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Two China's « Previous | |Next »
July 20, 2009

David Sirota sums up his trip to China, which he published in, in terms of two China's at He says that on his trip he's seen America circa 1900: coastal metropolises of towering wealth hemming in a polluted and destitute heartland. Two Chinas, as John Edwards might say -- one you constantly hear about and another hidden from view.

The China we know in Australia is the China of the economic miracle, which Sirota describes in terms of:

the sleek office towers, fine restaurants and nouveaux riches -- the "miracle" endlessly celebrated by the New York Times' Tom Friedman (China is a place of "wide avenues, skyscrapers, green spaces, software parks and universities"), Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria ("China's growth has obvious and amazing benefits for the world") and most of America's Very Serious Commentators.

The other China is Guiyang, a coal-mining town of 3 million in China's poorest province, which is the darker side of the "miracle." Sirota says:
Here in the countryside is the soundstage of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick -- filth-covered tenements slapped together with crumbling cement and kitchen tile; limbless paupers with burned faces begging for food; an atmosphere choked by soot, exhaust and the stench of human excrement.

What Australia cares about is China returning to its furious economic growth since that means greater demand for natural resources. We are dependent on China, addicted to its growth.

Bring back the commodities boom say the spruikers for the miners and energy companies. It's our path to riches. If the next boom can't be rebuilt on coal and iron ore, then lets built it on natural gas (LNG). Australia is open for business. Gas promises much lower emissions when used instead of coal in power generation and China promises by far the most demand growth. Bonanza time folks.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:53 AM | | Comments (5)


It's a pretty telling indictment on Australian economic policymakers since Federation, really, that we still have to rely on Quarry Australia for our economic wellbeing. Sure, having resources is one way of making a living, but an advanced economy does not rely on digging rocks. Why are there no world class technology companies from Australia? Finland is in many ways like Australia, but because they invest in education and socially inclusive things, they also have companies like Nokia to back up the money they make from forestry.

China's breakneck economic development since the mid-1980s has to a certain extent been founded on the premise that the state's monopoly on violence will protect the government and official institutions from social discontent (riots) arising from the unfair burdens imposed on the public.

The governance model of stability at all costs no longer works as it once did.

Any way you look at it, China is HUGE. Population, land area, culture(s), economy and history. So why not the scale of their social problems?

Not trying to be glib... just a bit overwhelmed.

I remember reading an article years ago in a doctor's waiting room about the living conditions in some of China's less salubrious areas. The combination of poverty and pollution is as bad as it gets. Still, it contributes to China's wealth creation, which is apparently what matters.

The Chinese revolution could not have happened without rural "muscle". The disaffected, exploited peasantry took the Communist Party to power.

Oh, and something about nationalism and Imperial Japan.

But mainly it was the mobilisation of an alienated rural class wot dun it.

But revolutions aren't fashionable these days...