There is no shortage of stories about China's economic growth. But the figures remain dodgy. In his statement to the US Senate Finance Committee on April 6, 2000, Nicholas Lardy, an expert on China's economy at the Brookings Institution, said: "The official data overstate the pace of economic expansion ... over the past decade there has been an extraordinary buildup of unsold and unsalable inventories."
\nHe continued: "On average, [from] 1990 to 1998 annual additions to inventories in China absorbed 42 per cent of incremental output. While some increase in inventories is needed to support higher levels of output, the disproportionately large inventory buildup in China reflects the continued production of low-quality goods for which there is little or no demand."
\nThis is reminiscent of the Soviet Union, where production targets were met irrespective of low consumer demand for shoddy goods.
\nThen there is the story of ever-increasing investment of foreign funds in China. This again is dubious. For instance, the amount of capital illicitly transferred overseas actually exceeded the amount of foreign investment in China in the year 2000.
\nThe Yangcheng Evening News has also written: "On the one hand, the government is making big efforts to attract foreign investment. On the other hand, large amounts of capital are fleeing overseas. In the face of these facts, who wouldn't be heartbroken?"
\nAt another level, China's non-performing bank loans are a major worry. According to credit rating agency Moody's, "the health of the state banks remains a central concern ... Chinese banks overall lent more in the first seven months" of this year than in all of the previous year.
\nThe transfer of some non-performing loans -- about US$170 billion in 1999 and early 2000 -- to asset management companies has not resolved the problem because the companies are not able to sell the loans even with big discounts.
\nThe government tends to squander its people's hard earned savings, deposited mostly with state banks. Writing in the New York Review of Books in 1998, Liu Binyan and Perry Link said that "as of early 1997, almost half of the money in personal savings accounts [two trillion yuan, or US$240 billion] had been lost" in bad loans. Things do not seem to have changed much since then.
\nThere isn't much hope that things will get any better because of the systemic corruption that exists. The rot starts at the top. As He Qinglian pointed out in her book, China's Pitfall, the urban economic boom in the 1990s amounted to "a process in which power-holders and their hangers-on plundered economic wealth."
\nShe added, "The primary target of their plunder was state property that had been accumulated from 40 years of the people's sweat, and their primary means of plunder was political power."
\nThe link between power holders and China's new robber-baron class spawned by them is still strong.
\nAccording to journalist Julie Chao, "Graft is endemic in China, where personal relationships still count more than rule of law. Anything is for sale, from police complicity in smuggling rackets to acquiring land, where buyers can kick off the farmers and build a golf course or hotel or office building."
\nAnd she quotes economist Hu Angang's estimate that over the past decade corruption has cost China the equivalent of roughly 15 percent of its GDP annually in lost taxes, tariffs and skimming of public funds.
\nIn this climate of anything goes, the poor are also seeking to sell anything they possibly can. Jonathan Watts has chronicled the story of blood sales by Henan's poor in The Guardian. In the midst of rampant poverty in the province, where the "average farmer survives on 78 cents per day," this was all they had left to sell to supplement their income. The resulting HIV contamination has affected an estimated 1 million people in Henan Province.
\nThis problem is not confined to one province. In his novel Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, Yu Hua highlights this problem. In a recent interview, Yu said: "Selling blood has become a means of survival for the poor."
\n"Blood-selling villages pop up one after another, and in these villages almost every family sells blood," he added.
\nIt is estimated that by 2010 there might be as many as 10 million cases of HIV in China. Officially, the number now is only 40,000. Such illusory statistics are a Chinese specialty.
\nThe ghoulish nature of Chinese statistics can also be seen in the justice system. Executions are a ubiquitous feature of Chinese justice, and according to China's New Rulers, a book quoting secret party documents, 60,000 Chinese were killed -- executed or shot dead while fleeing police -- between 1998 and 2001. That works out at about 15,000 deaths a year. According to Nicholas Kristoff in The New York Times, this would mean "that 97 percent of the world's executions take place in China."
\nAnother coercive feature of life in China is the forced relocation of skilled workers from booming cities to poor western provinces, such as Inner Mongolia. According to Jehangir Pocha in San Francisco Chronicle, "thousands of students are experiencing a velvet-gloved version of China's Maoist past."
\nAt the same time, there is the emergence of the low-paid house maid to service China's new middle class. As Jonathan Kaufman writes in The Wall Street Journal, "Ayis or `aunties,' as maids are known in Chinese, are a topic of constant discussion among Shanghai's growing middle class: where to find them, how to keep a good one."
\nFormer Chinese president Jiang Zemin's (
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