Sunday, May 21, 2006

Let the Good Times Roll

Mao is right on the money, quite literally. He's on every denomination of Yuan notes so Mao is near and dear to everybody in the new China. He's in the textbooks of their kids and there's often a big statue of him in their town squares. In Chengdu a massive Mao gazes over the development of a new multi-block high end shopping plaza and the new subway that's being built to get Chengdu's citizens to the goods that they want from that new multi-block high end shopping plaza and back home again. In Dandong a giant Mao salutes the Real Love disco.

Mao wouldn't recognize the place. China has outgrown orthodox "workers control the means of production" communism because China has proved conclusively that communism just can't accomplish the basics of providing the food and fuel average folks need, let alone the luxuries they desire and dream of. In sidestepping communism it has brought prosperity to many of it's citizens. It's true, China still has 800 million rural, dirt farming peasants. It used to have more and plenty of urban peasants too. Even the Bang-Bang army in Chongqing bear their heavy burdens because as bad as it is it's better than life down on the farm. The ocean of good old classic iron fisted state planning in the world has dried up into a small dirty little puddle. That kind of good old time classic communism can only be found in garden spots like North Korea and Cuba and it's subjects are kept penned in physically and ideologically by fences and censorship. On the big collective farms that those countries are ideological purity is sprinkled liberally with power shortages, unemployment and famines. China had wide spread famines that starved millions to death in the late 1950's and 1960's, thanks in no small part to that guy on the banknotes.

In today's China food is cheap and all of the stores I saw are overflowing with quantity and quality. Chinese food stores have apples from New Zealand and Washington state, bananas from the Philippines and almonds from California. The English language China Daily from May 16th said that doctors here are running into something never before seen on a large scale before in China; type 2 diabetes. Many of it's citizens never had it so good and they want the good times to continue to roll. China's system is one not seen by the world before. If it ain't communism then what is it? It isn't democracy in the sense of voting for the candidate and party of your choice and the right to stand up on a soapbox in Tiananmen Square and say that the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China is ideologically hypocritical and full of crap. There's only one political party permitted, the "Communist Party", even if it's communist in name only. Coca Cola had cocaine in it way back when but even though the coke is gone from Coke it remains the name of the brand. In China perhaps the name "communist" is just traditional, part of China's branding.

So maybe it doesn't matter what the party in power is called or what it does just as long as it delivers the goods and they don't piss off too many people in the process. China does that sometimes, since the central government owns all the land they can decide that a new mega-mall or chemical plant or condo project is going to be built where your house is now. Be gone in 30 days because the bulldozers are coming they'll tell you and give you a paltry payoff while others get rich with the kind of in your face corruption that Enron could only dream of. China's new industry needs electricity and much of it comes from burning dirty coal. When the state electricity grid decides to build a new coal fired power plant in your neighborhood you don't have much recourse beyond living with it or moving someplace else. Is the ruling Communist party delivering the goods? In my travels it appears to me that they are. Traditional classic communism usually took a country with lots of nothing and made sure that the nothing was spread around equitably. This usually resulted in every body having an abundance of nothing and nothing else. China's been there, done that. There are no cell phones in North Korea, they're banned by the ruling Worker's Party. Cuba has a few because nobody has money for such a luxury. China has more cell phones than there are people in the US, over 300 million and increasing rapidly. I was in Guangzhou for a few days in 1982., there were next to no cars and everybody wore the same clothes and cheap black cotton shoes. Everything looked worn out and run down. The Chinese don't have to read their history books to find out how bad things were in recent Chinese history (assuming the government would accurately print that history where some 80 million died due to Communist Party ineptitude and indifference), they lived through the famines, the scorning and punishment of intellectuals and the purging of innovators or those with contrary ideas. It's recent enough for many to have lived through it, they know what depravation and unbridled state power are like.

The Chinese people want air conditioners, cars, good food with variety, computers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks Coffee, Wal-Mart and they want to go on vacations overseas. Oh, and they want fashion and they want it in abundance. If there's one English word I saw over and over on store fronts, the sides of cars and motorcycles and emblazoned in glitter across teen aged girl's chests it's F*A*S*H*I*O*N. They don't always spell it properly but they pursue it at the makeup counters, jewelry and clothing stores with a single minded gusto that suggests that they're making up for lost time and they want to enjoy the party before some bubble headed bureaucrat with more ideology than brains changes his mind. So I saw T-shirts with English gibberish ("World's Greatest Lovers, We Don't Move!", "#1 Killboy" on a 5 year old), women of all ages tottering around in high heels and lots of young people of both sexes with dyed hair.

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