Today's China News, in Words and Pictures

By James Fallows

1) I have a piece in the NYT Sunday Review section today, on the question many Chinese economists and industrialists are asking themselves but that relatively few outsiders recognize. Essentially it is whether the Chinese system of "guided" capitalism, which has achieved such economic, technological, and social-welfare miracles in the past 30 years, will be an advantage or a handicap over the next few years -- as Chinese companies try to become more like the Apples, Samsungs, Daimlers, GEs, etc for which they now mainly do assembly work. Sample:

After another several-month stay in China last year, I came up with one proxy for China's ability to take this next step: how slow its Internet service is, compared with South Korea's or Japan's.

In much of America, the Internet is slow by those standards, but mainly for infrastructure reasons. In China it's slow because of political control: censorship and the "Great Firewall" bog down everything and make much of the online universe impossible to reach. "What country ever rode to pre-eminence by fighting the reigning technology of the time?" a friend asked while I was in China last year. "Did the Brits ban steam?"

Before you ask: Yes, this argument is not coincidentally related to the one I deal with in China Airborne.

2) My unvarying theme about China over the years has been its enormous variability and internal contrast. This is one reason why I've often wished that first-time visitors to China, or frequent short-time visitors, would somehow be prevented from taking direct flights to either Beijing or Shanghai. Instead it would be great if they had to start in Lanzhou or Changsha or Yinchuan or some other place whose ritzy downtown district is less easy to mistake for a big Western capital. That would give them a range of additional mental images to consider when they see the stories on China's latest gargantuan-scale achievement or its latest political intrigue and turmoil.

Here is a video that gets across the way things can look when you're not in the center of Shanghai or Beijing. It's from Sinostand, with references from Walter Russell Mead and Sam Roggeveen, and it shows the results of a week-long bicycle trip through Shandong province. I haven't visited these exact villages -- nor, to be fair, have I ridden a bike through the countryside; I feel imperiled enough in a bus or car -- but I have seen many places like this in Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Hunan, and elsewhere. Seriously, these eight minutes will tell you more about a range of current Chinese realities -- of migrant work patterns, of family planning, of the construction-uber-alles economic strategy -- than the standard three-day visit to Beijing. Very much worth watching.
 

Brian Glucroft also has a predictably excellent, frequently refreshed series of photos and views of "real China" on his site, Isidor's Fugue. To give one example of hundreds, this seaside recreational view from Zhuhai, where I have for odd reasons spent a lot of time:

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If you like Alan Taylor's In Focus feature on our site, or simply if you're interested in the variety of the wide world, I highly recommend your taking the time to prowl through Glucroft's offerings. The Brueghel-in-China-style photo he uses for the site's logo gives the idea.

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For me, it's now on to "downtown" Shanghai, after a few days in an invented-from-scratch "dream lake" city on the outskirts about which I'll say more shortly. And of course as much time as I can spent chez Boxing Cat.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/todays-china-news-in-words-and-pictures/257728/