Fast-food duck and Sechuan Cola? Welcome to the new capitalist China
New York — No, ``To get rich is glorious'' is not a slogan of the New York Stock Exchange. Believe it or not, it is one of the new political slogans of the People's Republic of China. Adam Smith in the New China: From Marx to MasterCard? (PBS, Wednesday, June 12, 8-9 p.m., check local listings) is television's first comprehensive on-location report about the major changes taking place now in China's economic and social life. Tour group leader and itinerant economist for this exotic journey into Marxist capitalism is George (Jerry) Goodman, the Adam Smith of PBS's ``Adam Smith's Money World'' and author of best-selling books ``Paper Money'' and ``The Money Game.''
Mr. Goodman, a man who knows much about how the free enterprise system works, uses his expertise to uncover how a xenophobic nation of 800 million peasants is managing to make socialism work while introducing major elements of previously abhorred capitalism. This voyage to capitalist China was hosted by China Central TV (CCTV) and underwritten, quite appropriately, by the very free-enterprise-oriented Metropolitan Life. The special was produced by Alvin H. Pearlmutter, as is ``Adam Smith's Money World,'' which airs on Sundays from 10-10:30 p.m. on PBS.
The documentary is not merely a Sino-American pageant of talking heads, although there are some straightforward into-the-camera statements by major figures involved in China's changing economy, which now includes such oddities as fast-food duck restaurants (Kentucky Fried Chicken, beware!). There is amazing footage of Chinese TV commercials for new enterprises, of billboards and marketplaces. In a hard-to-believe sequence, viewers are shown the early-morning opening of a jewelry store in Shanghai where mobs of people dash frantically into the state-controlled shop and fight to be allowed to buy gold rings. Mr. Goodman manages to stand up amid the shoving crowd and speculate that in an American economy there would be several other jewelry stores open on the same block within days.
While there are a few shots of the Great Wall and other Chinese tourist landmarks, ``The New China'' focuses mainly on the new China -- viewers will see factories turning out Arrow shirts (where, by the way, the workers are paid 20 cents per hour).
Will it all last? That is a question Mr. Goodman asks and gets no answer other than that once things are accepted by the masses, it is hard to change them in China. But, when one remembers the Cultural Revolution in the recent past and its rapid disappearance, one wonders. Then there are the commercials to distract you -- especially the one for, would you believe, Sechuan Cola, which shows youngsters at a beach enjoying themselves `a la Pepsi commercials.
One out of every five people on this planet is Chinese, and Mr. Goodman concludes by reminding us that lifting so many people, even to modest prosperity, creates a huge force. ``Much of the third world looks to China. So, surely, does the new generation in the Kremlin. We are used to thinking of revolution in terms of Ayatollahs and gunfire and explosions. . . . Is it possible that history will look back at this development and find that one of the most significant events of the late 20th century was a revolution that took place without a shot?'' A chat with Jerry Goodman
``China's rulers today seem to believe that Marxism was fine for 19th-century China, but the country has to move forward into the 20th century today. And that means some degree of free enterprise,'' says Jerry Goodman, the man also known as Adam Smith.
Why was China eager to have Goodman and his entourage visit the country? ``They are hoping to attract co-venture capitalism, American partners and American technology. Also, they want to raise American consciousness about the progressive aspects of China's economy, and they know our show will reach thinking Americans. Also, they are aware that the third world is watching. . . .''
Will capitalism work for China?
``No official would dare tell me it isn't going to work, because it is now official policy. But inflation and things like riots at soccer games are bound to occur to some degree, and that will be interpreted as the result of capitalism. So, there will be some setbacks. But the Chinese are very pragmatic and will bring to capitalism their own inventiveness and ingenuity. I don't think the free market philosophy in China will progress in a straight line. But it might very well work in the long run. If it lasts for four years more, I think the new policy will become permanent.''
The title of the show includes the words ``from Marx to MasterCard.'' Are there actually MasterCards in China now? ``Not for the Chinese. But tourists can use their own MasterCards in the hard currency shops.''
Did economy-economics-minded Jerry Goodman buy anything there?