Archive for the ‘The Economy’ Category
Christmas is coming and the geese and turkey that have gotten fat are sadly feeling a little apprehensive, while I am just feeling a bit ambivalent about this yuletide time of year. But, while preparations for this festive season have been passing me by there have been a few other things to keep an eye on.
The EU has entered into a period of disintegration or rejuvenation – depending on whom you are talking to – leaving debt issues still unresolved and the whole continent on the verge of collapse or at the point of renewal. In the US, the Occupy Wall Street movement managed to highlight that only 1% of the population owns half of all financial assets and investments. At the same time the movement’s actions shone a light on the growing number of worker collectives being established in America. In China, the townsfolk of Wukan have taken a significant step by cooperating to oppose the land grabs and private developments being pursued on their lands.
The town-wide cooperation in Wukan was fuelled by the fact a member of the community mysteriously died while in custody. At the point of writing the town was free of all government officials, while there was a military blockade to stop anything going in or coming out of the town. Only time will tell how this particular situation will be resolved, but these are issues that go deeper than what form of political organization or monetary system we have. Whether we look at these land rights confrontations in China; disgust about Wall Street bonuses in the US; or concerns about runaway debts in mainland Europe, there is an underlying constant. And that is that our governments are, on the one hand, unable to guarantee what many of us have gotten used to, and on the other, unable to guarantee what many have been looking forward to getting used to, and that is economic stability and opportunity based on a system of profit and growth.
I start studying again and European markets go into intermittent free-fall, the governments of two ancient European civilizations are forced into change, and Chinese house prices begin to slide. If we also consider the fact this site was seriously hacked last week, then a more paranoid figure than myself might start to think his Chinese language learning was cursed. This recent instability in Europe is even being described as the next phase in what, back in 2008, began to be called the modern Great Depression. This was the last time, coincidently, that I was studying Chinese with any kind of vigour and commitment.
Now, I know this language can be difficult, but these are consequences that go way beyond the normal side effects of language study, such as sleepless nights and soul searching. Fortunately, I do look up from my Chinese textbooks, flashcard software and podcasts from time to time. And so am able to recognize that this present turmoil in European economic affairs, and the recent malware attack on this site, are part of a wider mêlée and nothing actually to do with my Chinese studies at all.
It has, though, become possible to get a sense that my renewed efforts will carry me to a point in the future when I will be able to fully engage in a discussion, in Chinese, about the benefits of different political and economic systems. And, given the environment we see around us today, I could be doing so with a people who have the experience of catastrophic failures in both Communist and Capitalist systems. Hopefully however, we will still be able to sit peacefully around a nice warm fire, eating a tasty bowl of dāoxiāomiàn (刀削面), and discussing the folly of the world we knew in our youth, while simultaneously planning for the future.
This Note continues on, in part and/or in spirit, from the one below: ‘Mr. Lǎo Bǎi Xìng, A Bit Of Income Inequality, An Archbishop And Some Social Solidarity’.
I don’t know if it is this time of year, with its cold weather and deep chill, which can enter peoples’ spirits and make life seem that much more difficult, or whether it is bound up in end of year reflection, but certainly, recently, it has been a time to take note of the difficult lives that do face so many people here.
After a long chat with an English friend of mine about the not so good looking prospects for Britain these days, it seemed possible to place this contemporary Chinese scenario in a wider context and to dwell on it a little.
Concerns about Britain’s present day economic realities were compounded somewhat recently when reading an article discussing the increasing number of people paying their rents or mortgages with credit cards. The story may in fact carry slightly more symbolism than empirical weight, but it doesn’t require a trip down to the Yellow River Soup Kitchen in the city here to put a longer-term face to that particular situation for those involved.
And it doesn’t take an exceptionally deep understanding of modern China to see a not too dissimilar scenario emerging here in the not too distant future. It is interesting to note the lǎobǎixìng (common person) realities of these two quite different societies, China’s and Britain’s, which are at different ends of the so-called development cycle.
I have not experienced it too many times since being in China, but I do find it somewhat disconcerting when I do. And that is when a lǎo bǎi xìng (老百姓), a common person, so classified by themselves and society, shows extreme deference to a point that verges on humiliation.
We had an incident recently where a drunken neighbour made a couple of mistakes. He did though of his own volition rectify the situation by apologizing for his actions. However, he was to end up doing so in a manner that his actions had not deserved or any act for that matter probably does deserve. He was exceptionally deferential, to the point at one stage of wanting to get down on his knees and place his head at my girlfriend’s feet. While also repeatedly showing embarrassment that a person of his low culture, his words not mine, that he just a worker, his words not mine, could have troubled us so much.
What he did however do, once we had gathered him to his feet and made it clear that his simple apology had been enough, was to outline his own circumstance and that of his family and extended family. He seemed to do so for no other reason than through a simple desire to articulate what was inside him, and on the basis that he had some people willing to listen. He had after all been assured his apology was sufficient and that we wouldn’t be taking the money he was trying to give us, on top of the gifts of food he had already given. So he had no need to make us feel sorry for him or earn any more forgiveness, that had been done and we were now just trying to talk with him.
He made a number of points about the life of the lǎo bǎi xìng, who he noted, in this world of plenty for some, are still predominantly living hand to mouth. And that for most it is an exhausted hand to a hungering mouth. He pointed out that the wages were basically just about enough to put food on the table and a roof over ones’ head. We can of course all basically accept that that is indeed enough, but we are also at the same time constantly persuaded that much more is needed. And that what is needed needs to be re-evaluated and repurchased at reasonably frequent intervals.
Before I begin this brief review of November’s news, or a few pieces of it that I have found of interest, I must just note that it took me 50 minutes in a taxi yesterday to do a journey that only takes 20 minutes on my bike. Although, I promise that after this brief aside I will avoid the issue of traffic for a few weeks, as it has become a too oft-repeated theme here and I am actually beginning to depress myself, let alone anyone else. But for now, back to yesterday, there didn’t seem to be any extra special road problem, it was just the sheer weight of traffic that was holding us up so long.
So, it was with a deep sigh that I concluded my re-reading of this extract from Karl Gerth’s book As China Goes So Goes The World, a poignant title if ever there was one, and one that China Beat picked up on this month. I had only just finished chatting with a friend of mine about the exceptional growth in private car ownership here in Xi’an, particularly over the last year, when I began reading it.
The article in no way contradicted our discussion or in any way led me to any brighter conclusions than the ones we had just dwelt upon. One of which was the almost inevitable sealing of Xi’an’s roads at some point in the near future, particularly in areas outside of the newly built zones in the west and far south, which do at least have somewhat wider boulevards and road junctions.
We seemed to both be acknowledging that the subway system, at least in the short term, is just not going to hit the spot in terms of a practicable alternative for the vast majority of car users out there. And with the increase in car ownership not doing anything like stabilizing, let alone decreasing, it really doesn’t bode well.
Gerth’s book managed to put this situation in a much graver light, by giving it some historical context and a consequential sense of the inevitability and run away, now out of control, nature of it all. To think an alternative, a non-private car based society and economy was actually being considered, or even expected, up until relatively recently. China really could have given its growth and increased global power some fluttering flags of moral leadership, if that is what it or we really wanted, but it didn’t.
A chair is, of course, just a chair but for some reason I like these chairs in more ways than for simply being chairs, or I like them in more ways for the nature in which they are chairs. Ever since I came across an article, some time ago, reviewing Michael Wolf’s book ‘Sitting in China’ I have had a few pictures of these random creations stuck on my wall. But I have just come across his website and these collective images for the first time.
I am not an inactive fellow, I get out and about town and do try to keep a little fit, but I am partial to a good chair, particularly a good comfy armchair, though here in Xi’an they are sadly few and far between. So, first off, I like these chairs from the perspective of a chair lover. I am though also a fan of these chairs because they seem to symbolize to me so much of what is still so good about China and what is increasingly not so great about our world.
I will highlight the former first. A directive here from a wise elder observing a young fellow standing uncomfortably by a number of seated and crouching locals, might go something like: “If you need to sit, find something to sit on, and if you really can’t use anything nearby to sit on, then crouch.” Sadly ‘the crouch’, or ‘the squat’, is becoming an increasingly frowned upon habit within this fast developing nation, even though for many ‘the squat’, once mastered, is actually quite comfortable and also quite conducive to a bit of street side banter, while also allowing a little youthful courting.
Though, of course, crouching, or more specifically squatting, should be cleansed from daily life if this country does want to find representation on the board of great civilized civilizations and certainly if it wants to become its Head. Or, so it might go. However, these chairs, like the crouch or squat, are useful; they are cheap, they are practical, they are full of life and they are varied. And they must have simply evolved out of a communal desire to continue chatting with neighbors, street sellers, local beauties and customers alike, in whatever random location you had found yourself short of a seat. The nature of the chair here in this context is one of pragmatism and utility; with a pronounced nod towards necessity and re-use, though they are also not short of design ingenuity, variety and are a simple representation of the reality of community here. Happy Days.
Having in the last two weeks moved between tiny China villages, my home in Xi’an and the capital itself, Beijing, it was probably not a bad time to stumble upon this site and the depth of analysis it contains on why China has grown the way it has over the last forty years.
My post Sānlǐtún 三里屯/ 798 urban China flux state of mind has found the few interviews I have managed to already watch grounding and interesting. The China Boom Project, a creation of the Asia Society, has over the last couple of years engaged in a process of interviews, where leading commentators have recorded their thoughts on this country’s evolving state of development, bringing unique insights into what has been going on under the surface here in China.
There is a cross-section of related material primarily categorized under six time periods: Inheritance (Pre-1978), Emancipation (1978-1984), Reckoning (1985-1989), Rebirth (1990s), Overdrive (2000s) and Prospects. The interviews can also be accessed in relation to four distinct threads: Capitalism, Globalization, The Party and Crisis Management. It is well worth finding some time for.
This is just a Note that has been brewing for a while.
*Cháng’ān Lù 长安路
We have grown up together side-by-side but now your behaviour has gotten to a point that I cannot abide, nor simply hide or ignore that which crosses my mind. But, first I gotta ask: “Sweet Cháng’ān Lù: Is it really you?”
I am sure, back then, it wasn’t just me who revelled in the criss-crossing mass of humanity, which descended on the Junction of Shi Da Lu; like some joyous, incongruous stew. No matter spluttering car or steaming truck, we strode out with a little good luck and little regard knowing, in fact, it was we who would pass.
Halting the traffic in our wake we grasped our long fought for humanitarian stake. But, make no mistake Chang’An Lu, you must take responsibility for the lack of humanity that now resides at your gate, you leaving us simply to wait and to wait. But, I ask… for what?
Back then buses would halt as an aged old lady would take to the street, simply sweeping a broom made from plastic bagged sheets, while motorcycles still weaved between pockets and sleeves. But, the time most enjoyed was when we all at once directed and objected from the centre of stage, before being forced to turn the page: losing that urgent, organic, glistening spell which storybooks will never be able to retell. We all halted, we all moved, the life was all there at that crossroads at Shi Da Lu.
A tear now crosses my eye for the deep sadness of goodbye and a progress more reminiscent of a creational mess than a strategic game of post-war chess. The shiny black wasteland that one-day you will be now carries eight high-speed lanes of immovability, directly dissecting our community.
