Wednesday, August 06, 2008

残奥会倒计时一周年晚会 刘德华演唱 ... Inharmonious, Even in Chinese

My second-ever blog post talked about what I thought was wrong and right with China. Eighteen months later I visited the country for the first time and posted a follow-up blog based on what I saw.

Now, more than 3 and a half years later, they've made incredible and undeniable progress, as we all knew they would ... It's the old "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" Unfortunately, those torpedoes are bigger, more numerous, and closer than ever before. Every day, with every move, a few more torpedoes crash into the Chinese hull. From time to time, they wander into storms and scrape reefs, but for now their charge is relentless, most visibly over the upcoming weeks as we all watch their Olympics. We will ooh! and aah! and some will whisper "they've beat us!"

But hold! Each impact, scrape, and squall takes its toll. We need look no further than Newtonian Law (applied to Economics) to know that SS China's rate of progress necessarily and permanently slows every time it runs across resistance. Each battle scar makes the craft slightly less hydro-dynamic. At some point, the Chinese people will tire of the turbulence and demand a smoother ride. Eventually, they'll realize that they need to modernize and reinforce their craft to make it long-lasting. All of these will inevitably slow their progress.

At the end of this blog, you'll find a table of the main torpedoes currently in the water and pinging. I list what's wrong and what's right with their response to each over the last few years.

As I've said before, it will take China a hundred years to fully recover from their current barrage-laden charge, to repair and upgrade their craft, and to find the safe, stable, deep and open waters where "We" (the US, Japan, and Europe) spend most of our time. We've been through the gauntlet already. We've forged much new territory and it has never been a smooth ride. Today, our people want a cautious hand at the wheel in order to foresee and prevent disturbances. We want a sure financial return on our investment. Plus, we want low costs (financial, political, ecological, and human). All of which explain why we no longer have China's appetite for showing off.

Chinese may think they can "control" their way to a permanently elevated cruise speed. Millions of ex-Communist technocrats have found that they can apply old Marx and Engels to a concept very de rigeur in Western business: performance metrics and control. This has been employed to tremendous fanfare in preparation for the Olympics ... and also to impressive effect. Today, those directing the Chinese economic ship are not in it for the money, but for the power and the growth.

At some point the populace will demand a bigger and more assured share of the spoils. Maybe even a say in how things are done. Someday, China's government will have to start listening to their people and considering the human side of their choices ... So far, they've shown their tone-deafness in this area. No wonder: these are "softer" criteria. It's tough to measure, control, and set targets for national unity or happiness. ISO has no international standard for maximization of human potential ... yet these are all critical once the voice of the people must be considered.

What are these soft criteria? I'm giving a stratospheric view of very human-level concepts. Let's swoop down and get a little more concrete with a few very human tales:

  • Wu Ping and the Nail House: The story of a government-anointed real estate developer's battle against a peasant family for their hovel and land, complete with scandal and standoff. It ends with a wrecking ball for the hovel and a phantom payment for the peasants. Phantom because they mysteriously disappear before the money can be paid.

  • The Journalists, the Censors, and the Spies: Before they even arrived, foreign journalists had something to gripe about. It came to light that China (with the complicity of the IOC) would be censoring their Internet connections, in contradiction to earlier promises. More insidious, perhaps, is the US Government's warning that visitors should avoid taking their cell phones and laptops to the games to avoid the risk that their devices might get infected with government-sponsored invisible spyware.
  • China's Special Woebegone Games: (finally, an explanation of the blog's title!) The stereotype is that disabled people in China are hidden to avoid shame. There is no ADA in China. Worldwide, Paralympic athletes will take every opportunity to tell you they want no special treatment. Their event is about self-sufficient, highly trained athletes in ruthless head-to-head competition. It is NOT about creating a fantasy land of love and self-esteem where everyone is a winner. That's the Special Olympics. Which is why they're none too excited about the Chinese Paralympic Committee's official theme song "Everyone is Number One" ("残奥会倒计时一周年晚会 刘德华演唱"). Not to mention they've one-upped our cultural icon Garrison Keillor's Woebegone Effect ("Welcome to Lake Woebegone where ... all the children are above average.")

Torpedoes in the Water!!

If I were captain of SS China, these are the issues I'd be losing sleep over:

No comments: