China, the Chairman, and Change

Hong Kong, China

A friend who has lived in this bustling city for many years offered an observation about his country and its culture:

“What you need to always remember is that only 8% of the land is arable in China; there are many mountain ranges here and other wide expanses where you cannot grow crops. That means that every 30 or 40 years or so, there is always the danger of a significant food shortage. That is always lurking in the background.

Mao had to deal with this while also confronting the warlords who had divided up the land. They used to say,  ‘The warlord’s power reached to the end of his whip.’ The Chairman, of course, was not perfect by any means. But he overwhelmed these warlords, and he eliminated the Japanese, and he accomplished all of this while creating one language and one great China. For all of this, he is forgiven whatever shortcomings he may have had.

But going forward, in 15 years or so, we will face 3 challenges. First, we will have a large, aging population. (I think the government will soon change the ‘one child’ policy, but in some respects, this change will come too late for me.) Second, there will need to be a cooling off of the economy. No country in history could possibly continue to grow at the rate we have grown for the past decade. This will have to slow down, and who knows how we will be able to deal with this change; this may be especially challenging for those who have grown up in a ‘10% is normal’ economic environment. And finally, we will need to deal with a loss of our spiritual values.

I’ll give you just one small example of this. A friend, who recently had a child, asked me to be the child’s Godfather. After agreeing, I asked what religion the child would be raised in. She replied, ‘I don’t know. Let me check’.”


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