Oh Chang’An Lu, I stood there at your side as the last roll of new tar was itself applied, giving your potholed visage a life a new. That night we watched as an aged old man not far from his grave, contributed his last efforts for you to be paved. So hot, it was steaming in the dark of the night, but we, a few, gathered in the future knew, one life had passed and another… who knew?
You changed then Cháng’ān Lù, you were never the same once this glistening black coat was tied at your neck. I wanted to believe it could be as before but now the reality has sunk in, there is no drop of that past left for us to draw. Today, we are no longer allowed even to gather at your side. “Take a chance” I hear you say, but sweet Cháng’ān Lù that’s a thing of the past, it just wasn’t able to last. A fact we cannot hide, if only you knew, no chance now, unless of course we are ourselves taken for a ride.
Don’t look back I hear wise words say but it was actually you who taught us that way, back in the day: “Don’t look back, stride out, you are Kings on my road”, you would say, and we believed you. Because be sure back then, as those who travelled with us knew, looking back was not something we knew how to do. We strode with criss-crossing glee, oh yeah, really quite free. May be some say it is not the case to be true, but today is a place less free: to be true, to be true. Oh Cháng’ān Lù what has happened to you?
Just a day or so ago, I was thinking of you as I held up a bus, of course, not wishing a fuss, but when I looked out from the North to the South do you know what I could not see Cháng’ān Lù? It was you. I could not see you, for a continuous, sickening metallic hue, which had morphed into one almighty incomprehensible queue: that quite simply had obliterated you.
But now, at the dawn of a new modern era, it does in turn dawn upon me what I probably always could see. You have gone Cháng’ān Lù. It is no longer you. I talk to myself now it does seem but if that is all I have left then what I wish say I wish to be clear, to be fresh, to be seen.
Oh consume, Oh swoon, Oh legitimate heir, Oh the reason so fair, Oh fair: the fair of fair rides, fair maidens and fair despair. Oh pollution, Oh evolution, Oh ignominious death, Oh development, Oh wither, Oh sickened river, Oh imbedded, hot headed, earnestnessness. Sweet love, sweet freedom and sweet redress.
Oh Sweet Cháng’ān Lù, I really miss you.
Here is a list of articles that describe the frailties, or foretell the collapse, of the Chinese economy and maybe even the social structure of China. They have all come from the China news cycle over the last couple of weeks, most have been picked up through the Hao Hao Report. Their inclusion marks my retreat from a daily engagement, over the last few months, with that cycle. I have never been one for losing my self in the news of the day, here or at home, but by engaging here a little more recently I have certainly gotten more of a sense of the China news out their and the orchestrators of that news. I will endeavor to keep abreast of things but not quite in the same way. As always we’ll see how we go.
Below this list is an introduction to one of the articles; which draws a parallel between the over heated greed and growth of the Toyota Company and the present stage of economic development in China, predicting the inevitability of crisis. Further on is an exchange that I had with Charlie from Chengdu Living (apologies for getting Charlie involved again here) while briefly commenting on this article on the Hao Hao Report. It was only the third time ever I have made an extended contribution to a comments section, so I note it here for my own sense of reference but also as an optimistic interlude between these various prognoses of China doom:
I couldn’t quite bring myself to put the name, the word, the verb, or whatever it is in the title, as it has been used so much recently. I will attempt, however, to highlight what a difficult position the Google hierarchy are now in, one certainly not all of their own making but also how the moral as well as profitable thing to do may well be to hang around in the Middle Kingdom for a bit longer yet. However, first a little Google bashing.
For me and my petty concerns, Google went too far when they started incorporating alternative logo styles and random selections of daily information on their .com search engine, presuming that we the masses, in our beautiful diversity, would all be interested in whatever soupcon of news or random image they felt entitled to share with us. However, this didn’t stop me continuing to use their services; my Gmail account, the Google Chrome Browser, my first blog post on Blogger and all the googling I have continued to do. For others, it was the dilution of Google’s border-less approach to information accessibility when they started dealing with China that spelt the beginning of the end. (more…)