The China Fall?

The past few years have been a fascinating time to watch China’s mighty rise. However, the notion that they’re going to become the most powerful nation in the world over the next few years has always seemed ridiculous to me.

Recently I’ve noticed quite a few signs that suggest I’m not alone.

A few weeks back I had lunch with an alum of my grad school whose moved to Vancouver because it offers such a better life than China. He spoke of the boom there as being over and that everyone wants to get out in the next two years before a crash occurs.

But the malaise may be deeper that just an economic crash. Today’s NY Times includes this fatalistic gem (from What Keeps The Chinese Up At Night)

Their [locals in Chongquin] wishes and worries were candid, heartfelt and startling: people had lost their optimism and were yearning for security and freedom from anxiety. Income is a primary worry for those who have lost their jobs or land. Pensions and social welfare payments are almost nonexistent. People struggle to pay for education. They can’t afford medical treatment; clinics and hospitals require patients to pay cash in advance. A serious illness can spell financial ruin for an entire family.

China’s one-child policy has turned family life from a source of solace to a font of anxiety. Parents now get just one chance for a child to succeed and to support them in their old age. Single children carry an unbearable burden of parental and grandparental expectations.

In sum, a spiritual hunger has taken hold even as physical hunger has receded. Anxiety and resentment are turning people inward; the Chinese are being consumed by anomie, a listless sense that life has little meaning.

And following along with From Peter Thiel’s CS183 – nominally about startups but really about so much more – includes this even more fatalistic passage:

In a strange way, China falls squarely in the determinate pessimistic quadrant. It is the opposite of the U.S.’s optimistic indeterminacy. The China view is that there is indeed a calculus as to what to do to improve things for society. Things are determinate. But when you go through that calculus, there’s no cause for celebration. China will get old before it gets rich. It is forever destined to be a poor version of the U.S. It can and will copy things. But there’s not enough time to catch up, even if it executes perfectly. This explains why you end up with all these things that seem draconian from a more optimistic perspective; e.g. the one child policy, massive environmental pollution, and thousands of people dying in coal mines each year. The fundamental view is pessimistic, but in a very determinate, calculated way.

Another clue is found in a recent blog post by David Eaves:

 He contrasts that with the “Generation 90,” those now in mid teens to mid twenties and he sees a generation with small dreams and growing frustration. Forget about access to the top international universities in the world. Indeed, forget about access to top Chinese universities. Such opportunities are now reserved for the super rich and the super connected. What many have felt was a system that was relatively meritocratic is now flagrantly not. According to Anti, the result is that Generation 90 does not have big dreams. Forget about become a world class scientist, founding a leading company, leading an interesting organization. Many do not even dream of owning an apartment. This evolution (devolution?) in moods was summed up succinctly in a poster Anti saw at a demonstration a few months earlier which nihilistic read “We are Generation 90: Sacrifice Us.”

They agreed with Anti. Here I was, in the nation’s capital, sitting in an upper middle class restaurant, with a vibrant, intelligent, bilingual group of young Chinese. This is a group that would easily fit in the top 5% in terms of education, opportunity and income, and most probably in the 1%. And they felt that opportunity for their generation were limited. Their dreams, were more limited than the generation before them.

I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that China’s on an inexorable rise – but it doesn’t necessarily end at number one. It’s going to be interesting to see how this movie ends.

Update: a buddy of mine sent me another great article similar to the above, this time from The Prospect:

The domestic Chinese lower education system does not educate. It is a test centre. The curriculum is designed to teach children how to pass them. In rural China, where we have lived for seven years, it is also an elevation system. Success in exams offers a passport to a better life in the big city. Schools do not produce well-rounded, sociable, self-reliant young people with inquiring minds. They produce winners and losers. Winners go on to college or university to take “business studies.” Losers go back to the farm or the local factory their parents were hoping they could escape.

I pity the youth of China that cannot attend the international schools in the cities (which have to set limits on how many Chinese children they accept) and whose parents cannot afford to send them to school overseas, or do not have access to the special schools for the Party privileged. China does not nurture and educate its youth in a way that will allow them to become the leaders, inventors and innovators of tomorrow, but that is the intention. The Party does not want free thinkers who can solve its problems. It still believes it can solve them itself, if it ever admits it has a problem in the first place. The only one it openly acknowledges, ironically, is its corruption. To deny that would be impossible.

Same Same But Different

You wouldn’t think that young Chinese and Americans have too much in common, but two recent news articles suggest that they might.

The first article talks about Millennials in America entering the workforce:

Millennials want more vacation and time for themselves away from the job than young people did 30 years ago, and they also value compensation more, according to a recent study.

Millennials, the youngest generation in American workplaces, may see time off as necessary because of how hard they saw their parents work, said San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge.

Today there’s an article talking about how young Chinese workers are getting pickier about the jobs they’re looking for:

Their attitudes and expectations are vastly different from those of their parents, who hunkered down onassembly lines for little pay and helped turn China into a manufacturing juggernaut. Many younger workers won’t do the sweatshop jobs their parents did. They grew up with greater prosperity in families limited by theone-child policy. They are more used to getting their way.

“It’s true that we’re less willing to eat bitterness,” Chen said with a chuckle, using a popular Chinese phrase for enduring hardship. “We’re better educated. We know we have rights. Times have changed.”

Very interesting to see these similar attitudes emerging amongst similar aged people in wildly different countries.

Can Someone Please Explain This To Me?

I was too young to appreciate the beautifully-lucid-yet-logically-untenable propaganda dreamed up by apparatchiks in the Soviet Union, but, fortunately, China is the new Russia.  Check out some quotes from the China Global Times’ response to the U.S. asking for freedom of info on the web:

The hard fact that Clinton has failed to highlight in her speech is that bulk of the information flowing from the US and other Western countries is loaded with aggressive rhetoric against those countries that do not follow their lead.

In contrast, in the global information order, countries that are disadvantaged could not produce the massive flow of information required, and could never rival the Western countries in terms of information control and dissemination.

I don’t really understand the logic in the above statement, but, hey-let’s see where this goes!

It is not because the people of China do not want free flow of information or unlimited access to Internet, as in the West. It is just because they recognize the situation that their country is forced to face.

Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder.

Yikes.  China can create the second biggest economy in the world, send an astronaut into space, become the manufacturer for the world but it still needs its government to protect its people from themselves?  Because apparently despite all their achievements over the past few years they are incapable of determining what is ‘true’ and what is a ‘lie’?  What b.s.  Kudos to Google for threatening to pull out.