Magazine article Monthly Review

Ecological Civilization, Indigenous Culture, and Rural Reconstruction in China

Magazine article Monthly Review

Ecological Civilization, Indigenous Culture, and Rural Reconstruction in China

Article excerpt

The governments of almost all developing countries are facing the long-term twin problems of capital shortages and high fiscal debts, resulting from their attempts to modernize the state forms and economic and financial relations left by colonialism or copied from western political culture. Whether they claimed to be of the left or the right ideologically, they almost invariably undertook policies to attract foreign investment and encourage domestic private investors to join the global industrialization competition during the twentieth century.

When one looks across many countries, there is a general pattern that seems clear - the greater the reliance on agriculture as the main source of employment, the poorer they are. But such a causal relationship gives a false impression. Up to the present the heavy institutional costs of industrialization with a modernized political superstructure, occurring together with a backward economic infrastructure, have not been recognized. Most developing countries have traveled down this one-way path, and sooner or later they have fallen into the trap of "modernizing" while leaving the institutional cost to the people and the environment.

Continental China, the biggest developing country, with the largest population (but also with significant natural resource constraints) has close to 20 percent of the world's population, but only 9 percent of its arable land and a mere 6 percent of its fresh water.1 Over the centuries, China had its share of drought- or flood-induced famines. But if not for a 6,000-year history of irrigated agriculture, with its related "village rationality" based on traditional indigenous knowledge - which internalizes risks by its multifunctional rural cultures of sustainable self-reliance - China would have been a land of perpetual hunger.

China has in large part accomplished the historical process of transition from primitive capital accumulation for the formation of high-risk urban industry - although at an extremely heavy internal cost to rural society. It is unique in being the only emerging industrialized nation among the "underdeveloped" countries that has been able to pass through an industrial revolution while retaining an "indigenous" population larger than 100 million. (Here we use the term "indigenous" to refer to the retention of indigenous knowledge and culture among a considerable part of Chinese society, the 99%, as differentiated from Hong Kong or Shanghai which were transformed by western colonial culture.) But China has continued to suffer after entering the period of industrial expansion. Its problems were not just caused by the severe crisis of the mid-1990s, when government debt to GDP was 140 percent, and 30 million urban workers were made jobless, hence stirring up a big noise about "China collapse" from the Western media. These problems were also related to the impact of the East Asian financial turmoil in the late 1990s, at the same time as China was in the process of joining the World Trade Organization, and thus becoming increasingly integrated into the world competition of financial capital.

The political and ideological efforts of global capitalism have caused a century of conflicts. They are manifested in chronic overaccumulation (excess capital and excess capacity), reflecting a shortage of profitable investment outlets, relative to investment-seeking surplus. Such contradictions are evident at the global level and in China itself. China entered the World Trade Organization with a significant industrial capital surplus and, this, according to orthodox economic views (particularly in the West), worsened the global industrial capital competition in the mid-2000s. It also changed the international view of China from one of encouragement and applause for its new direction, to the one concerned with the so-called "China Threat" to the capitalist world-economy.

However, the real question with regard to the future of China, we would argue, is more ecological than economic. …

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