Musing on China

Autonomous regions of China

Autonomous regions of China

I currently teach English in France, in a less-than-stellar part of the Lyon metro area.

A couple of days ago, when I found out my students were having a test, I gave them a brief talk on study habits.  None of them understood why I was talking about this.  I didn’t understand what they didn’t understand.  One of the kids finally asked,

Do American kids work harder than we do?

And that’s pretty much the crux of all of this.

People get uncomfortable with unwavering stereotypes, but there is generally a source.  American innovation is a well-known concept because it’s true.  The country/culture fosters creativity and making the most of one’s ideas.  Creative thinking is discouraged in other parts of the world, in favor of deferring toward working for a greater good.

I’m frequently stunned by the lack of willingness (or potentially ability) to think, on the part of my current students.  I won’t say that American students are intrinsically better, but it’s clear that critical thinking makes for more successful people who can further their education.

I’ve never been comfortable with the conclusion that China will be an unparalleled powerhouse in the future, simply due to population.

It’s a vast country with a lot of ethnic minorities, some of whom cannot communicate with their leaders in Beijing, if for no other reason than wholly different languages.  How do you sustain this in the future, while allowing for growth?

Barring near-total eradication of minorities within China (which is not so out of the realm of imagination), I see two options:

1)  You have an elite that is able to think creatively enough for innovative competition, with a vast, uneducated population that at some point has to realize that they are being cheated out of a better life by said elite.  Historical revolutions have shown this time and again.  It’s just a question of breaking point.

2)  You educate more people to a higher degree, at which point there is a sizeable portion of the population that wants to have the access to information and accountability that can be found in other parts of the world.

I don’t see how long China can walk a tightrope of placating a population that is supposed to just trust that a mistake-prone central entity will do better on its own, in the interests of all.

I look forward to any of your ideas on the matter or anything related.


3 Responses to Musing on China

  1. Aaron Brown says:

    You present an interesting idea. Do you believe that the Chinese educational culture should embrace teaching students about innovative thought?

  2. roniweiss says:

    I think anyone that is serious about education should not neglect creativity and questioning previous/current ideas.

    If we accept the world as is, how will we change things?

  3. Jordan says:

    With regard to education, the Chinese seem to be doing things fairly well. Even though the middle class is still a small proportion of Chinese society, in absolute numbers it is larger than the US. These are the folks who tend to fit the “serious about education” stereotype. China, and to a lesser extent, India, tend to deliver the highest value when it comes to education.

    Of course the American university system is vastly superior to that of any other nation which is why the best get sent here. At some point the enormous GDP growth China has been experiencing will slow down because 1) the copy and produce cheaply export model that propelled Japan and Korea will end and they will need to innovate to generate growth 2) the growth from basic structural changes like industrialization and urbanization also has a limit.

    Chinese productivity only needs to be about a quarter of American productivity in order to equal the US economically and that is very likely. Like Japan, I think the US will retain an absolute productivity advantage over China for the foreseeable future but China’s population will push it to the top of the list economically.

    It seems doubtful, though, that China could overtake Hollywood or have Chinese supplant English. They also have the disadvantage of being surrounded by hostile or distrustful neighbors unlike the US and so I think some of the China hype is unwarranted. Further, the government subsidies to poorer people to move have created a huge property bubble that will likely cancel out much of the gains that such moves entail. It harms the middle class, certainly, and clean economic growth.

    As you point out, the government doesn’t run things that well. Yet government assets are greater than private assets. As long as that Communist remnant remains, they will be permanently hampered economically.

    The US, China’s obvious future competitor has its own share of problems. One could argue that our rapidly increasing debt-to-GDP ratio will hurt us similarly (if not more) but on balance, I’m pretty sure we still come out ahead.

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