Sunday, March 16, 2008


I'm closing in on almost two years spent in China. Can tempus really fugit so fast?

And in all that time, probably the majority of my postings about China haven't been terribly upbeat. You know, here among the warts it may seem that the picture I'm painting isn't of an amphibian at all.

Sure, the children are roller-blading down the pedestrian mall, laughing and jeering at each other like kids do. The old grandmas are hanging clothes out to dry on a line strung through the center of the condominium's corridor. Those things certainly don't make the news. But here in China, neither does the imposition of martial law on Tibet. The only reason we're hearing about it at all is that the advent of cellphone cameras and blogging makes it nigh impossible for the police to keep an airtight media lock-down as they've done so many times in the past. But like I said, the upper-middle class children and grannies are having a hell of a good time. Spring is in the air.

I guess the reason why foreigners aren't in the habit of writing more optimistic stories about China could be that good news doesn't sell. Good news doesn't have that wonderful apocalyptic, cliff-hanger quality that news about Chinese environmental and humanitarian conditions often hint at. Good news also isn't too exciting, if it's only good for your competitors. That's what China is shaping up to be, after all, and just as the American economy starts slipping down a slope, we're not too pleased to think that Santa's newest workshop is not only chugging along, but is set to move up the technology/value-added tree to compete in more lucrative industries.

But I often wonder if there really is any good news for China. It may not seem so, but I do look for it. But even as the English-language propaganda channel babbles on about 'robust market' this, and 'Beijing Olympics' that, it seems that every happy story I find here has something of a thin veneer. I think the happiest story that China has to tell, is that many people here can now afford to consume the world into environmental collapse one purchase at a time, just as Americans have been doing for the past hundred years or so. Eventually, China will also become more moderate--progressive, even--in its policies, I've little doubt. That's good news, if it does come true. But at what price? The country is walking a high-wire towards success and power. Considering that twenty floors beneath my feet, seven people were trampled to death by a mob intent on buying discounted cooking oil, I don't think I want to be here to see what happens if China slips off its high-wire.

I guess that's when the real muckraking begins.

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