December 02, 2005

What is China's Future?

China is a fascinating country - for what it has been in the past, for what it has become in the present and for what it will be in the future. When talking to people from China about China, I get the sense that there is a deep well of optimism about the future that is missing in the United States.

Here, there is a foreboding that the lives of our children and our grandchildren will be worse than the lives the baby boomers had.

In China, people believe that the future will be much brighter for themselves than the past. For them, the per capita income has gone up almost 5-fold over the past 25 years while for Americans, incomes have stagnated as the cost of living continues to rise. China is bustling and large numbers of educated Chinese professionals are flocking back to China rather than seek their fortune overseas.

Yet, China is experiencing tremendous change which is always a challenge for humans and there are some enormous problems that it must solve to fulfill the potential it has to be the next world's next superpower. Today, in Robert Sheer's fantastic new liberal community blog Orville Schell writes a very insightful article on the subject of China. Schell is one of the country's foremost experts on China, but even so, he admits that China's future is very hard to predict. Nevertheless the future of China is of intense interest to the entire world because of the sheer size of China and its impact on the world. Certainly, we Americans must hope that China's journey into the future is successful, but also can hold the hope that its future will not come at too high of a cost for our own.

Last year I wrote about a seven-part NPR special about a road trip across China. To get a feel of the vibracy and dichotomies of China, I once more recommend that you listen to this remarkable series about a journey across the width of China - a distance that spans the continental United States.

From Schell's piece on the challenges facing China:

However, because incidents of rural unrest are rarely reported in the national press, it is difficult for Chinese (or anyone else) to get an overall sense of how widespread and how deep such disaffection among peasants actually is. But as one recent Chinese survey of the countryside, “An Investigation Into the Peasant Situation,” put it: “We observed unimaginable poverty and unthinkable evil. We saw unimaginable suffering and unthinkable helplessness, unimagined resistance with incomparable silence. And, we have been moved beyond imagination by this unbelievable tragedy.”

Largely because of the situation in the countryside, over the last decade China has absorbed the largest migration in human history. One hundred million to 150 million peasants have left the countryside to seek employment in the cities, where they have fueled the economy with low-cost labor. But even as they have become an important part of China’s export economy, they have also added to potential instability. And, estimates are that in the next few years tens of millions more peasants will swell this already mass migration, creating new pressures in city infrastructure. Because few have such amenities as healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits, all too many would be left destitute with no safety net should the economy slow down.

Due to the policy of one child per family and the preference for boys, only 100 girls are now born for every 147 boys, which means that poor men have trouble finding wives, that kidnapping is rampant and that gender ratios in society are out of balance.

Will China find a way to overcome these problems? They certainly have found a way to increase the prosperity of the people after the repression of Mao and the tragedy of the Tiananmen Massacre, yet the cost of that success has certainly not yet been fully paid. It will be a fascinating, yet harrowing time for us all as we watch the scene play out.

Posted by Mary at December 2, 2005 11:31 PM | International | Technorati links |