What China does right

A friend asked us to give more detail about what we think are the areas in which China is a leader. Some of these come to mind as follows:

1) Perseverance – This is what comes to the fore of our mind when we think of Chinese people as a whole. They are brought up with an amazing capacity to do without, and to work hard at whatever task they do. Factory workers here in town work 7 days a week, very few holidays. The standard of life makes it worth it to them to come all the way from northern China to do this type of physical labor. You regularly see people along the street pouring themselves into the most menial of tasks, like shelling a bucket of about 1000 snails. The Chinese work ethic would be hard to beat by anyone’s standards.

2) Less consumerism – Face it, the Chinese economy is growing fast, and it is becoming a consumerist economy quickly. But there is still a strong strain of frugality in their culture. Chinese people are savers by tradition, not spenders. You can’t get them to spend extra electricity on running the refrigerator all day if it’s not absolutely necessary (making you wonder about eating leftovers sometimes!). So many comforts of daily life are forgone here, for instance, bed mattresses. Why spend money on a mattress when wood is just as supportive! People also eat less than Americans, which is no surprise. Some cases it’s a question of need, not want, but on the average people don’t consume as much food. Especially not as much meat.

3) Education – Six days a week is the norm, for some kids seven! The country is so populous that the education system is highly competitive, resulting in higher standards for all students. One high school student told us she heard that American colleges are like Chinese high school (in difficulty). We told her it’s not exactly like that, but that Chinese students are in fact able to take some higher level math and science classes than their peers from American schools. Their curriculum is indeed faster paced in these areas.

4) National spirit – As we’ve remarked before, China has a tremendous sense of patriotism. It’s more than just flag-waving. Right now everyone seems to share a sense that the rest of the world’s eyes are turned on them in a way that transcends the celebration of the Olympics. Their already strong sense of national pride shares a hope that the rest of the world will come to know the real China, real Chinese culture. There’s also a strong element of social solidarity involved here. This is a country with strong socialist roots, and the carryover into today’s world is the sense that everyone belongs alike, that there is something more fundamental connecting citizens to each other than family, class, or geography. The sense of first belonging to the country is very strong.

5) Financial capital – China, by reports we’ve heard, has more US money than the US! They have the largest bank of foreign reserves, which means they hold a lot of America’s debt. This is just a simple observation of status. It’s better to be the lender in most cases than the borrower. True, it’s a symbiotic relationship, but one side still owes a lot more back than it’s giving.

There are of course flipsides to these areas. For instance, the average wage level is kept very low, which ensures industry and manufacturing jobs stay here in the country. This isn’t necessarily a good setup, as it seems to keep the majority of the country’s citizens away from any chance of economic mobility. Someone asked if we thought China will be the next superpower. It doesn’t seem that a meteoric rise like the USA after World War II is in the cards, but more and more the world will doubtlessly be making room for this country that is just in the beginnings of flexing some clout.

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2 Responses to “What China does right”


  1. 1 Chris Burgwald August 21, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Interesting… thanks for posting this.

  2. 2 Becca September 1, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    I’ve always said (and truly believe)that every country/culture has something to offer. Although I do love my days off, I’ve always thought that three months off in the summer time from education was a bit excessive! (Sorry teachers! ;o))


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