Like many other bloggers I am focused on the US, and to a lesser extent Europe. But of course the most important economic and political issues lie elsewhere. Here’s a few interesting stories from China:
1. All hail Wukan villagers:
A Chinese village protest that tested the ruling Communist Party for over a week ended on Wednesday after officials offered concessions over seized farmland and the death of a village leader, in a rare spectacle of the government backing down to mobilised citizens.
Residents of Wukan, in southern Guangdong province, had fended off police with barricades and held protests over the death in police custody of activist Xue Jinbo, whose family rejects the government’s position that he died of natural causes, and against the seizure of farmland for development.
But after talks with officials, village representatives told residents to pull down protest banners and go back to their normal lives — provided the government keeps to its word.
“Because this matter has been achieved, we won’t persist in making noise,” village organiser, Yang Semao, told an assembly hall of village representatives and reporters, referring to the protests. He said protest banners would be taken down.
This actually seems like a big deal to me, I’m not sure why more people aren’t talking about it. Here’s more:
Chinese officials sometimes make low-key concessions to local protests, especially after they are over, and also punish protest organisers. But Wukan turned negotiations into a rare public spectacle, watched by foreign reporters and discussed within China — despite domestic censorship of news.
. . .
Wang Yang, the Communist Party chief of Guangdong, obliquely acknowledged that the villagers had cause to complain, in comments published on Wednesday in the Southern Daily, the official province newspaper.
“This is the outcome of conflicts that accumulated over a long time in the course of economic and social development,” said Wang, seen by many analysts as nursing hopes of a spot in China’s next central leadership.
Guangdong is a prosperous part of China. But the upheavals of urbanisation and industrialisation have fanned discontent among increasingly assertive citizens, who often blame local officials for corruption and abuses.
Poverty and political repression are highly correlated. And Guangdong province is getting richer and better educated at a rapid rate. In about 20 years we’ll all wake up and find the old China is gone.
2. But there are other problems on the horizon:
Rapid ageing, a lack of children and a sustained low birth rate herald changes in the structure of China’s population, and the real dangers will emerge further down the line. Guo Zhigang believes the existing population structure will mean a rapidly and severely ageing population in the first half of this century, and then a sharp drop in population in the second half.
Many demographers, both inside and outside of China, agree: getting the TFR wrong will result in misjudgements about ageing and labour supply and, ultimately, a family planning policy that is out of step with reality and storing up problems for the future. A report in British magazine The Economist asserts that China will face major population challenges in the future, while India and the Middle East will reap the benefits of their moderate birth rates.
Too few people in China!
3. Everyone knows about the gender imbalance, but I was unaware of this angle:
The shortage of girls could lead to a warped reversal of the imbalance. Shang-Jin Wei, a Columbia University economist, says that China’s ballooning savings rate, unparalleled in the world, could be a result of families’ pressure to accumulate cash to attract wives for their sons. “If you’re a dirt-poor peasant somewhere,” Edlund says, “maybe your optimal choice would be a daughter, who can get married.” This trend could create a new marriage economy, she says, encouraging lower-class parents to sex-select for daughters while the wealthy continue to have sons. Relegated to the underclass, women’s growing financial value could prime them for exploitation by their impoverished parents who could sell them to wealthier families for ever-increasing bride prices. South Korea has been credited with eliminating its widespread gender imbalance in the 1990s, but it is actually an example of this exact scenario—the rich choosing sons and the poor choosing daughters, Edlund says. “They have not been able to eliminate sex selection.”
The entire article is interesting, particularly the part about the Vietnamese bride.
4. Nicholas Kristof reports:
A child in Shanghai is expected to live 82 years. In the United States, the figure is not quite 79 years. (For all of China, including rural areas, life expectancy is lower, 73 years — but rising steadily.)
Of course Shanghai’s air is extremely polluted. I do understand that this data only covers residents, not migrant workers, but it still seems impressive. It puts Shanghai in a tie with the countries that have the longest life expectancy on Earth; Japan, Singapore, Australia and Italy, all much richer than Shanghai. But the pollution is what I really wonder about:
a. Perhaps the data is wrong.
b. Perhaps it’s correct but horrific pollution doesn’t affect life expectancy.
c. Perhaps it’s correct and pollution does affect life expectancy. But with cleaner air the Shanghaiese would live considerably longer than even the Japanese. Maybe because they are richer and better educated than the average Chinese person. Selection bias.
The first choice is the easy way out, but I suspect the third answer might be correct.
5. Despite the current economic slowdown, long term I’m still bullish on China. Here’s a golden bull placed in the lobby of the 1100 foot tall “Farmer’s Apartment” built by a wealthy rural village in Jiangsu province:
The link has more pictures of the building, which I briefly discussed when it was under construction.
Also check out this link of Tianjin, where an entire commercial district is under construction. Note that in the bottom picture every single building is under construction. And many more (even taller) are on the way. And if that’s not enough, scroll the bottom bar to the right and see there’s even more across the river. And this is all far for downtown Tianjin. That’s one third of Manhattan’s entire office space–in a Tianjin suburb. Ten years ago there was discussion of “overbuilding” in Chinese cities like Shanghai. Those predictions weren’t just wrong, they were laughably wrong, as the construction was trivial compared to what’s going on now (and compared to the office space that’s been fully absorbed since 2001.) But this time I think the critics will be right–I suspect Tianjin is overbuilding on a massive scale.
6. The US payroll tax cut extended 2 months? Read about the Vietnamese bride and then tell my why I should care.