable that 300 million people have been raised from poverty in the last couple of decades. To understand what is really going on in China, people need to study the documents which come out of the Congresses and Central Committee plenums of the Chinese Communist Party. That is where the real action is in gauging the intention of the leadership. And the direction is clear; to build a “harmonious”, “moderately prosperous” society in the next couple of decades; to use the new productive base to raise the living standards of the people. Expect internal consumption increase dramatically. Those who proclaim that China is bogged down in the export model of development will be proven wrong. Incidentally, the economic statistics coming out of China recently remind one of the those which came out of the USSR in the ‘30s while the West was buried in the Great Depression.

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By Folktruther, July 17, 2009 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

Sirota reiterates the standard plaints of Western imperialism.  Without mentioning that it was China that signed the Kyoto agreement which the US rejected, it is China that pioneering a vast increase in wind and sun energy not the US, it is China that has demanded fuel efficiency of their cars not the US, etc, etc.

I don’t think its great to hate China or any country.  It consists of a fifth of humanity and hating people is why the West is degenerating so quickly.

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By Paracelsus, July 17, 2009 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

I don’t believe global warming was caused by humans. Right now we are going through global cooling. I believe China is very polluted, but CO2 is not the thing to worry about. As to American economic decline, our treasonous leaders are to blame fro that. How many free trade treaties need to be signed before we realize we are killing ourselves economically?

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By Eso, July 17, 2009 at 7:27 am Link to this comment

So, tell us, David Sirota, at least give us a hint, in which direction the solution lies. The U.S. is preparing to make the rest of the world serve it by making us its serfs, but then so would the rest of the world like to do as the U.S.—and China is apparently trying to do. As Paul Virilio has said, we are now living in a finite world. We are up against the surface of the unbreakable mirror.

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By Royce Allen Cove, July 17, 2009 at 7:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Samosamo is on the mark, mankind is like a cancer on this planet. Remember a cancer distroys the the very thing that substains it, that is what it does. Humans with their mindless population growth promoted by the 3 monothestic patriarchal based religions and the appalling short sightedness of our species dispite our so called intelligence fits the discription of a fatal disease perfectly. Us bipeds with the big brain seem to have forgotten that all life is interconnected, China’s increasing rape of the planet is just the next phase of our inevitable demise.

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By Emily Anne, July 17, 2009 at 5:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m sorry you hate China, or why you think that it’s “great” to do so. That’s a racist position. It stinks. Like the U.S. government, the government in China has done some very good things, and some very bad ones, too.

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By samosamo, July 17, 2009 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

China will, as most all other countries are about to find out, in the not too distant future, that the push for unsustainable growth, be it in economics or population, is a DEAD END street.

Unfettered global markets and unfettered human population growths are nothing less that a terminal cancer about to kill the host.

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By coloradokarl, July 17, 2009 at 3:58 am Link to this comment

I agree with Losthills, Waiting for other people to get the ball rolling is an excuse and not a plan. Lead By Example. Lead,Follow or get the hell out of the way….........

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By LostHills, July 17, 2009 at 1:30 am Link to this comment

It’s great to hate China—I do…—but it’s also absurd for any American to criticize any other country on global warming. We live in a house that is in serious disorder. Our elected leaders steadfastly refuse to do doodly squat on this iss ue, and they were elected by us. So let’s not be pointing fingers at others until we start doing the right thing ourselves.

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