Friday, August 8, 2008

A Few Random Thoughts About China

Today is the kick off of the Chinese Orympics (phonetic spelling. Sorry, but I needed to get that out of my system). If you believe the sports writers, the games are shaping up as a super-power match between China and the U.S.A. to see who will win the medal count. Lucky for the Americans, the competition is athletic, rather than scholastic or academic. If the contest was the latter, the Chinese would win handily and the U.S.A. would fall to near the bottom of the medal count. In China, where learning is valued even above athletics, the high school drop-out rate is near zero compared with the American drop-out rate of over 25%. But the next two weeks are all about muscle power, so we might do okay.

The media is filling air time between competitions by fawning over the giant “bird’s nest” stadium, and wondering if it will be visible through the haze of pollution on a day to day basis. They are actually missing a terrific irony, here. China now has the world’s largest bird’s nest, but no birds. Chairman Mao, during the Cultural Revolution, told his people that birds competed with them for seeds and grain, and he suggested that killing off the birds would solve hunger problems. That competition ended with a score of Chairman Mao—1, Birds— 0.

During the Cold War, the Soviet—U.S.A. race to dominate the medal count during the Olympics was seen every four years as a kind of metaphor for the bigger contest to dominate the super-power race for supremacy. That same scenario is now shaping up with the China—U.S.A. competition. What makes this interesting on the larger scale is that the U.S.A. is very much in decline in everything but military might, while China is in a state of ascendency in pretty much everything. They’ve chosen to go with a single-party free-market capitalism, and we have our two-party free-market capitalism. Right now, they seem to be on the right track. Without any philosophical anchor like our Constitution, they approach everything from the standpoint of pure functionality and pragmatism, and they solve their problems on a kind of “ad hoc” basis. It seems to work for them. The Western industrialized nations of Europe and the Americas had a 300 year head start heading into the modern world, and China has managed to make up for lost time while dealing with a population of 1.3 billion citizens. Not bad.

Human rights suffer in this rush to modernize their culture while keeping control over their people. This fact was pointed out to them yesterday by none other than George W. Bush (He’s like Eddie Haskell. He never rises above the low expectations you have for him). But when functionality takes precedent over human rights, some interesting dynamics occur, and they’re not all bad. If Enron had been a Chinese company, Jeff Skilling and Ken Ley and several others would have been dragged out from their posh offices and summarily executed for their innovative management style. I guess that whether or not this would be a human rights violation would depend on where you stood in the Enron Corporation. When the Chinese equivalent of our head of the FDA took bribes in return for letting substandard pharmaceutical compounds flow into the Chinese drug system, his ethical lapse was rewarded with a bullet in the head. That happened two years ago. That only needs to happen a few times, and people of responsibility suddenly get “born again” with regard to their ethics.

The 20th Century was called, The American Century. The 21st Century is already shaping up to be The Chinese Century. In the meantime, I say, “Let the Orympic Games begin.”

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