China’s development is stunning and its power is growing quickly; is America about to become a lapdog for the Asian dragon?
By Stewart Nusbaumer
Beijing, China — What a change! When I lived in Beijing a decade ago the apartment buildings were grimy and perpetually damp. The streets were clogged with legions of bicycles, hardly a motor vehicle and they were often jeeps. The clothes were dark and baggy, dirty, proletariat poor was still the fashion.
The dilapidated building where I lived has been replaced by a gleaming tower of glass and steel, the Cosmopolite, a stunning complex complete with Pattaya Spa and Ivy Bilingual Pre-School and pricy restaurants. Motor vehicles now clog the streets of my old neighborhood with LA gridlock all over Beijing, while danger lurks at every corner for a bicyclist. Shoppers swarm the hives of businesses on the once-deserted lane that I walked my young daughter to and from school. Stores on the pedestrian mall downtown showcase expensive, chic cloths, as expensive and chic as in New York and Paris.
Oh, traffic is horrible, a Beijing resident complains, yet her brown eyes sparkle with pride.
The pollution is awful, a young Chinese man says. Then with a smile, I guess that is the price of progress.
Things are good now, an old Chinese friend confides straightforwardly, and getting better and better.
Europe and America required a century to develop their national economies and lift the majority of their citizens out of grinding poverty. Japan needed something like half that time…
The Four Tigers of Asia — Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea — required only a few decades to roar from a squalor equal to many African countries to the affluence of some European countries. But China is doing this seemingly overnight. It is storming from mass poverty to stunning wealth at an unimaginable speed.
With each developing country exploiting the knowledge and technology of the most modern countries, the time frame from undeveloped to industrialized to post-industrial society is becoming shorter and shorter. China is the latest and fastest of the newly developed rich and it leaves me nearly dizzy.
In my luggage is the book, Why Europe Will Run The 21st Century. Standing in the middle of this miraculous Chinese transformation, I ask myself if the author, who is a Brit, is on drugs or is just insane. Clearly China will run the 21st Century.
I walk the three blocks from my hotel to the heart of the city, to the heart of all China, Tiananmen Square. The last time I was here, nearly twelve years ago, I endured a lashing from a Chinese friend that left me stunned. She criticized me for not understanding that China was rising and America was falling, that the future belonged to China, not to America. I didn’t know who the future belonged to, but with dogmatic certainty she insisted it was China.
I did have a few questions for her. If China was getting better and better — a favorite phrase then and it appears now — why did her fiancé move to America? If China was rising so fast and so high why did he require Americans’ financial assistance to attend the University of Texas? Why was she now moving to Texas — flying the following week — and accepting an American scholarship to attend a Texan college? Why were both of them looking forward to getting good paying American jobs and remaining in America?
She cut me off, fuming, Americans are not very bright.
Standing on Tiananmen Square twelve years later, with thousands of finely dressed Chinese dripping in (what looks like) expensive jewelry, strutting in a new found self-confidence, with heavy vehicular traffic swirling around the Square’s borders, with stunning skyscrapers in the near distance, it occurs to me that she may have been correct about me not being very bright.
But I did not fly half way around the globe — across 12 time zones from New York over Canada and the North Pole, over Siberia and Mongolia and into Beijing, a non-stop 13 hour flight on a sardine-packed Boeing 777 furiously incubating three-quarters of the planets known killer diseases — I did not endure all this just to find out that I’m not very bright. I have plenty of people in New York who tell me that. No, I came to China to find out how bright the Chinese are, and what this means for Americans.
Is it true that China is on the fast track to superpower status and the Asian giant will soon be dictating to America? Who are these people? Can we trust them? Are they compassionate? What is their society like? Do they get wrecked on booze like us? Do they actually eat Chinese food? Do they also drive like maniacs? Are they sex fiends or neutered Yuppies? I will remain in China until I get these answers. Or until I am starving amongst a heartless country after being run over by an intoxicated moron who misunderstood my proposal to his utterly gorgeous wife.
Advice for a Fellow American
In the lobby is the China Daily News, the world’s most optimistic propaganda sheet. Donald Rumsfeld is in Beijing. The man who said Iraq would be a cakewalk, who said Iraqis would pay for the rebuilding of their demolished country, who promised our military was incapable of another Vietnam-type rout is here to straighten out the Chinese. Just in the nick of time, I think.
Then it hits me. I’m an American patriot, why don’t I help out. I should write our Secretary of Defense a letter and give him the lowdown on these people.
Although I have not been a big fan of yours, I do have some advice on how you should handle these Chinese. They’re a tricky group of incurable shysters who need to be manipulated correctly.
First, DO NOT INVADE! China won’t be a cakewalk like Iraq, and Chinese are notoriously cheap so they won’t pay us for destroying their country and ripping their families into guotiao noodles. Also, you may or may not know this, but the U.S. military has a rather dismal record in Asia. So I wouldn’t push it.
(If you don’t take my advice, please make sure collateral damage doesn’t wipe out the Dong Jiao Min Xiang Hotel, especially room 432, the one with the flashing red light in the window and florescent-lit tiger skin rug on the wall.)
Second, it was a bad idea to start your visit to China by meeting with that group of overweight, dimwitted American businessmen. They don’t know anything, only how to parrot what their Chinese masters tell them.
Third, I hear you are suspicious of Chinese intentions, especially since they have jacked up their defense spending to some astronomical level, and are using every trick in the Mafia accountant’s book to hide what they astronomical level is. How dare they act like us!
Anyway, I suggest you indulge their fantasies. They’re economy is on the skids. The men have no stomach for manly drinking. The women are dogs, certainly not worth fighting for. I strongly suggest we wait them out. By the time you have democratized the Middle East, China will be crumbling. Time is on our side. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.
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