I mentioned several days ago that, according to a recent Pew poll, 44% of the U.S. public thinks that China is the "world's leading economic power." OK, I can understand why some people might think so -- what with the trillions of dollars of U.S. debt to our Chinese overlords, the ubiquity of "Made in China" products wherever you shop, and the precision and scale of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Still, people who think this are wrong.
When reading the Pew poll, I immediately thought of a scene, from Gansu province, that gives an idea of how hundreds of millions of people get by in today's "all-conquering" modern China:
And of the view from our apartment window in Beijing a few weeks before the opening of the Olympic games. The point of this one, of course, is that en route to industrial development, all countries have gone through their blacken-the-skies dirty industry stage. That is where China is now, though with serious efforts to get out of it:
For readers in China, let me be 100% explicit and clear that the point is not to put down China's people or its system for the things the country has not yet achieved and the gaps not yet closed. Those achievements are phenomenal. But some people outside China have evidently developed a wholly unrealistic, fantasy-world concept of a China that has no remaining problems and is surging effortlessly ahead. A more realistic view -- of a country that is advancing dramatically, but from a very low level of average wealth -- is better for all concerned.