Monday, February 04, 2008

Chaos in China

The pictures coming out of Guangzhou and the rest of snow-bound China are incredible. They're a reminder of how - for all its newfound strength - modern China is still very fragile.

Infrastructure is stretched to breaking point. Families have become thoroughly disjointed as opportunity only knocks hundreds of miles away from remote rural villages abandoned to children and the elderly. For a country that appears to have such a bright future I found, when I was in Beijing, a lot of anxiety among young people worried about their prospects.

It should come as no surprise to see China's fragile side. It is attempting to industrialise at an incredible pace and with a lot of very shaky institutions. Internal economic migration weakens the social structures that can keep communities together in face of hardship. With so many people seeking to get ahead there will be a lot of frustrated ambition.

I don't think its a bad thing that we should be occassionally reminded that, while China is a powerhouse, the Chinese are having to work very hard just to keep the trains moving, maintain social stability and ensure a basic level of political and cultural harmony. That knowledge is a tonic to an melodramatic fear of China the dominant, the superpower. When you realise China's vulnerability you realise that the Chinese actually have every reason to want to cooperate with, rather than confront, us.

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