Ran Zheng BPE Senior Seminar Professor Wachtel 09/25/2012 “China Shakes the World” James Kynge, the former China bureau chief of the Financial Times in Beijing, presents a realistic and honest version of China with his book “China Shakes the World”. After spending years researching about the Chinese economic, social and political conditions, James had a good understanding of both the current conditions in China as well as the path China took to be where it is now. The author has an unbiased view on China’s ups and downs, and presented only facts to readers.
The author mainly diagnosed China from six different dimensions: historical, population, international, resource, social, and political. As the author demonstrated in the opening of his book, the developing path that China took was not a smooth one, and modern Chinese history is filled with unintended changes and outcomes. Even in China today, debates exist on whether Mao Zedong’s victory in the Chinese civil war was beneficial to the country in general, or even another step further, how China’s role in the world has evolved from the ancient giant.
Over the past millennia, China has always been regarded as a prestigious country, producing high quality goods like silk, pottery, tea, and painting. It was during the Qing dynasty when China began to fall behind due to the industrial revolution in the western world. As the author argued, although China has been one of the largest nations both by population and by GDP, it has never been a superpower in the world. It is true that ancient China appeared to be rich and had a high standard of living, but China had always relied on agriculture and its vast population merely lived above subsistence level.
While ancient China had enough resources to feed its enormous population, the nation itself was constantly battling in civil wars as well as defending itself from foreign invasion. Aside from rudimentary technology development including the compass, papermaking, fire powder, and printing, China has not had any break-through inventions over the past centuries. Therefore, China’s aggressive acquisitions abroad in the past decade, like the Shagang and the New Hope examples mentioned in James’s book, are not a ign of threat, but an effort that the Chinese corporations made to compete in the global market. Another great example given by James is the family of Wang Qiling, whose daughter went to London to be a maid and eventually saved up enough money to purchase the most extravagant house in its neighborhood. Currently China is rapidly catching up with the western world, but it still has a long way to go considering the substantial population that still lives below the poverty line. Poverty is not simply a problem in itself; it is also the cause of many other social issues within China.
With billions of mouths to feed, the Chinese government and entrepreneurs are coming up with different ways to make a living, such as piracy and fake products. Lifan motor, a classic example listed in the book, talks about how piracy is a concern to many foreign companies investing in China. Lifan blatantly copied Honda’s design and started selling cheap motorcycles in the Chinese market. Currently, piracy is not merely a concern to the Chinese population but a given. Going into nightclubs in second-tier cities, customers are served with high-end brandname alcohol products that are locally produced.
These products are not only inferior in quality, but can potentially lead to severe alcohol poisoning and sometimes even death. After experiencing the extreme poverty period during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese merchants are investing in every possible way to make a profit, and all morals and rationalities are thrown out. This disintegration of ethics is what China has experienced over the past decades. The author has a solid point and there are in fact millions of examples to support the argument. The trend, however, is not very likely to continue in the future.
As the majority of the younger Chinese generations are getting higher degrees of education, more consumer protection laws are put into place, and more pressure is put on China from the international organizations like the WTO, this trend is destined to diminish in the near future. China’s development also has spillovers to the rest of the world, some are beneficial, and some are harmful to the local economy. As the Prato example listed in the book, Chinese legal and illegal immigrants are supplying a substantial amount of cheap manual labor for the Italian fashion manufacturers.
The pros and cons are quite obvious: the fashion companies enjoy a huge cut in labor cost, but the local factory workers are pushed out of their jobs because the Chinese immigrants are willing to accept lower wages while working long hours. This phenomenon of how Chinese immigrants are influencing the world is prevalent in almost every other major western nation. Take the United States for example: downtown Rockford is now empty because all of the manufacturing jobs have gone to China, and Apple is able to make a significant amount of profit because its manufacturers in China can supply the company with very cheap products.
While China is taking away the manufacturing jobs from the western nations, it is also giving back service jobs like branding, advertising, and financing, which are the more profitable and lucrative businesses to be in. In the current economic state, China is interacting with the world in a way that everyone is benefiting. While China growing at an unprecedented speed, it is sacrificing its resources and environment as a price. Environmental issues are currently becoming more and more important as a topic both within and outside of China. China’s resource crisis stems from two sources: waste and pollution.
Even though it is the second largest nation on Earth, China does not have abundant natural resources. Daqing oil field mentioned in the book is depleting, and the coalfields in Shanxi and Anshan will not be able to power the nation for another century. The manufacturing factories are heavily polluting many critical rivers and reservoirs that are used for essential daily water supply. The oil leak in the Songhua river in Heilongjiang put millions of people out of water supply for months, and the result was devastating. Heavy deforestation in Inner Mongolia has led to intense sand storm in the nation’s capital Beijing.
Environmental issues have always been set aside due to the demand of fast growing production and economy. Neglecting the environment however, is not a sustainable development model. If China ever wants to be one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it has to face the environmental and resource issues first. Socially, there is tremendous unrest under the seemingly peaceful Chinese society. James describes how a local Chinese official could easily steal a country girl’s identity for his own daughter’s good and how everything can be bought for a price, including professional seducing and poisonous food products.
With its fast economic development, China is producing millions of millionaires, even billionaires, while lifting millions of people above poverty line, but such development comes with a side effect: the Chinese population is extremely impetuous, meaning the population is very jealous towards those who Deng said “could get rich first”, and they would do everything and anything to make some profit. Poisonous milk powder and the fake alcohol discussed earlier are only the tip of the iceberg. Chinese officials are accepting bribes, and tax evasion is the main method for small-medium enterprises to make a profit.
In order to become a strong nation, China needs to improve social morality; in order to improve social morality, China needs to better educate its citizens. With hundreds of colleges set up to educate the younger generation, and with thousands of graduates coming back to China from foreign educational institutions, China’s future social morality is set to improve significantly. The final issue raised by James Kynge is the Chinese political system, and it is imaginably the most critical issues that China faces.
With only one party in charge and a strange top-down structure, every official in China is extremely good at bribing their upper officials and exploiting the lower officials. Political reform is the key to solving most of the key issues in China, and even the top leaders know that a political reform has to occur sooner or later. Under Jiang Zemin’s administration, privatization and the admittance of private entrepreneurs into congress was a great step forward. As Cao Siyuan told James, “when reform is too fast there is chaos. When reform is too slow there is stagnation. ” This is a very true and real dilemma faced by the Chinese government.
If the government reforms too fast, there will be a chaos because a strictly enforced anti-corruption law will probably put a majority of the officials in jail. If the government reforms too slowly, the economy will die down because of the listed issues above, and the whole political party will face the danger of being overthrown by the public. Therefore, as many of the Chinese leaders have been saying, steady reform is the key for the Chinese government. Looking at the issues discussed in James Kynge’s “China Shakes the World,” China is shaking the world today with its strong production ability and cultural influences.
It is also shocking to the western nations; the series of problems that it faces and how such a fast growing economy will jump over the hurdles to keep its lead in the race are of great interest and will impact the rest of the world. Whether China will have the ability to shake the world in the future will depend on how the political, environmental, population, and resources problems become resolved, while China still maintains a peaceful and collaborative relationship with the rest of the world. Progress in China will not only benefit its local citizens, but will also promote the international economy as well as global harmony.