Globalization - blessings, and curses


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Bell Drum Tower

[First two paragraphs: slow music, with some traditional instruments - including the theme
«The East is Red». Third and fourth paragraph: Rock music

My home is just inside the second ring road
People here have so much time
To discuss those families that have been struck by unexpected grief
They watch you closely, waiting which cigarette brand you are going to smoke
The ties that bind in this small restaurant are the fellow-townsmen out of province
Their faces are like mine

A bike drives across fallen leaves watching the invisible sunset
From Silver Barren Bridge you can't see that Western mountain clearly
Not many of the lotus leaves in the water are left
Moon's reversed light is having a word with the street lights
Talk about tomorrow morning, who will lit the fire and make breakfast
Talk about tomorrow morning, eating Youtiao and crackers

(Bell Drum Tower isn't what it used to be)

Bell Drum Tower breathes that dusty smoke
Leaves it to you to paint its face
I can't hear your voice
There's too much noise and chaos
You've seen so much of time
Why do you still not speak?
Who asked so difficult questions?
Everywhere, without exception, there is a correct solution
Who asked so difficult questions?
Everywhere, without exception, there is a correct solution

My home is just inside the second ring road
My home is just around that Bell Drum Tower
My home is just in this big inner court
My home my home is just on Planet Earth

[words and music by He Yong]

One might believe that "Globalization" is only a potential problem for people in the Northern hemisphere, or for the really poor countries in the South. The China hype in our business press seems to suggest that the "Middle Kingdom" is a land of hope and glory, by all standards. That's how China's authorities like to present the country to the world, too, and it isn't all wrong. There is a growing middle class, there are people who are grossly rich, compared to Chinese, and global average society, and there is an economic growth of officially around 8% a year.
warship on offerBut that is one side of the story. The other is that unemployment keeps rising (official numbers have little to do with real life, here, and the meltdown of the state-owned industry isn't yet over), that there is a huge discrepancy between educational levels and income between coastal provinces and those of the hinterland, that the environment is a big disaster, and that there is a sense of uncertainty, more than ever since the 1970s. Media are basically state-controlled or censored, but in the great variety of news magazines available in every street, no article would deny what everyone can see in daily life, anyway. Euphemisms don't sell. Drama does. China, just like any Western country, is a media society.

China's official media unanimously hailed China's accession to the Word Trade Organization as another huge step forward. But not everyone in China was really that happy. Even the thriving car industry is expecting difficult times, and that includes the foreign-invested companies. Those who will rather applaud the expected influx of imported, high-quality cars will be the consumers that can afford, or those professionals that need one. Just ask a cab driver, anytime, in any Chinese city.
To get an idea about how volatile China's history has been during the past 100 years, one might compare the continuity of American and British societies on one hand, and the lack of it in China on the other. During these 100 years, the country has seen itself as a "Celestial Kingdom" (there is reason to believe that it was never too celestial, except for people up top), a Republic, Mao's People's Republic and the People's Republic as we know it today. But it would be easier to compare life in Mao's China, and in Chiang Kai-shek's, than the PRC under Mao, and now.
In 1976, it didn't seem unlikely that the Chinese state would collapse, once again. China was financially bankrupt, an economic failure, and its leadership, after the devestating Maoist experiments, lacked legitimacy. Hua Guofeng, a classical apparatchik, had inherited party leadership from Mao and hung on to it for two years, before Deng Xiaoping took control of most of political power in Peking, and started a policy of "reform and openness". Whatever he meant it to be initially, it became the beginning of a capitalist China, and whenever the old communist guard tried to put the brakes on it, Deng, with growing confidence and authority, gave the transformation another push.
For a while, it seemed that Deng and the reformists had found the answer to most of China's problems. But the state industry was still there, its factories usually incurred huge losses, and the state was unable to keep them going. There was no way that the old-style juggernauts would successfully compete with the new, private sector, not to mention with global business. Sooner or later, the remaining communist-style economy would have to go, and to avert another state bankruptcy, this had to happen rather sooner, than later.
As sinologist JK Fairbanks noted, things remain the same, the more they seem to change. China is a large country, and only centralist in that students, policemen and military staff everywhere greet the same flag in the same kind of ceremonies, and read the same weird stories about "liberation", the "theories of Deng Xiaoping", or the "three representatives" of Jiang Zemin - if they absolutely have to. And, like in all media societies, they get as stirred about the bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade in 1999, or the "EP-3 incident" on Hainan in 2001, as America would get about "rogue states" somewhere in this world that dare to show her the f-finger.

