Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 6/7: Musings on Philosophy and Economics

Photo: Welcome to Beijing! Warning: Don't breathe deeply! The smog is so bad you cannot see past two or three blocks. The blue sky that met us the first two days here is an anomaly and may have been the clearest days of the year.

Hi folks,
Re: "comments" on Blog-- Let me explain that I cannot access the blog from here. (I have no trouble with email or websites.) So, I do apologize for not responding – until today- to the great comments you have all been making. It appears that my mug has found its way to the blog (you poor people) and that the text has come through as well. What appears to be happening is that we are witnessing the famous Chinese censorship at work. It appears to be quite selective, and yet blogs seem to fall into that category of Internet info that is deemed to be threatening. A colleague here stated that the Chinese government has 30,000 people reading internet traffic. An amazing number until you get here, and you think, “yep, that possible.”

(At this point in the show, let me acknowledge the truly extraordinary work our very own communications guru, Susan Biggs, has done on our collective behalf in this little adventure. Not only did she set up a very user-friendly blog that the technologically-challenged, like yours truly, can access with ease, she has marshaled the two-way traffic by email from me to you and vice-versa. She has been pasting and posting 7 days a week, night and day, to make this happen. So, thank you, Susan. Wonderful work!)

Speaking of hoards of people working on the Internet, an interesting observation about this communist/capitalist society is the issue of employment. Many people here work at a frenetic pace, and the services in the tourist business are incredible. When one observes the wait staff in restaurants or salespeople in the stores, they are there by the dozens. A colleague who has been years for years gave an example of the Chinese view of this. For example, he explained, that in the States if we need to dig a foundation for a building, one person could use a giant bulldozer, and do a very efficient job. In China, they may use 100 people to dig the hole that the bulldozer did by itself. (Not to suggest that they don’t use bulldozers, because they do.) The point is that both philosophically and economically, they are better off having 100 workers employed- even at very low wages- than not. With 1.35 billion, this is no small matter.

Message to Megan:

Thanks for following the trip here. It is really great to know that you are on the other end of these postings. In terms of the changes since 1978, it is a pretty simple contrast between a traditional communist country (like USSR, Cuba, East Germany, etc. all of which I visited in those days too) and a modern capitalist society. In the former, it is not a consumer society. The countries resources, especially in a poor country like China was in 1978, go to the state businesses, which was about 99% of the economy, health, education, culture, the military and security. There were very few stores in which to buy things. Everyone dressed pretty much the same, had access to the same food and necessities of life, though Party officials often had access to some goodies. No one had cars, but they had bicycles. This was also pre-cable, pre-computers and Internet, pre-Ipod and cell phone (hard to believe, I know). Few people had TVs, though the radio was always on. Life was very strict and choices limited. Also, people were not traveling outside of China, nor many visitors coming in. I should add that things appeared pretty drab, again which was common to the other communist countries. Few bright lights, things are not freshly painted, things tend to not work very well, such as electricity, lights, etc. Not very convenient. Also, stores had very, very little to buy for the people. Often pretty bleak from our perspective.

Today, the country is bursting with economic energy. You can buy anything if you have money. This is a consumer society. So many goodies, conveniences, and comforts. Hot water, air conditioning, clean streets, etc. This place feels very modern and very familiar.

The politics is another story. Still one-party state, no national elections, Chinese media still 100% state-controlled, as far as I can see and everyone says. Clearly under pressure to modernize, whatever that may mean in China. Don’t expect Western-style democracy any time soon. Hope you are well. Chat soon. Cheers, Tom

Message to Al:

Al, for the record, you are a superstar. Thanks for the supportive and encouraging comments. Wonderful to receive. So much to tell and many things for the college to think about as educators in the 21st century. All the best, Tom

1 comment:

Al said...

I like the way you explain the Chinese ethic and thus the Chinese economic perspective, Tom (e.g., with the 100 workers to dig the hole as opposed to the one US worker on a bulldozer). There is a lot we are all learning from these blog entries. One thing NOT to like about China, though, as with LA, one of my favorite US cities, is the smog! Safe travels.