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Yesterday we started looking at some of the strategies China has used to weather the first financial downturn. Today we’ll continue that by looking at two other strategies as well as their potential benefits and costs. One of the major things that was supposed to happen after the economic downturn was that China was going to shift from being the world’s factory to a position higher up the production chain. The idea was that many of the factories on China’s east coast were shutting down, but increased domestic consumption and new college graduates would soon alleviate the slowdown. Increased College Enrollment When I arrived in 2007, my average class size at the rural college was 35, by the start of the 2009 school year that […]

When talking with Chinese friends and co-workers about the pollution levels in Nanjing (awful compared to developed countries, but decent for Chinese cities), they are quick to point out that foreign companies in China are the ones that should be blamed for the filthy air. While it is absolutely true that foreign companies are adding to China’s environmental woes, I’m not convinced they should shoulder all the blame. Today, I’d like to start by discussing three points related to this statement, and I hope you’ll continue the discussion in the comment section below. Production for the West This factor is undeniable. Western consumers have benefited from the destruction of China’s environment by purchasing cheap goods. If all of our environmental standards were enforced globally (and […]

If you’ve read every article so far on now, you have now read the equivalent of a 200+ page book, and hopefully have learned something new about China. If you haven’t caught every exciting article (and the ones in between) make sure to check out the archive. Here are a few of the posts that I think were my best work: There must be something in the air Mao’s fuzzy math and the one child policy Can the world afford China’s heating bill Your home in rural Guangxi It’s easy to learn Chinese, really China’s GDP doesn’t mean what you think it does Is inflation a Party crasher? A fight at the hospital – Abortion in China Common questions about Christianity in China Protests […]

Today we’ll be looking at a few of the upsides of these projects, and why they are for the most part appreciated by the people, despite the corruption and problems these vanity projects can cause (read my updated post on some of the problems). Jobs As the US entered the recession questions were raised about Keynesian economics, could gov’t spending really be the answer? While we battened down the hatch for another long debate as to whether or not it might be effective, and then moved on to how much to spend, China pushed ahead with massive spending. While the long-term results are unclear (10 trillion rmb in local debts is worrying), the immediate benefits were obvious. Not only did several cities launch plans for expanding desperately needed […]

Wednesday we looked at part of the reason why Chinese officials like massive projects, and today we’ll be looking at the another major reason: corruption. This factor helps to explain why local governments are so eager to build infrastructure, but struggle to find money for schools, and why the National government continues to favor single major projects. It’s no secret that China has thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of officials who use their positions for extra gains. Starting at 1:58 (What do you want to be when you grow up?) Boy: I want to be an official Interviewer: What kind of official? Boy: A corrupt official, because they have many things. This endemic corruption is essential for understanding not only infrastructure projects, but China as […]

I had a great discussion with a German man on the train yesterday, and thought you might find it interesting. He is in the garment manufacturing business and works for a large German chain similar to The GAP or H&M, and has been in China for 3 years. In our conversation we talked about a variety of topics: Manufacturing, GDP growth, High speed rail, the housing boom, China’s environment, and in each topic he brought up that it wasn’t sustainable. Perhaps it was made more apparent by traveling 300km/hour through what used to be China’s countryside, which now offers little other than new apartment buildings, gray skies, and a dozen coal power plants. One of the most interesting things he said was that wages have […]

So far we have seen that China has the GDP to be a superpower, and would have the political strength to meet the criteria if it decided to take on a leadership role. Today we will be trying to evaluate how effectively China would be able to project it’s military strength. Military Power China employs the largest army in the world despite the fact it has not been involved in any serious battles since the early 1980’s when it faced off in a brief skirmish with Vietnam (China called this self-defense, even though it launched the attack) . Since then China has been steadily building a blue ocean navy, state of the art missiles, and even its own stealth fighter which is being tested now. […]

Yesterday we looked at how China’s growing GDP was putting it a step closer to being a superpower, but also that GDP alone is not enough. Today we will be continuing our look at China’s growing role in the world, and what that means for the rest of us. Political Power China’s political power is growing even faster than it’s GDP. Through generous aid programs to much of the developing world, China has secured itself as the figurehead of this rather large group of nations. As I mentioned yesterday, being able to project these kinds of powers are a crucial part of the definition of a superpower. It surprised many during the climate change debates that China (and others) had effectively organized themselves to avoid […]

