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As China Goes, So Goes the World

The world’s fourth-largest country is undergoing transformation at a break-neck speed. What does that mean for the rest of us?

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“Taiwan exerted an early and very powerful influence on the spread and growth of Chinese consumerism. What’s important to keep in mind here is that, as with cars, this brought a cascade of consequences. China wanted Taiwanese investment dollars, technology, and expertise – so it opened the door. Taiwanese spied an opportunity and charged through it. But China didn’t bring in the Taiwanese in expectation of building a market for bubble tea. If you take billions of dollars of Taiwanese investment dollars, it turns out you also get better fried dough sticks and bubble tea, which sets off new desires and market competition. Suddenly the issue isn’t if you drink coffee, but what brand and where.”

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As a result of economic reform there has been a rise of a new Chinese elite and therefore new inequality. For a country that has long been considered among the most egalitarian in the world, this new sense of inequality makes millions of Chinese and their government uneasy. Tens of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty and gained access to products before unimaginable. But for tens of millions of other Chinese this is not the case. The country has a heck of a job ahead of itself, Gerth points out, as it attempts to maneuver through that rapid transition harmoniously. He also touches upon the perils of unregulated markets, particularly given a global appetite for human trafficking, endangered animals, and wood. Then he explores the consequences of more waste and pollution, and the challenges created by rapidly changing social dynamics.

In the end, Gerth asks readers to consider that, in order to avert major problems, more than just changes to China will be needed. World consciousness – reflected in consumer behavior – might need to change.

Due to the very nature of China – huge, complicated, full of historical nuance – picking up a book that attempts to explain even a fragment of it can be downright daunting, even to the China enthusiast. But in this shrinking world, China is a country worth understanding and Gerth provides a wealth of information in a digestible, provocative format.

The United States and Europe have become increasingly worried about China’s influence and the current discussion hovers around currency, war, and jobs. As the hype increases, it seems a good time to examine just what is changing in the fourth largest country in the world. Though slim on solutions, “As China Goes, So Goes the World,” is an important read.

Jenna Fisher is the Monitor’s Asia editor.

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