China: Dealing with Destiny

Article excerpt

CHINA: THE NAME REVERBERATES throughout the historical accounts of every society around the globe, those recognitions dating back thousands of years. Silk, gunpowder, martial arts, fine porcelain, jade jewelry, and contemplative religions are inextricably linked with it. In more recent centuries, China has become known for its teeming masses and what they can do, both good and ill. Chinese armies overwhelmed U.S. and UN forces in the 1950s war in Korea. Chinese migrants, escaping from the dense population of the Chinese eastern mainland, have pushed out to every continent and community. Chinese financial institutions, businesses, restaurants, and laundries can be found in remote regions of Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Ethnic Chinese dominate economies throughout Southeast Asia and are potent forces elsewhere. Moreover, it seems as if all of the global flow of consumer goods is stamped with the ubiquitous logo, "Made in China."

The Chinese characters that compose the country's name describe it as the "Middle Kingdom," and the name is imbedded in the thinking of all those raised and educated in a Chinese culture. History books show the country's geographical reach from the Siberian frontier to the plains of middle Asia to the archipelagos of Indonesia. Its historical records date back 5,000 years. Indeed, it seems that China is the enduring center of human development with a story that is, in many respects, romantic.

Like any nation, however, China has its share of troubles. In 2001, Gordon G. Chang authored The Coming Collapse of China in which he projected the fall of the Chinese Communist Party within a decade and, with it, the demise of the nation's government and political system. Chang argues that the government will be overwhelmed by several critical dilemmas: pauperization of the countryside; creation of bad debts in the banking system; accumulation of local government deficits; underfunding of the social security system; destruction of the environment; corruption in all aspects of society; and, the most prominent problem, erosion of essential social services.

China, though, is like an iceberg; there are many more difficulties for the country to deal with; it's just that not all of them are readily visible to outsiders:

* There is a growing imbalance between males and females, now judged to be 118 to 100 for new births. In starker terms, in the present population of roughly 1,300,000,000, there are estimated to be 50,000,000 more men than women. In a system that is family oriented by culture and still family dependent for many social services, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

* The nation's highly developed urban centers have become magnets for the rural poor, bringing about high unemployment in the cities, a large homeless population, and higher crime rates.

* Huge increases in manufacturing and consumer products have resulted in a heightened dependence on the U.S. market. Added to the American reliance on borrowing from China, this has locked the two nations in an interdependent embrace which restricts, for better or worse, both their options. …