look at all these shops," he exclaimed. "There isn't any
space to squat anywhere in Chongqing, but not one of these people
is making any money."
cabbie may be right. The first thought that went through my mind
when I arrived in Chongqing was "China's more capitalist than
the US!" What I was seeing was the mad rush to make money after
the restrictions on business and migration were collectively ignored
and/or abolished by the Chinese in the 1980s. Every man, woman and
child set up a stand selling something, hawking something else.
Setting up shop and making that shop profitable are two different
things walking through the streets of China's most populous municipality,
one sees card games and cigarette plumes in front of most shops.
course, China's growth has provided opportunities to make money.
Designer clothes, cell phones, VCDs and DVDs all sell well, and
there is no dearth of shops that sell these items. Downtown Chongqing,
Chengdu and Kunming are great places to watch beautiful people strut
behind every department store is a crowd of peasants waiting for
the next shipment to come in. When it does they drop their cards
and smokes and sprint after the truck in order to be the first to
be able to haul boxes of fake Nikes and new Braun coffee makers
up and down the streets. The cheapest coffee maker I saw was 149
yuan. A peasant makes 0.5 yuan lugging six of them up three flights
department stores are the new rave in China. Carrefour, a French
chain, has 26 stores in 14 cities and is considering opening 10
more in Shanghai, according to the Asian Times. Wal-Mart
has already invested 900 million yuan and is planning to open 18
more stores around China. The department stores are packed all day,
every day and they sell everything, from dumplings to deodorant
to coffee makers to Chinese traditional medicine. Old Wang and his
shop of assorted low-quality "stuff" doesn't stand a chance
against these giants. Look to American streets to see a glimpse
of China's future: Mom and Pop selling out to the Man. Unfortunately,
there are many millions of Moms and Pops in China who can't afford
to sell out. When they do, the urban unemployment may reach ridiculous
heights: Chinese government statistics place the number at around
12 million. So multiply that by three and that's the probable number
in a couple of years' time.
problem China will face is intellectual property rights "disagreements."
I bought Gladiator
in Beibei, a small town in the sticks, the day it came out in Minneapolis,
where my family lives. Same story applies for Pearl
Harbor and any other movie you can name. I sat back and listened
to American audiences laugh as I laughed (most of the time anyway)
and when the movie ended I watched their heads silhouetted against
the screen as they left. Music is separated in two columns in most
stores: pirated (12 yuan) and not-so-pirated (30-50 yuan). Books
also have price discrepancies which baffle me. Until I found out
that they too are subject to sticky fingers.
Chinese government recently reviewed "53 out of 56" stipulations
of the original 1991 copyright law, but what is written on paper
and what happens in reality are inevitably incongruent. Pirated
stuff is a huge market force in China. For Hollywood executives
to impose a waiting period while their movies make 15 yuan per person
in the theater would take an act of God to be successful in China.
People here are used to being able to watch movies as soon as they
come out in the comfort of their own home. Theaters are a novelty
item, a place to take your girl every now and then. And little side
streets have showings of the latest movie in a comfy, glowing little
room. Pirates run the show, either in your home or in their makeshift
are considered serious booty as well. I have an Independent jacket,
Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirts and "Qiaodan" (Chinese for
"Jordan") shoes. They're all fake. They cost a fraction
of the Real Thing, and so what if they fall apart in a few months?
I just go to the huge bazaar selling North Face, Reebok,
Nike etc. and haggle like a toothless old woman. I make my price.
Now that's what I call market economics. And this huge bazaar
also sells anything anyone could ever need for their computer. Anything.
anyone who does business with a Chinese bank, I sympathize with
you. And I salute you, for you must be a soldier. All banks are
evil as far as I am concerned, but the Chinese people's sincere,
deep love of bureaucracy makes banking a nightmare. But things are
getting better. Last year, I had to pull money out of the bank where
I set up my account, no matter where I was. But then they developed
the Card. After the Card, all machines did not work. But then
after two weeks of "Sorry for the inconvenience..."
the machines began acting right, and now I can slip in and out of
a bank fearlessly; I even swagger.
