Monday, May 28, 2007

On a related note...

A favourite China joke:

A successful entrepreneur is driving through the countryside when his car breaks down. There is no mobile phone network out there, so he has no choice but to walk to the next town to get help. However, it is a pleasant summer's evening, and the town is not too far away.

Before long, he is joined by a peasant farmer on his way home from the fields. They walk along together and strike up a conversation.

After a few minutes, they come upon a pile of dried dung in the middle of the road. The peasant is going to pick it up and put it in his knapsack, to take it home for fuel.... but the entrepreneur suddenly has a wicked idea. "Tell you what," he says. "I'll give you 1,000,000 RMB if you eat it, right here and now." The peasant thinks about it for a moment, and then says, "You're on."

The peasant scoffs it down without too much difficulty (this is perhaps not the first time he's had to eat shit), and collects his million. [OK, this is where 'realism' goes completely AWOL in this story; since the largest denomination note is 100 RMB, this would be a suitcase full! And there are no personal cheques in China. Let it go - it's just a story.]

It's not long before the peasant is seething with resentment at allowing himself to be humiliated by the rich city dude like that. And he honestly doesn't have much idea what to do with all that money. So, when the two of them happen upon another pile of dung a bit further down the road, the peasant impulsively says, "You eat that, and I'll give you the million back." The entrepreneur had been starting to regret throwing away such a large sum of money so easily; and he hadn't got as much pleasure out of humiliating the peasant as he had expected. And the 'loss of face' issue was coming into play too: he couldn't possibly be seen to have less mental toughness than a humble peasant. "All right, you're on!" he roars defiantly - and gets down on his knees to gobble up the farm-animal poop.

Of course, now that they are both back where they started, they soon start to feel pretty ashamed and embarrassed at their stupidity, and when they reach the town, they decide they'd better go and seek out the local party secretary to confess their foolishness, to make a 'self-criticism'. [Yes, this still happens; not just a Cultural Revolution thing.]

The party secretary listens to the whole story in silence, only nodding his head sombrely from time to time. When they've finished telling the tale, they ask him, "What should we do now, chief? How can we make amends for our folly?"

"Folly!" exclaims the party secretary. "What folly? Congratulations, lads! You've just raised the nation's GDP by 2,000,000 RMB!!"

And there, in a nutshell, is China's "economic miracle".



For a very long time I had been refering to myself as "Queen of China" without ever having been there or having any connection to the chinese.
After I read your post on the bath and toilet situation in some houses there, I have started to loose my interest in becoming the Queen of China.
However, if the "economic miracle" there is actually anything as unrealistic as the story describes, then China and I will get on fine and I'll make a very suitable queen for that country. I don't speak a word of the language either, which makes me even more suitable, don't you think?
I hope you have learnt some chinese because I will need a trustworthy interpretor when I eventually arrive at my throne.

Froog said...

Agh, interpreters are ten-a-penny (watch out for posts on this in the near future!) - I wouldn't waste my time on that.

No problem to find you that kind of help if you do want to visit, though.

Obviously, the economic boom here is not entirely illusory. There has been an enormous amount of modernization in the last 10 or 15 years, and there has been a huge step forward in living standards for many, many people. The point of the story - or one of them - is more to do with the difficult of quantifying GDP (in any country, but especially in a place like China: here, there is the economic activity that is officially reported, and the economic activity that is actually going on.... and there's often little or no connection between the two).

China wouldn't overtake the US in national wealth until at least the middle of the century, even if the American economy were to go into complete stagnation (possible, I suppose....), and even if China could maintain its annual growth rates of the last ten years indefinitely (obviously unsustainable!). And my hunch is that there are just too many institutional problems with this country for it really to get its act together as a first-class power for another hundred years or more... if ever.


Symbolic title you had over at Barstool (The Queen is dead). I did read it and know it was about a restaurant, but funny how it is parallel with the slow death of my dreams of becoming the Queen of China, as I read your description of different things about the place -and people.

Anonymous said...

I read Earthling's Queen comment, then the title over on Barstool and totally wondered what was going on.... (of course, then I read on and figured it out).

Did you intend that reaction from your regular readers, Mr. Froog?

by the way is the Muslim you refer to in that article the one on the corner of NLG and Ju'er? Is that the one that is dead?

Froog said...

Yes, that is the one.


Were you a 'regular' there too?