While China’s leadership is resorting to unprecedented extreme measures to stem the bleeding of the stock market, little attention is paid to the fundamentals of the economy, where the problem actually lies.
The above WSJ report about my own home city Changchun very well illustrates the unpromising reality muffled by the state media yet the leadership and the entire population have to face.
In the past one year or two, Changchun, as well as the whole of Manchuria has had an economic heart attack. Every economic indicator fell sharply along with the population itself. Manchuria’s birth rate is amongst the lowest of all both in China and on a world scale (even lower than that of most developed countries) probably due to its current harsh economic condition, whereas the long term trend was decisively initiated in the early 80’s, a few years before I was born, by the mandated one child policy. At that time, Manchuria had an urbanization rate of around 40% compared to merely around 10% in the rest parts of China. The then still soviet style totalitarianism had absolute control over the cities, leaving almost no grey space, which meant anyone who violated the one child policy would be dismissed from his or her job, given that almost everyone in the city then was a state employee. My mother has five siblings while my father has three, and fortunately for us, all of them were well fed and well educated by the Chinese standard because their parents were professionals and bureaucrats.My generation, however, had a completely different childhood. I have no sibling, neither do my cousins have any. We all grew up in a one child policy city where our pals and peers from kindergarten to high school were unexceptionally the only child in a nuclear family . The implimantation of such a policy in other parts of China was not as mandated because the rurals who constituted 90% of the population relied on their land thus had no stake in the state. Fines were imopsed on them over “unplanned births”, but more often than not, they just had nothing to pay the fines. Unlike Manchurians who treat girls as equals (hunters and herders on a sparsely populated land usually have a very good sexual equality record world wide) , the Chinese proper has a very strong bias against girls, because historically their densely populated yet barren lands caused agricultural involution which subsequently created a shortage of manpower and devalued girls. They tend to keep giving births until at least one male heir is produced. Infanticide has gone rampant in China proper ever since they started foot-binding in Song Dynasty 10 centuries ago. It is still a common practice today in some parts of Southern China to drown new born babie girls in a urine barket. Though forced abortions conducted by the government has made China notorious abroad, the real effect of the one child policy didn’t impact China proper as much as it did in Manchuria. I left my beloved hometown and went to college in Beijing only to find that more than half of my schoolmates have siblings, many of whom have two to five.
The end of the Cold War and the ensuing removal of trade barriers freed enormous amount of factors of production previously held static behind the Iron Curtain, releasing them into an upsurging wave of globalization. Cheap labour, more than anything else, has become China’s comparative advantage. What was once a burden transformed into the unrelenting propeller of China’s economic boom.
Several costal cities around the Yangtze River Delta and and Pearl River Delta were rounded up as special economic development zones where preferential policies and laws were tailored by the central government to attract FDI and outsourcing orders. Industrial parks poped up like banboo shoots after a spring rainfall. The largest Singaporean Industrial Park was located in Soochow, a city connected with thousands of canals and bridges. Hundreds of millions of peasants left their barely productive farm land, joining an army of migrant workers whose sweat and blood would eventually end up in Apple Stores as well as Walmarts around every corner of planet earth. Those migrant workers are not restricted anymore to the land where their ancestors were buried, yet they are by no means citizens as westerners could understand it. None of us is. Though urbanization rate had grown drastically in the past 30 years in China proper on the paper, the quality of maybe the the greatest tsunami of urbanization in the history of man is questionable under even not-so-careful scrutiny. Those migrant workers are treated merely as work forces and tax cows, their children are not allowed in urban public schools, nevertheless there are not enough teachers and private schools for them anyway. Most of the kids are left to their grand parents in rural villages, many are not taken care of at all, which has often resulted in pupillary suicides. On one hand,the migrant worker mode has shredded China’s rural fabric into pieces and deteriorated the already declining birth rate in China proper, on the other hand such a mode prevented healthy organic urban culture and way of life, such as consumerism and innovation from forming and expanding. The demographic dividend that was created by the abrupt alleviation of Stalinist oppression, that China had enjoyed so extravagantly in the past thirty years has eventually come to an end.
