April 16, 2012
China is going through a revolution.
Not so much an Arab Spring, but more a cultural revolution somewhere between the Elvis type and Beatles type. A drastic change from what’s been for centuries to what will soon be…
As the grip of communism loosens from the throat of Chinese people, they begin to gasp the fresh air of capitalism and Westernism. The shift started slow with the generation that still remembers the tyranny and absolute control of the People’s Republic under Chairman Mao, but it’s in full force with the Chinese Millennials. This teen and twenty-something generation is one growing up with great Chinese pride… not forced pride under the demands of a dictator, but real pride. This pride resulting from watching their country step onto the world stage. A pride that could be seen and felt with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The interesting part is they’re trying to forget things like Tiananmen Square and reurbanization that forced everyone back into the fields in the 1970s. According to locals, they’re forgetting this by removing it from history books and not teaching it to the younger generations.
Another element in play is the limit of one child per family (unless you’re a wealthy family who can buy the rights to a second child). There’s a certain stereotype given to ‘only childs’ in the US that usually revolves around spoiled, self-centered, and inability to share. Don’t get me wrong, many of you only childs are well adjusted, but stereotypes are born from some truth! Or maybe I’m just biased because I grew up with three older brothers amid a daily struggle to kept myself from being squeezed out from the dinner table!
Either way, the only childs aren’t growing up with the same ideas of collectivism and sacrifice that the older generations grew up with. They want what they want and they want it now.
There are additional signs of Westernism slipping in as well. The same only childs are experiencing the fruits of their labor that can come from hard work in capitalism. Just as in the US, it’s not guaranteed but they’re working hard to try and achieve it.
There’s one-upness everywhere that previously could only be granted to the connected people in communism. People are driving around in Porsche’s and BMW’s and just as is the case in the US, it’s more of a want of show of wealth than actual wealth itself. However, as Bernard Mandeville explained, there are some collective benefits to this:
Luxury empoly’d a million of the poor,
And odious pride a million more;
Envy itself and vanity
Were ministers of industry;
Their darling folly, fickleness
In diet, furniture and dress,
That strange ridiculous vice, was made
The very wheel that turned the trade
Even with the introduction of capitalism, the Chinese government is still attempting to exert some control by policing thought and speech. They don’t allow Facebook and Twitter out of fear of the kind of revolution that’s happened in the Middle East.
China needs to embrace the new cultural pride and Capitalism and relinquish control of its people. Just as is the case in most relationships, battles for power only result in problems. When you have trust in each other and relinquish your need for control, incredible things will happen. It’s only if this happens that China will have the chance to overcome the US as a superpower. Until then, the full benefits of capitalism will be stifled by the possible actions of the next communist party.
China doesn’t need a government that tries to control everything. Adam Smith explained this with his point of the ‘invisible hand’ of a free market because “it is more beneficial and rational than ones put together by politicians or rulers, who are themselves creatures of their own passions and whims.”
In the 15th century, the Chinese were likely the most advanced society in the world. They were exploring the seas with great ships the size of current day cruise ships. However, ships were said to have been decommissioned when a new emperor took over and wasn’t interested in sailing and exploration. If that didn’t happen, the Americas could have been taken over by the Chinese instead of Europeans. Instead, the communist power flexed and stopped all progress.
What will happen this time?
I recently returned from a business trip to Shanghai where I captured by additional observations on China including Chinese bathroom habits, Shanghai glitz and glam, and Shanghai headlines. Check them out!