2014年3月10日 星期一

Semicoherent Thoughts on China

If you live in Taiwan, it's impossible not to think about China.  Taiwan was, after all, once part of China, and many people in Taiwan and China claim that Taiwan is still part of China, or that China is still part of Taiwan, or something like that.  It all gets very confusing, and when I think about it too hard I get a headache.


Taiwan's economy is heavily dependent on China's economy.  Many Taiwanese factories have relocated to the Mainland, and all Taiwanese banks now handle transactions in Renminbi, China's currency.  I think that Taiwan's businessmen are, on average, quite good at hedging their bets between China, Japan, and the US, so I'm not too worried about Taiwan's dependence on China.  In some ways, the US is even more dependent on China than Taiwan is.


I often wonder if and when China will implode.  I have the feeling that China's government is attempting to maintain itself through economic growth alone, without considering the individual rights and freedoms that make countries such as Taiwan more attractive to live in.  I cannot help but think that China's less privileged classes are going to make their voices heard soon, and they are going to want the rights denied them.


If the result of economic "progress" is that everyone in China gets to live a Western lifestyle, what does that mean for the rest of the world?  The environmental repercussions of this drive towards a Western lifestyle are already making themselves felt.  Air pollution is an increasingly large problem there, with correspondingly negative effects on public health.  Food safety is another issue of mounting importance, as Chinese producers turn to factory farming to supply a population hungry for beef, pork, and chicken. 


Some foreign commentators are very satisfied over this development, but let us remember that smog does not just remain in China - it goes wherever the wind carries it.  The same could be said of whatever pollution China is creating in the oceans, whatever diseases may be incubating there, and whatever political unrest might be fermenting because of bad government and bad living conditions.  Sorry to welcome these foreign commentators to our global village, but a problem for China today will be a problem for everyone tomorrow.


I've been to China proper for about 5 seconds altogether.  I've been to Hong Kong a few times, and of course I live in Taiwan, but I've gone into the "real" China exactly once.  I took the train from Hong Kong north into the Mainland, to Shenzen, which is a big industrial center.  It was hot, it was dusty, and I was understandably unimpressed by what I saw.


The only Mainlanders I tend to see are at the Family Mart near my house, where the tour buses stop on their way around the island.  They spend a lot of time milling around the Family Mart, many of them amazed by the most commonplace items.  I feel sorry for the lady that works in the Family Mart, because they often try to argue down the price on items that are already very cheap.  "How much are these cigarettes?" a man from China says, "50 NT?  Do you have any cigarettes for less?"  "No," says the Family Mart lady for the hundredth time, "These are the cheapest cigarettes we have..."


It's hard to blame people in China for being ignorant.  Their media is heavily censored, and their government does everything it can to skew their picture of the outside world.  Hopefully the kind of economic progress embraced by the Chinese government will have a corrosive effect on all this censorship.  The people of China need to be better informed.  For that matter, so do most Americans.


I would like to go to Yunnan in China, but yesterday I was reading about these people that ran into the Kunming Train Station and stabbed 29 people to death.  Not in a big hurry to go to Yunnan now!


China has sent two probes to the moon.  Neither of these probes has accomplished much, but it's good to see people bothering with space exploration.  The US seems very threatened by the Chinese space program, but this might be a good thing.   Given the rate at which we are exhausting many of the Earth's resources, looking beyond the Earth for some of these resources might become more practical in the future.


I think a strong Japan is better for Taiwan.  Japan has no military ambitions with regard to Taiwan, and a strong Japan distracts China from other territorial disputes.  Right now the Chinese are threatening Japan over China's newly declared "no-fly zone," which covers much of the waters between Japan, China, and Taiwan.  Taiwan has wisely stayed out of this argument, which might otherwise threaten more concrete Taiwanese interests.


Many Westerners like to point their finger at China and say something like: "You people are destroying your environment, and you people are oppressors, and you people are all just bad, bad, BAD!"  But let us not forget that many of the companies doing the polluting in China are exporting to Western countries, and that much of the oppression goes hand-in-hand with the Chinese "economic miracle" that has made goods in places such as Wal-Mart so cheap.  China bears much of the political and environmental cost of Western economic activity, and those living in Chinese houses shouldn't throw stones.

Especially if those stones were also made in China.

Related Entries:

Mandarin in Taiwanese Elementary Schools
Taiwan by the Numbers: People
Racism in Taiwan
Foreign Relations

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