长江三角洲、珠江三角洲的几个沿海城市被划为经济发展特区，享受中央ZF量身定制的优惠政策和法律以吸引外商投资和外包订单。工业园区如同雨后春笋般涌现出来。最大的新加坡工业园区座立于一个与数千运河和桥梁相连的城市 — — 苏州。数以亿计的农民离开他们不多产的农田，加入到农民工的大军，他们的血汗成果最终将出现在了世界各个角落的苹果商店和沃尔玛超市里。这些农民工不需要被困在他们祖辈世世代代劳作的地方，然而他们在任何一个意义上都绝不是西方意义上的“公民”。在桂枝，没有一个人是。虽然在纸面数据上，桂枝的城镇化率在过去的三十年之中大幅提升。但是这个“有可能是人类历史上规模最大的城镇化浪潮”的质量，即使不用仔细推敲也让人严重怀疑。这些农民工仅仅是被视作纯粹的苦力和可以被榨税的奶牛：他们的孩子不被允许在城市的公立学校读书，至于教师和私立学校就更是天方夜谭了。大多数这样的孩子只能留给他们仍在农村老家的爷爷奶奶照看，很多甚至根本就没人照看，这导致了许多孩子的自杀。一方面，农民工模式已经将桂枝原有的农村结构撕成了碎片，并使原本就已衰退的生育率更加恶化；另一方面，这种模式也阻碍了健康的有机城市文化和生活方式（例如消费主义和创新）的形成和扩散。由斯大林式体制压迫的突然松懈所带来的，在过去三十年一直被桂枝人所挥霍享受的人口红利最终就要终结了。
As opposed to many people’s intuition, Made-in-China is not at all cheap if we take into account the environmental cost. China’s energy efficiency per dollar GDP is just one ninth of that of Japan, and also far lower than that of the US. Pollution in China is already out of control, playing an increasingly major part of deaths and public health concerns. Air and water are contaminated, land devastated, all needs an unimaginable period of time to recover even if the pollution could be effectively contained now.
My home city Changchun, the fomer capital city of Manchuria, was chosen as the motor town of the People’s Republic in the early 1950’s when the first five-year economic plan was made possible with Soviet support to utilize the already existing infrastructures and industrial bases in Manchuria. A large industrial complex called the First Automobile Works was constructed at the southwest corner of the city only to manufacture an obsolete model of International Havester Truck from the 1930’s . The production of this ancient model lasted unchanged for thirty years well into the 1980s. During this period of time, some 1500 Red Flag limousines were almost hand made exclusively for Mao and his clique, whereas private cars were unheard of. Manchuria, a pre-war industrial power with railroad networks, power grids, factories and mines was annexed by China and turned into a Soviet Union junior in the economic aspect with state owned everything.
我的家乡，曾经满洲国首都长春，曾在上世纪50年代早期被选为你国的汽车城，结合满洲原有的基础设施和工业基地，在当时苏联的支持下，完成了第一个五年计划。一个名为“第一汽车制造厂”的工业综合体建立在长春市的西南部，目的只是为了批量生产一种上世纪30年代就已经过时的国际收割机公司卡车的仿制品。这种老旧仿制品的生产一成不变地持续了三十年。在此期间，约1500辆几乎全是手工制作的红旗汽车被专门献给耄和他的党羽们 — — 在那个甚至连“私家汽车”听都没有听说过的年代。满洲，一个战前拥有完善铁路网、电网、工厂和矿井的工业强国，在被桂枝吞并后，在经济上也变成了一个“小苏联” — — 一切都尽被国有。
As the acient saying goes 匹夫无罪 怀璧其罪，an innocent man gets framed only because he has a piece of precious jade in his pocket.
Besides its demographic dividend, China proper also benefited from a less intense clamp of the Stalinist economic system because they basically were rural when we were industrialized. Much easier for them to take off with the no-strings-attached cheap labour that international capitals have chemicals with.
As an independent sovereign state, Manchuria was rich and extremely anti-communist before the end of WWII, thus almost nobody from Manchuria joined Mao’s rural terrorist team lead by that Hunan hooligan who didn’t even speak Mandarin. As a conquered people, its impossible for any of us to squeeze into the core of the communist power hierarchy. This is why we didn’t get any preferential economic policies from the centralized power. Such policies were poured onto Shanghai and Soochow when Jiang Zemin a Yangtze River Delta local was president and general party secretory.
But their happy days are numbered also.
He who laughes at last laughes best.