I had been warned, by friends and by the media, about the Chinese orphanage--the dying room for infants and the children being allowed to starve. But I was not prepared. I had expected the dying children to be crying, begging to be saved. Instead they were silent, withdrawn, immobile. They had no expectation of being comforted or saved, or even any obvious awareness of the two women passing by. They were miniature versions of the "Muselmänner" of the Nazi concentration camps, the ones who stopped struggling, gave up living, waited only for death--the ones from whom other inmates recoiled, as though the Muselmänner's resignation were contagious, the kiss of death. Now I, too, recoiled, in an involuntary lapse of compassion.
I cannot mention the real name of the woman who first took me to the orphanage, which is in southern China, in a complex that houses some 300 to 350 children and 250 disabled or elderly adults. I will call her Christine.
The kind of work Christine is doing was one answer to my question about what good, beyond sheer economic prosperity, the Western business presence in China might be bringing to that nation. The question had bothered me during the 1993-1994 debate about whether to renew China's most-favored-nation status. The public discussions had highlighted the gap between Americans who did business in China, most of whom wanted the renewal of MFN status, and human-rights advocates, who by and large supported the Clinton Administration's initial requirement that China first make "significant, overall progress" on issues of human rights. Human-rights advocates were naturally suspicious of business, and the businesspeople's obvious economic interests weakened their argument that their presence in China was good for human rights. I was acquainted with numerous Western businesspeople in China and knew that many had come to love the country. I suspected that some were quietly involved in "good works," serving the cause of human rights while avoiding publicity. My hunch proved correct.