50 tellers would lounge behind the window and yap, look at their
nails, sip tea, and sleep while one harried, young, half-blind,
rookie took care of rush hour traffic. Infuriating. But now, banks
have discovered the concept held in the highest esteem by foreign
bank CEOs: downsizing. At least that is the only explanation I can
come with for the lack of tea-sipping, bored-to-death "workers"
in my bank.
currency and wire transfers and such are still bewildering to the
average Chinese bank teller, unless you're at Bank of China, where
bewilderment on their part is replaced by bewilderment on my part
as I am directed from one desk to another to another to another....
"face" value, China's WTO entry looks like a momentous
opportunity for everybody to make money. But for those who hawk
in the market and for those who sell the Real Thing and for those
whose bank tellers smile and operate with both hands, it could be
know this because Vic and I still smoke cigarettes in our underwear
watching reruns of China vs. Oman every night. He grumbles day and
night about the deal to buy this building, the deal to open up that
hospital, the deals he made in Shanghai years ago.
years ago, we Taiwanese couldn't spend enough money," he says,
with an expansive wave of a skinny arm. "We would drink bottles
and bottles of the most expensive whiskey, buy the most expensive
cars, laugh loud at the poor Chinese."
he sits in one of China's poorer cities, trying to make a buck.
Taiwanese are swarming all over China, investing money in golf club
manufacturing, tea houses, educational centers, pesticides and anything
else that will make a little money. Taiwan has reached a pinnacle
of sorts. Like Japan, all the goodies are available, all the streets
are paved, universities have enough computers and even if they didn't,
Taiwanese all own a home computer. So where to they look for a place
to put their money and expand even more? Next door. Where goodies,
paved streets and university computer labs (let alone home computers)
are still relatively rare.
lifted a ban on direct investment this week, but still requires
a review of any investment over 20 million USD and any investment
that may damage "national security." Dangerous investments
seem to lie mostly in the electronics fields semiconductors,
microchips etc. Taiwan's living standard is light years ahead of
the Mainland's, but the opportunities the Mainland provides can
be found nowhere else.
still grumbles, though, because he doesn't trust any Chinese businessman
as far as he can throw him (Vic is 62, he can't throw much) and
the Chinese know that for all of Taiwan's vaunted cash, the Taiwanese
businessman needs to invest in Xinjiang as much as the Chinese government
needs money to construct those pipelines. Speaking of which...
main supplier of oil is surprise the Middle East. But with
the war on and China's oil supply/demand curve reaching a critical
point, the need for domestic oil reserves is great. The US claims
"freedom of the seas" and thereby controls the South Asian
route, and a pipeline through the -stans doesn't seem likely anytime
soon, so Xinjiang and Qinghai are China's best bet.
as Antoaneta Bezlova puts it in the Asia Times:
oil security faces great challenge because of the country's growing
appetite for oil and a widening gap between domestic oil production
and demand. China today imports about 30 percent of the oil it consumes,
two-thirds of which comes from the Middle East. With economic growth
seen holding steady at around 7.0 percent in the foreseeable future,
the country's need for oil could only rise. China's oil demand is
expected to reach 390 million tonnes by 2020, with domestic production
estimated at around 180 million tonnes."
is busy building a 4,000 km pipeline from Xinjiang to Shanghai,
but the cost (15 billion) the logistics (12 Provinces and 50 cities)
and the lack of a market along the pipeline (no one lives in the
West) have kept foreign investors away and the project on the shelf.
The issue of oil and the pipeline will be of great importance in
the future as Central Asia and the Middle East face instability.
A pipeline from Shanghai to the Western Provinces could theoretically
link Osaka and Frankfurt, and both Europe and the Far East could
use a little boost given the current slowdown throughout the world.
this in mind, the war takes on a familiar perspective. China's support
for a US-led coalition in Afghanistan, which Bush praised this week,
is a step toward a superpower-regional power domination of the oil
fields in the name of oil independence (or dependence, depending
on how you look at it), and not in the name of freedom from terrorism
or freedom for the women of Afghanistan.
if we didn't know that freedom wasn't the goal anyway.
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 (usually) appears
War May Reveal New Superpower, Part II
War May Reveal New Superpower
Chance for a New Friendship?
as a Way of Life
Markets or Supermarkets
Towards World Significance
on the Road to Capitalism
American in China
the Street in China: A Report