All humans are the same. We require air, water and food. We usually need shelter. We deeply appreciate companionship on some level, and we can all agree that Tottenham Hotspur Football Club are shit.
How we get those results, those differences, are what color this world.
Everyone and their mother likes to proffer truisms. “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like parsnips and those who don’t,” or some other absurd, pithy overreach. Some like to view the world through a spectrum of economics, politics, sports, cuisine, travel, language, you name it. But we tend to have a lens we lean toward.
The more I’ve traveled, I realize that, truly, we’re all the same, regardless of your lens. Even in our world of (over) heightened awareness and polarity to worldliness and domestic affairs, I believe we’re all much closer than we think.
One of the most divisive issues of the twentieth century was that of two competing world views: communism and capitalism. One of those definitely came out on the losing side (I’ll let you guess which) and while the other isn’t perfect, and has inherent flaws recognized by every sane economist, it is clearly dominant today.
Let me say this, China is one of the most capitalistic places you’ll find on earth. Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore (a 75% Han Chinese city-state) and a great proponent of racial theories, strongly believed in the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit. To him, the Chinese sailing the South China Sea for hundreds of years selling goods proved this ethos.
Even rural China has shops and stalls popping up by the minute. It’s fairly devoid of red tape in many ways for starting a business, which is something economically conservative Americans believe in. Low barriers to entry creates competition, creates jobs, creates cheaper products.
See? We’re all more similar than you think.
Communist remnants do exist all over China, for certain. I have a buddy who runs an aluminum factory in Southern China, in Foshan, Guangdong province. He showed me around the place, and honestly it’s not quite what you’d think. It’s fairly clean and safe like you’d expect.
Side note: he treats his employees fairly well all things considered. Well…sorta. In China, it’s pretty standard to have 12 hour work days, and only a handful of days off a month. That’s par for the course, and what the markets expect, you get. That being said, one of his workers had a heart attack and had to go to the hospital. These folks don’t make a whole hell of a lot of money, so that can be pretty debilitating.
My buddy, however, helped out and paid for the procedures, which in China is wayyyy above what’s expected. The man is fine now, and in any case, this is China factory life.
In most Chinese factories are both dormitories and canteens. They live together, work together, play together. This was the ideal of communes put in place in the late 1950s by Mao Zedong. The commune would provide everything you need and the proletariat needed to do nothing except work for the good of the country and community.
That may seem wildly dystopic – and it mostly is – until one day I drove by an abandoned mill near my hometown in the US. Well sorta abandoned. These days, like most warehouse and places of that ilk, they’ve been repurposed into multiuse places with apartments, breweries, restaurants and shops all under one roof. It’s hip, no?
In the Northeast, where in I live, the Industrial Revolution defined living space and human movement in ways that can still be seen today. Let’s use Ludlow, Massachusetts as an example as this is what sparked this idea.
As people expanded outside small urban centers of yesteryear, they sought opportunity. The thrill of the Wild West enticed some, but the consistent lifestyle offered by stable income of a mill inspired others. Mills popped up alongside power sources (ie rivers) and this can be seen all in the Northeast: Lowell, New Bedford, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield, Ithaca, Troy, Rochester and so on into the Rust Belt and further south if I care to name everywhere.
These mills, in addition to providing a steady income, needed to entice people to pack up and move in other ways. The Vanderbilts and Rockefeller would often build parks and housing and entertainment and everything under the sun for these people to live comfortably. They could have everything they needed and not leave their workplace.
Does this sound familiar?
With two very different economic systems (something I could stress a million times over) we have essentially achieved the same result: unified, multipurpose areas. You live, play, eat and sleep in the same place. The mills spurred on by the raw capitalism of our nation’s early multibillionaires produced the same result as the communes inspired by Maoist Communist doctrine.
Do I think we achieve entirely the same results under both socioeconomic systems? Hell no. Chapter 1 (or even the Preamble) of any economics textbook will tell you that, even in the 60s. (Seriously, if you ever have the chance to see an economics textbook from that time period and it’s sections on centrally planned economies, it’s awesome.)
This is the rub though. Do I think we should perceive other peoples and other systems with less cynicism? Hell yes. It would benefit everyone.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Am I some brainwashed “laowai” or do I have a point?
Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!!