Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Somebody Else's Tires

Look at the items on the top of your desk. Most of the items come from China. From pens to pencils to paper clips to the clock radio - - probably all manufactured in China. Your desk and chair came from China. Your waste basket was manufactured in China and the trash is going to be recycled back to China. This represents the power of China - - economic juggernaut destined to ellipse the United States in terms of economic strength and geopolitical influence.

The Chinese power potential and concerns are also balanced by the paradoxes and constraints that don't get the full attention that they deserve. Beyond the coastal manufacturing centers you still have a quarter of planet’s population living a lifestyle that has a huge disconnect with what I see on the top of my desk. China traveler and writer Peter Hessler illustrates this in his great new book - - Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory (2010). Hessler writes the following about his 7,000-mile trip across northern China:

In Beijing, I rented a car and headed to Shanhaiguan, a city on the coast where the Great Wall meets the Bohai Sea. From there I drove west through the harvest of Hebei Province. It was mid-autumn and most crops had already been cut down; only the corn still stood tall in the fields. Everything else lay out in the road - - mottled lines of peanuts, scattered piles of sunflower seeds, bright swaths of read pepper. The farmers carefully arranged the vegetables on the side of the asphalt, because that was the best surface for drying and sorting. They tossed the chaff crops into the middle of the road itself, where vehicles would be sure to hit them. This was illegal - - there’s no other act that so publicly violates both traffic safety and food hygiene. In rural China, though, it’s still widely tolerated, because threshing is easiest when somebody else’s tires do the work.

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