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Orient express

China is becoming an increasingly interesting country as far as I am concerned. That is not because I know anything about it. On the contrary, it is because I know so little about it beyond the conventional impressions of it being big, populous and mysterious.

But I keep running across snippets of news that provide some tantalising insights into the way that country appears to be going. This from the Economist:

WITH an increasingly sophisticated and wealthy customer base, Chinese consumer-goods makers are starting to pay attention to brand-building. The smartest are moving beyond simple product ads to marketing an entire lifestyle. In an echo of Nike’s famous “Just do it” campaign, Li-Ning, the largest producer in China’s sportswear market, has just launched an advertising blitz under the mottos “Goodbye” and “Anything is possible”. Costing 15m yuan ($1.8m), eight times the company’s usual ad spend, it taps into the Chinese belief that they can safely wave goodbye to their hard lives of the past, and that the future is filled with unlimited opportunities.

See, I find reports like this fascinating not least because all this entrepreneurial dash is happening in a country which is supposed to be communist. Well, clearly it is not communist. In fact, if the British Labour Party were in charge of China they would probably be looking into ways of trying to put a stop to this kind of thing.

I wonder if the implication in the article is really true? Is China awash with people who believe that ‘the future is filled with unlimited opportunities’? If so then that bodes well for China despite their being saddled with a repressive and ferociously authoritarian government. Who knows if the post-communist hacks that still run the place will be able to maintain their vice-like grip in the hurricane of anarchic forces that all this capitalism and prosperity will eventually unleash.

For reasons I cannot articulate to any satisfactory degree, I believe that China will impact upon the rest of the world in a major way and, possibly, quite soon. Whether this impact will be for good or for ill I cannot say but I do regard the emergence of all this ‘can-do’ spirit to be rather encouraging. After all, political regimes come and go and none of them last forever. The people who are most likely to dictate the shape of the future are the ones who believe that the future is filled with unlimited opportunities.

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11 comments to Orient express

  • Raj Wall

    As a friend from Shanghai told me back in ’94: Chinese history goes back 5000 years. We’ve had good emperors and bad emperors. The Commies are just another bad emperor. Soon they’ll be gone, and someone else will be emperor. But China goes on.

  • James Dudek

    China will become a liberal democracy within the next 20 years.

  • Dishman

    The Chinese I’ve dealt with (mostly on the streets of Shekou, Guangdong) would likely agree with everything said here.
    On particular note.. on the subject of democracy, many have said they want it, but not at the risk of upsetting economic growth.
    As I see it, The Party will be allowed to retain power so long as the economy is growing and it doesn’t interfere too much in people’s lives. It retains power through popular consent, and it knows it.

    Seems to me some european politicians could take a lesson in democracy from the Chinese.

  • Alice Bachini

    “The people who are most likely to dictate the shape of the future are the ones who believe that the future is filled with unlimited opportunities.”

    Do libertarians fit this description?

  • Chinahand

    Yes, China has zillions of people who see unlimited opportunities in the future. And most of them are harder-working and more attentive than their counterparts in the West.

    And you’re right: There will be (is already, really) a huge impact on the rest of the world. There’s already a good deal of upset in the US about the large and growing trade imbalance with China due to manufactured goods, and now more and more technical/professional services are being outsourced to China. There are maybe 100 million serious students of English in China, so they will also take the lead in cross-cultural communication, it appears.

    Good subject!

  • China is Fascist, no longer Communist. Also, keep in mind that the economic growth is confined to just a few provinces. Other areas are still in the “collective farm” mode, and the people there are suffering significant loss of economic parity, and are seeing a reduction in government services.

    It is a mess.

    It is also strongly nationalistic, and like most Asian nations, racist. Expect nothing but trouble from China. Also keep in mind that North Korea, one of the most dangerous countries in the world at the moment, is a client state of China and can do very little without Chinese approval.

  • Toni

    Aren’t they planning to launch their first manned space flight in 2004?

  • China & India are going to emerge as economic superpowers only when they move towards open societies.

    China’s GDP is puny compared to its population, its potential is huge.

    China is too oppressive and India is too corrupt as yet. When they move past these problems the West will see some real competition.

  • Dishman

    China is technically Fascist. There were a lot of security guards in Shekou (near Hong Kong). My co-workers told me they were all ex-military. The changing of the guard was an interesting spectacle. On the other hand, they didn’t have fasca, and they were all very friendly. It was almost the antithesis of Paris.

    I might go so far as to say they more or less benign (internally). That is to say, they’re sufficiently afraid of what will happen if they screw up that the government tries harder than a lot of democracies. I particularly noted the firings over the SARS cover-up.

    Something I can suggest to everyone here:
    If you want to see China turn out being helpful, make personal contacts. Listen, understand, learn. They’ll likely ask enough questions on their own. A great many are open to libertarian ideas.

  • R.C. Dean

    “The Party will be allowed to retain power so long as the economy is growing and it doesn’t interfere too much in people’s lives. ”

    In what way could the ChiComs interfere LESS in people’s lives than they do now? They control how many children you have, what you can see or read, what you can do for a living, where you can travel in the country, what religion you can follow, etc. ad nauseum.

    What line is it that, if the ChiComs pass it, the people will rise up?

  • Zhang Fei

    John Moore: China is Fascist, no longer Communist. Also, keep in mind that the economic growth is confined to just a few provinces. Other areas are still in the “collective farm” mode, and the people there are suffering significant loss of economic parity, and are seeing a reduction in government services.

    It is a mess.

    Economically, I would say that China is definitely on the move. The vast majority of the population is extremely poor, but plant-openings from foreign direct investments and sub-contracts are providing a safety valve in the form of plentiful and well-paying jobs (for China). It’s not about to become a developed country in the next decade, but it could certainly reach say, Malaysia’s or Thailand’s level by 2020.

    John Moore: It is also strongly nationalistic, and like most Asian nations, racist. Expect nothing but trouble from China. Also keep in mind that North Korea, one of the most dangerous countries in the world at the moment, is a client state of China and can do very little without Chinese approval.

    This is true. Will economic growth channel these views into peaceful pursuits? One can only hope. China remains a wildcard in East Asia’s security environment. It claims the South China Sea as a Chinese lake, and has attacked almost every one of its neighbors, including the Soviet Union, over border disputes. In past year, it has occupied and built military structures on Filipino territory almost a thousand miles from the Chinese mainland.