China looked so beautiful throughout my trip

It seems each time I go, just about everything looks better than it did the last time. The driving’s getting more civil (slowly but markedly), people are less horrified of forming a line, the litter is less ubiquitous, and people simply look, in general, a lot happier. At least in the prosperous coastal cities where I hung out this trip.

As I walked along the plushest and liveliest section of Shanghai’s Huaihailu on Saturday night, it struck me just how easy it is to forget all about Hao Wu and corruption and pollution, and to be swept up to giddy heights of near limitless optimism. So many smartly dressed, smiling people, up and coming in a world of staggering possibilities, knowing they are seen as the new fulcrum of the world’s economic engine, cheered on by one rosy economic forecast after another, with no end in sight. Why would anyone bother for even an instant to look at the darker and gloomier side of things? What’s to be gained? Why throw sand into the vaseline?

Underneath it all, the ugly truths persist, of course. The government still lies and covers up and admits no wrongdoing, much like the Bush hooligans, but what’s the impetus nowadays for anyone to stop and take notice, let alone stand up and protest? It’s morning again in China, and we won’t have anyone raining on our glorious parade. I can’t blame them for feeling this way, and if the same successes were occurring in America, I suspect we’d see the same reaction by most of the population, basking in the good news and quietly pushing the bad news under the carpet. Maybe it’s human nature. In any case, as long as the prosperity continues, expect no significant outburst of social conscience. The grand success and the way the Chinese people are responding has many historical precedents. In all honesty, I can’t blame them a bit, and seeing America in today’s pathetic and demoralized state, I can’t deny I am actually jealous of the upbeat feeling that pervades so much of China today. Is is real and is it sustainable? Those are separate questions that can only be answered over time. But there’s simply no denying that at this moment, things look damned good on the surface.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Richard, I concur. I think we’re more optimistic than the US because we’re somehow more “used” to our servicement dying. Also there are far fewer of them in Iraq and we have a credible and popular alternative to Blair in terms of politics.

It’s funny because when some Chinese try to attack me on forums they always quote economic factors, which don’t really work because things are better here. But really it’s the optimism factor they should quote. Countries like France and Italy oppose Chinese imports because their own economies are doing badly, even though their standard of living is better. On the other hand we welcome their trade because we don’t feel so bad about ourselves.

‘Nyway, back to the real topic.

We went through a very rough economic patch some 20-30 years ago. It took us a long time to recover. But although things are generally quite good now, we don’t oppose criticism. Perhaps it’s because things had been bad in China for so long they act as they do sometimes. But what makes the UK work so well is that we’re open to criticism, bettering ourselves, etc. I am concerned that Chinese force a degree of their optimism. They have reason to feel positive, but rather than address their real problems they act as if things will be better than they possibly can be.

That isn’t healthy. China, through sticking its head in the sand over necessary reform, may be its own worst enemy.

May 30, 2006 @ 2:57 am | Comment

Hurra for chinese despots!

May 30, 2006 @ 8:31 am | Comment

It was sarcastic, of course.
Richard, I know you despise the regime but sometimes “enthusiasm” plays a nasty trick on you.

P.S. Could you sometimes write a post without quoting Bush? It’s out of place here, I’m sure you realize it.
:)

May 30, 2006 @ 9:41 am | Comment

I am glad that the Chinese are doing well now because until twenty eight years ago, they had led most difficult lives. Right now, I see two potential turmoils in their future.

One is the oft discussed political reform. My good friend who since moved back to Beijing in 02 thinks highly of the Singaporean democratic model, that is, single party, paternalistic model. But if China is ever going to reunite with Taiwan peacefully, they would have to implement a multiparty election. I believe things are actually moving in this direction because of the recent rapprochment between the communist party and KMT. Basically, they join hands to defeat Taiwan’s separatist movement. I would imagine the heads of KMT telling President Hu of China that the precondition for peaceful reunification is the open competition for power in greater China (mainland China, Taiwan and HK). That is, mainland China would have to adopt Taiwan’s democratic model which was copied from the US democratic model. It wouldn’t surprise me that in ten years there will be a general election in greater China pitting KMT against the communist party, which I am sure that at that time won’t be called communist party. This is the ideal political outcome for China. Maybe I am naive or optimistic or both, but I sincerely believe that this is a high probabilistic outcome although the path to such an ideal outcome would be long and at times torturous.

The other potential turmoil in China’s future is the potential economic downturn. This is not often discussed but is highly probable in my opinion. In the last twenty eight years, China’s economic model has basically morphed from a communist/socialist model to a capitalistic model with astounding results, benefiting a large portion of Chinese population. But capitalistic system has its drawbacks as well, namely recession and depression. Last year, there are over four million college graduates in China with slightly over one million graduates finding jobs but the rest are unemployed. This job performance came in the midst of a booming economy. What happens if there is a slowdown or, god forbid, a recession? To be sure, there will be massive unemployment. How will the Chinese react in that difficult economic circumstance? To me, that is the proverbial 64 million dollar question.

May 30, 2006 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

Dennis, the first one is absolute wishful thinking (much more than naivety), the second is somehow more realistic.

May 30, 2006 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

Potential economic downturn? its being discussed for decades and was always seen as highly probable. Some people just can wait for it to happen but the problem is that those commies wont stand still and let it happen, they are constantly changing their system and taken measures since they have realised how important the economy is, they are even willing to go as far as change their basic ideals to achieve this.

May 30, 2006 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

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