The good soldier: protecting the environment. Qingqing Shijie, Shenzhen, spring 2000These are nice distractions, and one sometimes gets the feeling that the Chinese leadership would like to have more of them. To put the huge changes of China into a few words, one could refer to a system of loyalties and rewards that has collapsed, without something else replacing it. For ordinary Chinese people, it can be hard to live without the certainty that to be a good communist - or a well-connected neighbour - will inevitably lead to a job and a safe income. Things might be easier, if there was rule of law in China, and therefore a reasonably levelled playing field for everyone. As a matter of fact, nothing has replaced the old system. There is nothing that would provide the minimum of peace of mind, that citizens of any country need for some reliable, long-term planning. Nationalism is being given a try. But nationalism feeds noone, and even the tools of intimidation get weaker. The dang'an, the "file" that is kept on every individual by the "danwei" (the organization, company or neighbourhood the individual belongs too) has decreased in value for the state. As ever since the communists came to power, the dang'an and its contents are a mystery to the person that it keeps records about, and a tool to control and influence him or her. Everything from working permits, school attendance of the individuals' children, or the allocation of a flat depends on the words of the dang'an. The bosses keep the file, and pass it on to another boss, if Chinese people change their job or organization. But there are Chinese people who work for foreign-invested companies, or buy their own flats. In their case, a dang'an doesn't mean that much, any more. Many domestic potential employers start taking a dang'an's contents with a pinch of salt, or don't care about them at all, and as a last resort, people with an unfavourable file might do a xia-hai, i. e. start their own business. Dang'ans do matter in the public sector, but state-run enterprises have become a dying breed.

Not everyone has the nerves, or the opportunities, to do a xia-hai. For them, there might be more traditional kinds of last resorts, and superstition seems to be an attractive one. From fortune-tellers to falun-dafa practices, there is a lot on offer (the latter being extremely illegal, though). The health market seems to hold its own kinds of superstitions and abuses. If you wonder why Chinese people happily open all windows and doors without catching a flu, the answer is simple: many of them have anti-biotics for breakfast. And if you eat a sufficient amount of meat from the Chinese markets every day, you are likely to get your required amount of antibiotics, too. The way lifestock is kept in China is a big secret, and that's probably good. After all, you have to eat, once in a while, and the various styles of Chinese cuisine shouldn't be missed.

happy mealIn the past few days, Taiwan's media have been writing their own stories about SARS. Not just about the tragic epidemic itself, but on the fact that, officially, not even one Taiwaner has spread the disease beyond the island. The rule of law, openness, and effective and reliable procedures are said to have made the difference. If you ask the World Health Organization, they will probably agree. Mainland Chinese authorities have been criticized for their handling of the crisis - and that kind of open ciriticism by the WHO is something unusual.
The Chinese make the best of it, once again. SARS is nasty, but has all the makings of another beautiful drama. The costume in this opera is a face mask. It shouldn't be missing in Hong Kong's next Cathay Spring Festival's parade - but it probably will. Even if the city, the country, and the world, should have got past its dangers, by then.

External links
"It is the first time in 36 years Japan has failed to top the list of Australia's trading partners."
Hu Jintao pays state visit to Australia, ahead of APEC summit
Sept. 03, 2007

China Radio International

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