Mon, Apr 11, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Understanding the faces of China

By Jerome Keating

Taiwan is a medium-sized nation. Not only is it a thriving Asian democracy, but also in terms of population, Taiwan is larger than more than 70 percent of the countries in the world. In terms of GDP per capita (PPP), it also ranks high (17th); therefore there should be no doubt that democratic Taiwan is a vital nation to its Asian neighbors and the world.

However, unfortunately for too many pundits, all this is continually overlooked because next to Taiwan, across the Taiwan Strait, is China, the most populous nation in the world and the fourth largest in land mass.

Because of its size and because it covets Taiwan, many pundits still imagine — and even foolishly predict — that Taiwan is predestined to be forced to join China.

That is not so, for not only does China, which ranks 83rd in GDP (PPP), have many problems, but those problems are increasing in a time when they can no longer be hidden.

To understand China means to understand its many faces, each with its own paradigmatic and conflicting perspectives. When the topic of China comes up, the immediate next question should always be what China are you talking about?

This will not be China’s century; that fleeting idea might have had a moment’s credence in the past, but from Taiwan’s perspective, where freedom of the media and a desired transparency in government are emphasized, this will be the century that China is finally exposed, and that means more than reading the so-called “Panama Papers.”

Start with population. With more than 1.3 billion people, where so many are ruled by so few, problems exist. China happens to be the Middle Kingdom of millions of uneducated poor.

The Chinese Communist Party Central Politburo is working hard to reduce those numbers, but the economic juggernaut is running out of steam, and China has not even begun to face what can be called the dissatisfied working middle-class blues. Foreign factories have already started to relocate to Indonesia, Vietnam and other lower-cost labor countries, yet the expectations of the millions of remaining Chinese poor are unlikely to disappear.

Some, of course, still cling to what could be called the “Pearl Buck” vision of China — the romanticized version of the millions of poor villagers who follow a simple life under Confucian traditions. However, these Pearl Buck visionaries have shied away from the realities of what had happened to those poor in the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine, the later in AIDS villages, and the harsh enforcement of the past draconian one-child policy. Those realities remain.

When speculating about China, any discussion has to always be taken in terms of millions of people. For example, if one focuses on the deaths resulting from former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Great Famine alone, they numbered more than 30 million. That is the equivalent of wiping out the total population either of Australia.

In the complexity of this milieu, many millions of Chinese poor still remain locked in the past and ironically harken to the mythical days of old where they could go to Beijing to “petition the Emperor” with their grievances. Once there, they are usually beaten and sent home with no hearing. This still happens today.

Manufacturing China, the factory of the world, is part of this. Pundits went wild about the millions of people that worked in poor conditions for decades, but now they are refocusing. Google phrases like China’s “rustbelt,” “zombie firms,” and “unpaid workers,” and the mounting problems can begin to be seen.

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