China Into The Future: Making Sense of the World’s Most Dynamic Economy
Edited by W. John Hoffman and Michael J. Enright; John Wiley & Sons, US$29.95
Here’s a fun fact: During one of the many purges in China’s ongoing efforts to battle avian flu, the authorities injected live poultry with a vaccine intended for humans. Nobody really knows the consequences this may have or whether, as a result, a more sturdy strain of the dreaded disease will emerge and wreak havoc.
Here’s another: China’s population is getting older. No surprise there. The problem is the lack of social services and the fact that a great many of those people had only one child. That child was doted on by six pockets (two parents and four grandparents) but when the child is older he may be the single pocket looking after two elderly people.
One final one: There are a lot of single men in China and not enough women. Some put a future figure of these “bare branches” at 100 million. Single men tend to be rowdier and, when poor and destitute, more prone to violence. They could create marauding gangs that create social unrest throughout the countryside.
These facts are all tackled in China into the Future a collection of essays edited by W. John Hoffmann and Michael Enright and published earlier this year. Hoffman is the co-founder of a China-based consultancy, while Enright is a professor at Hong Kong University’s school of business. The essays are written by some of the most famous names in the China-watching business and are, without a doubt, erudite and well informed.
Eight essays deal with various topics like globalization, socio-political issues, banking and politics. The authors don’t shy away from outlining future scenarios and playing mix and match with the many variables to create plausible prognostications of what China will be like in the next few decades.
Like most books in the same vein, China Into The Future is not entirely light reading. It is more of a book for the person with a stake in China who wants to hedge a bet. And it often reads like a report or a strategy paper from an investment bank. In fairness, it is a book with a heavy academic bent.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that this book of essays on the future of China contains a single piece of writing by a Chinese person – and he (Li Cheng of Hamilton College in New York State) has been a US resident since 1985. This is, however, a common occurrence. The number of Asian voices writing (in English) about Asia is tiny compared to the number of pundits with top-notch degrees and often decades of experience in the country.
It’s not that these people don’t understand China or its people. Without a doubt they do – the writers of these essays have centuries of China experience between them. Still, a bias remains. There is an underlining judgment of threat or fear implied in the commentary, subtle as it may be. It would be interesting, for once, to get the view of a true insider.
Excerpt: Socio-political issues
The Summer Olympic Games will be in Beijing in 2008. How the games come off will be crucial for China’s future development and for how the international community views China. How the games are managed is entirely in the hands of Hu and Wen, and the approach China takes will reflect their attitudes and predisposition. While China wants to use the games to build national pride and to show off its new international status to the world, hosting the games contains many risks and will reveal much about just how far China has come in terms of integrating with international norms. If the leadership put security to the forefront because of their fears of unrest or actions by groups such as Falungong, the Olympics will be a public relations disaster for China and will set back reforms and damage its international prestige. If China is able to provide a secure but relaxed environment for the games where the international press enjoys a hospitable environment, it will bode well for further reforms. At the moment the betting is on the former.