spat my buddy Victor. "Chinese love face too much." It
seems the $10 million performance was so unpopular that the organizers
were giving away tickets at the end just to fill the 30,000 seats
the cheapest of those being 800 yuan, a months wage for 80 percent
of the population and the most expensive seats were $2000. We'll
never know how many of those $2000 dollar buckets were given away
as favors to this or that big-time politician.
lavish gala inside the Forbidden City was an effort to court the
"western highbrow vote," according to Newsweek
columnist Melinda Liu. "The
only city to ever make money off of the damn Olympics was Atlanta,"
says Victor. "Because the organizer was a businessman!"
brought up an important point: western cable networks are reluctant
to pay big bucks for the rights to televise the Beijing Olympics
because when athletes are doing their thing here, Americans and
Europeans will be passed out. Sydney faced the same problem, but
then Sydney wasn't in it for the money. The Chinese Government is
loudly preaching about the economic love that will be generated
in 2008 and the investment that will follow, but it might be safe
to assume that Beijing isn't just in it for the money, either. The
billions already spent and the billions to be spent won't be made
up for with noodles and trinkets.
do-or-die mentality drove the 2008 Olympic bid Beijing Mayor
Liu Jingmin warned that communication between East and West would
suffer if Beijing did not win the bid. For a country whose people
are thirsty for outside influence and money, desperate to realize
financial and international-political ambitions and who speak daily
of the opening up of all aspects of Chinese culture, hosting the
Olympics is the ultimate attention-getter.
WHY THE RUSH?
and concerts are one thing, but the real test of face vs. reason
is China's imminent entry into the WTO. Nicholas Lardy, of the Brookings
Institution, has argued in several
papers that China needs WTO membership for several important
overall growth of the Chinese economy has slowed over the past five
years and, in order to step up the pace and keep incomes and living
standards on the rise, a further step into the world market is needed.
improved living standards and continued growth should help keep
the unemployed masses from overthrowing the Communist Party, sustain
the leadership's legacy and legitimize their successors.
China's economy could benefit from a rules-based, competetive system,
which would help re-vamp the state-owned sector and turn the rickety,
patchwork economy into an efficient machine. But Lardy also points
out what many economists, especially the drooling suits of the U.S.
China Business Council, already surmise: the costs of membership
are significantly higher than the benefits.
July 13 Inside US Trade report shows that the thorough review
of laws and regulations which precedes WTO membership is being eschewed
in China's case in favor of an "extensive review system."
This change of policy is mostly due to the fact that China refuses
to disclose the information needed for a real review of their laws
and regulations. Obviously, China knows it isn't ready to comply
with all the rules and it is nowhere near competitive enough to
meet foreign companies head-on, so why the rush for membership?
HAVE TO CHANGE
first thing I noticed when I arrived in China were the thousands
of shops and stands and hawkers and markets along the streets, in
the streets and crawling up out of the streets. My first thought
was to compare this with the "free market capitalism"
of my own sweet U.S.A. It seemed to me mom and pop shops thrive
in Communist China and die a wicked death in free America.
doors slide up along every street of every urban area in China to
reveal every possible shop imaginable: tires, tools, clothes, leather
goods, underwear, mops and kitchen stuff, VCD's etc. and you can
find any shop's twin across the street or down a block. My second
thought upon reaching China was: "Does anybody sell any of
his stuff?" For all the yelling and gesturing, it seemed the
plastic bunny toys and glow-in-the-dark wallets and ties and pager
parts weren't going anywhere. As
Nobel Prize Winner Gao Xingjian writes in his book, Soul
Mountain: "It seems opening up a shop is the rave these
days in China."
family has a shop of some sort, and every afternoon from noon to
3 PM the whole family relaxes in front of the shop: smoking, playing
mahjong or cards, or just sleeping. "Every shop has ten people
sitting or sleeping and one person working," growls Victor.
"How do they make any money?"
Vic is just bitter because he experienced Chinese-style business
in Shanghai for the first time and he didn't like it. A factory
which employed 100 people in Taiwan and made money needed 300 people
on the mainland, plus a vast array of "public relations"
costs payoffs, bribe, gifts and such.
everybody has a shop, but the place is run-down, overstaffed, dirty
and serves up low quality goods. The kind of shop where you wake
up the boss, step over his mangy mutt to point at the nails and
hammer, pay, then go home and proceed to bust every nail. The last
nail is tough enough to bust the hammer. All the quality goods go
overseas (face again) while the scrap stays here. I used tools made
in China while working on hydraulics on a boat in Alaska and the
skipper praised them to high heaven. I can't count how many screwdrivers
I've bent since I've been here.
Chinese have a lot of time off. Usually, a few fellas can smoke
and watch while one works, then it's lunch time until 3 PM and the
day ends at 5:30 PM for dinner. There are just too many people and
not enough work.
Chinese I meet asks me how much I make. It's the most important
thing for every person here: how much money? But the cutthroat competitive
spirit which brings activists into the streets in Western countries
hasn't hit many parts of China. Business here seems to be more of
an exercise in consensus-building, making buddies, getting drunk
and signing contracts, exchanging informal gifts and back-scratching.
I wonder if Swedish CEO's are prepared to present a bottle of wine,
then drink it with a horde of Chinese, screaming "ganbei"
("Dry your glass!").
also wonder what will happen to Old Deng, his ugly dog and his dusty
tire shop if, say, Firestone were to move in with uniforms, advertising,
spic-and-span floors and racks of perfectly sorted goods.
Chinese aren't competitive enough," scoffs Vic. "They
don't have what it takes to compete with foreign businesses. WTO
is not a good idea."
I've written before, the East might be in a good position to compete,
but the dusty garage-door shops of the rest of the nation are probably
not ready. And Victor lost his money in Shanghai the glittering
gem of the East Coast.
printable version of this article
is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared
in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily,
and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column appears Tuesdays.
Towards World Significance
on the Road to Capitalism
American in China
the Street in China: A Report