I have wanted to write this series since I went back to the US this February and noticed a palpable change. It seemed like people were no longer talking about China as a kind of economic miracle, those thoughts had been replaced by a growing anxiety over what it might mean for China to be a superpower. This week we are going to be taking a look at what it means to be a superpower, and try to gauge how close China is to meeting the criteria. For this series we’ll be looking at four areas of power and China’s ability to project them. These four areas are: economic, political, military and cultural power. Economic Power Today I thought I would begin with the most […]

Yesterday we looked at the good coming out of China and Africa’s relationships, but today we are looking at a few of the conditions that seem less than desirable for Africa. One of the complaints about China’s development of infrastructure in African countries, is that it seems to be largely self-serving. China might build a freeway, but it heads straight to the oil field or diamond mine that China also owns. So even though these projects help to increase the country’s GDP (my thoughts on GDP), they do very little to help improve the living standards of the people of that country, nor do they provide means to support the country’s own industries. Often aid from western countries and the World Bank have several conditions […]

Sometimes when I sit down to write my daily blog post, I find it hard to find something nice to say about China. It takes a few minutes (occasionally a few hours) to find a topic that I can at least add a little silver lining to. Apparently though I’m not the only one who is having a hard time coming up with something nice to say, a recent poll showed that only 6% of the people who responded to an online survey described themselves as happy. It also revealed that 40% of the respondents thought there was a direct correlation between money and happiness (sadly they are not familiar with the proverb “Mo’ money, Mo’ problems”). Granted, the survey size was pretty small, but […]

It seems that despite my thorough explanation of why China is not a rich country, even though it has the second highest GDP in the world, major governments have started to cut aid to China. The UK’s department for distributing foreign aid actually had it’s budget grow by 1/3 this year, so it’s not just budgetary reasons for cutting their aid to China. The argument is simple, a country growing 10% a year is not in need of foreign aid.Japan has been a major mover of money in China’s direction, since 1979 they have given over $40 billion to China. They made an argument similar to the UK’s this morning, why should they be giving aid to a country that has a larger GDP than […]

It’s no secret that China has environmental problems (my other posts about China’s environment), today even the Environment Minister acknowledged that “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today.” Also on Sunday Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in an online chat, “We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth and reckless roll-outs, as that would result in unsustainable growth featuring industrial overcapacity and intensive resource consumption.” He is saying this partially in light of the recent news that up to 10% of China’s rice is contaminated by heavy metals, and Beijing’s air pollution was 10x higher last week than the WHO recognizes as “safe.” Like […]

Yesterday I lead you through a crash course in Economics, and showed you that China’s GDP doesn’t mean that it’s a developed country, I would suggest reading that first. I think for many American’s (and probably many Europeans) China’s rise is met with mixed feelings. On my recent trip to the States something felt different this time when I told people I lived in China. It seems that China has moved from being seen as the place where people carry little red books, make our cheap socks, and fawn over baby pandas, to being the country that is on track to unseat us as number one. For my Chinese readers, just so it’s clear, this scares the heck out of practically every American born before […]

Today’s post is a crash course in economics (for people who don’t like economics). The truth is that we get a lot of numbers thrown around in the media about China, but I don’t think they are as meaningful as CNN or Fox news want you to think. Let’s get one thing clear straight out of the gate, China is obsessed with GDP. You can’t go more than a few days without seeing it as some headline on People’s Daily, and I was on the look out for parades or fireworks the day China passed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy. Virtually any govt. promotion relies on improving GDP and little else. So what exactly is GDP? I know it’s a figure we […]

We’ve seen how limited interconnectedness and a lack of communication have been causing problems in China’s banks and hospitals. Today I want to bring up a third trend that is critical to understanding how China works. China’s Government This might not be a popular view in the West, but China’s National government has created some excellent policies and laws (for the most part, the most oppressive laws are hold-outs from twenty years ago). I believe that they have a clear vision of what they want for China, and they are eager to be in a globally respected position. The problem is their inability to implement many of these plans because of local officials. I realized this last year when I read “Will the Boat Sink […]

This week’s story brings an old story back to the front page. China and Japan are quarreling over the fishing boat accident again, that happened late in 2010. This time Japan has sent the fishing boat captain a letter for the repairs to their coast guard boats. You probably heard about this story, because as it escalated China stopped trading rare earth materials (magnets and other things used in electronics) to Japan. It also caused all of China’s neighbors to pause for a moment and realize that China was positioning itself for a new role in the region, and it might not be a positive thing for them. I don’t think it was a coincidence that China’s GDP had just passed Japan’s a month or […]

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