The result, he concluded, would be virtual chaos: not enough food, drastic deterioration of the environment and a domino effect of catastrophic consequences in China and around the world.
The only answer was a pre-emptive strike. The seeds of China’s One Child Policy were planted.
Much of what happened as a result of Song’s flawed conclusions – flawed because they were based on poor empirical data and used only mathematical projections that did not consider social changes – are pictured in Hugo De Burgh’s China: Friend or Foe?
The book provides a wide-angle view of China today, offering succinct background to some of the challenges facing the world’s most populous country. Throughout 40 short chapters, each about four or five pages, De Burgh spans the gamut of issues from politics to food and all stops in between.
Friend or Foe? offers no significant new views nor does it postulate any new theories. Instead, it provides clear explanations of different aspects of what China and Chinese people are like in small, easy to swallow bits.
More than that, for a work that rehashes most of what has been said before, it is a nice read: clear and to the point. It is a good refresher for people who have been around China for a while and a better introduction for newcomers.
In particular, the historical information and tidbits of anecdotal evidence collected by De Burgh during his travels to and fro across the country go a long way towards putting the wonders of present day China in perspective.
In many ways, Friend or Foe? reads like a travel guide or a textbook. It provides information (complete with a glossary, index and careful footnotes) and leaves the ultimate answer to the title question up to the reader.
The question is a significant one. China is in a unique position to change the economy of the world. Its future development could elevate the standard of living around the world – in certain ways, this is already proving to be the case.
But, as home to the largest standing army in the world and some 400 million people living below the poverty line, China could single-handedly alter the development of the region and affect world history. The book provides clues and signs to better read the road China is traveling.
Will China’s coming of age hurt the development of the world? Will Big Macs and Donald Duck dilute an ancient and unique culture? Will China’s own Han people do away with the dozens of minorities around the country or will they, as they claim, protect them as they hope to protect their own culture?
Will the country allow more diverse views or will it continue to crack down mercilessly on dissenters? And, with the advent of more widespread communications, will it have much of a choice?
What’s more, China’s massive population, very long history, deep set traditions and the aftershocks of a turbulent 20th century present a wide range of challenges that developed countries or other developing nations may fail to grasp or even need to comprehend.
While perhaps not unique to China in nature these issues are certainly unique to it in scale. They include the relative youth of the government and the contradictions inherent in a country making a radical shift from tightly controlled economy to market driven world player, from revolutionary agent of change to a national stabilizing force. These contradictions are underlined throughout the book.
As residents of cities along the eastern coast enjoy ever more affluent lifestyles, peasants in rural areas are struggling to cope with a lack of access to medical services and education. While universities were actually shut down under Mao in the late 1960s, the new technocrat leaders have renewed China’s historical belief in knowledge and study.
A comment made by a fisherman about his three children underscores these contrasts: "The clever one is a lecturer in philosophy; the daughter is a doctor; the numbskull became a businessman.
"Fortunately, the numbskull now owns a lot of factories, so he paid for the doctor’s education and still supports the lecturer."
China: Friend or Foe? by Hugo De Burgh, Icon Books 2006, US$15.00 (approx).
Excerpt: Grassroots change
Faced with a desperate peasantry, kept down only by coercion, the government’s first priorities after 1978 were to return to free enterprise in the rural areas. Not only was agricultural production and quality improved beyond measure, but country people were encouraged to make their own alternative sources of employment, which they did spectacularly though the Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) that sprang up everywhere. These not only provided new income in the countryside and reduced poverty; they also saved the urban areas from even greater pressure from migration … The rural reforms and the creation of the TVEs have enabled some 400 million to rise above the poverty line in 1979-2007.
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