Sunday, December 14, 2008

China in the Red: 1998-2001

In today's class our professor showed us a documentary, China in the Red (PBS)that discusses the dramatic changes that occurred in China between 1998 and 2001. At the heart of those changes was the announcement by premier Zhu Rongji that China's state owned enterprises would be given three years to get their act together and start turning a profit. He said that there simply isn't any more money left to give to these companies.

The result was a great acceleration in Deng Xiaoping's popular idea that "to get rich is glorious". Which resulted in extreme changes within only a few years. The documentary followed a number of Chinese people from 1998 until 2001 showing just how much their lives changed.

Some of the people followed benefited greatly from the reforms, while others suffered horribly. Many former state employees fell into poverty that would have been unimaginable only a few years earlier. The video shows some new poor eating garbage in a gigantic garbage dump. Meanwhile a rural woman who was oppressed due to her "bad social class" during the 70's was finding herself getting further and further ahead as she was able to keep money from her vegetable sales. She said she needs to work hard because her husband is lazy and she doesn't want her daughter to have to work like she does. Her daughter moved to the city, enrolled in university and is now a teacher.

Another man, the former mayor of Shenyang (hit very hard by the state enterprise lay-offs) became a sort of local hero in his efforts to hold the city together. He was later sentenced to death for being a sort of corrupt mafia boss.

One woman worked at a tool manufacturing company from the time she finished school until she accepted a pension package to retire early. You have to understand that these factory workers were not just employees, the factory was their life. Their health needs were paid for by the factory. Their entire lives focused on making sure the factory was working. Now, after 25 years she was expected to change...and she did but she still misses the old days at the factory.

The changes in China are really amazing. I was last there in 1999 with SSU and I can only imagine how different things are today. Beijing is said to be a new city every single year. The national bird is said to be the crane (building crane).

Few humans in all of history have ever experienced such a drastic paradigm shift and only now the world is beginning to see just how far China has grown in only a decade or three.

No comments: