I have been a China scholar since 1986 when I made my first trip to the “Middle Kingdom”. Much has changed for China since my breakthrough journey. I returned again in 2019, to measure losses and gains in education, mass transit, geo-politics, and industrial leadership. Here is what I found:
One big improvement I observed was that the supply of export-driven, high quality products have increased in China. Medical technology and advanced robotics, are two areas now competing with US exports. Another area of advancement is with agricultural machinery, like tractors and farm harvesters. Traditionally, Illinois firms, like Caterpillar and John Deere, have been world leaders in this field but China is now highly competitive after 30 years of research and development.
Mass transportation is another field that will impress most visitors to China. Approximately 17,000 miles of track transport Chinese passengers, from dense urban zones to suburbs in the hinterlands, on Maglev bullet trains. The USA would be wise to adopt such a rail system.
Universal health care in China is more progressive than America’s pay- to-play system. National healthcare is a social guarantee that exists in most of Europe too. In terms of geo-politics, China offers developing nations a system of highways and railways constructed in partnership. The Belt & Road program provides jobs and infrastructure improvements from Belarus to Pakistan and East Africa to Cambodia. Of course, Belt & Road also provides many trade benefits to China but so was the U.S. Alliance for Progress Program a “trade weapon” for the U.S. in Latin America during the 1960s. Belt & Road is a demonstration of “soft power” for the Chinese. In this regard, Polar and Deep Sea explorations have strategic advantages but yield scientific breakthroughs as well.
FLIES IN THE SOUP
China is not without its flaws. It is the world’s largest authoritarian government. It is a one-party state that declared in 2018 that Xi Jinping was titular leader of China for life. Furthermore, a great portion of government resources go into the surveillance of citizens deemed as “politically dissident”. In China, internet accounts as well as all news media are controlled by the national government .
Chinese trade unions are advisory in nature and in fact. The unions give state managers feedback on working conditions but lack the power to strike or picket where unfair employment practices take place. In the USA and Europe, unions can cause nationwide slow-downs or strikes. Clearly, these western style unions are not paper tigers.
In China, a national minimum wage covers all provinces; whereas in the USA, 50 state rates prevail and cause inequality. Unemployment rates in the American states are also at great variance. In terms of national welfare, China “tops up” household income for cases of unemployment or family distress.
Page 2 China
China is an aging time bomb. For decades the one child family has been the state run model. Now, the big bang economy requires China to nurture more babies or open its door to immigrant workers.
Finally there is the murkiness of capitalism in a socialist state. Individual rights have not grown in China, but the right to get rich is, is one force on the march. China is no longer an under-developed country but may well be an over-developed nation in regard to materialistic trends.
There is no question that China has made enormous advances in gross national product and national prosperity. The concepts of private ownership and market investment are fresh ideas in China. But mass consumption is only one factor for measuring the quality of life.
Peter Pero is an author and teacher in Chicago. In Asia, he has traveled to Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. Peter is the author of Chicago Italians at Work. Contact him at HistoryStreetGuy@gmail.com