Li discusses surprising development in China

Nearly everyone is aware that China is rapidly becoming an economic dynamo. It’s virtually impossible to go through the day without using several items with the phrase “Made in China” on them.

How a country went from near-catastrophe to an economic world power in under 20 years was explained by Rebecca Li, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, at Thursday’s politics forum, Market and State Development in China.

According to Li, much of the instability in China was caused by a combination of rapid population growth, the overextension of resources and an inability to enforce the work of the country’s legislature. The state-run factories of the Communist government failed as those talented in the workforce went off to more profitable climates.

These factors can make for a very unhappy populace, which in turn leads to the destabilization of the system as a whole.

However, when private industry returned to China there were still conflicts. There was the delicate balance between the “old elite” and the “new elite.” There were also some disgruntled workers who, despite their education, did not receive much pay back in their careers.

Despite the situation that arose from these difficulties, Li said the state of affairs could be stabilized with China’s planned economics. China’s renewal may actually be due to its government’s centralized power.

That is, the government does not have the same priorities as a company and would act in ways that a private company would not consider profitable.

The example Li gave included keeping people on the payroll even though they weren’t needed.

One benefit is the increase in mobility of the Chinese population. A figure Li showed compared the total length of highway road in China in 1988, at 147 kilometers, and in 2004, a significantly greater 34,000 kilometers.

This allowed people to go search for better jobs, which both pleased the public and reduced the risk of the types of revolutions seen in Europe under similar conditions, according to Li.

The Chinese government has instituted some level of democracy, Li said. Small villages have the ability to vote for representatives in dealings with the state.

Li’s theory is based on an unlikely marriage between two ideas.

One, proposed by author Jack Goldstone, predicts that rapid population growth will overwhelm the state’s ability to control and support the public, leading to a collapse.

While this is what most believed would happen in China, it obviously has not. According to Li, this does not ruin the model’s credibility.

“Goldstone’s prediction was wrong, but it doesn’t mean the model is wrong,” she explained.

Despite China defying the most accepted predictions regarding its fate, Li said the nation still has problems it is working on.

One difficulty is that, while it has the most sophisticated censorship abilities in the world, recent innovations, such as blogging, are much more difficult to censor than Web sites.

There is also some hesitancy in investing within the country since it has had past issues with property security.

Li mentioned that China is currently working on laws for the latter difficulty.

Li said it is incredible to see how a nation everyone expected to collapse now has so much control over the global market and has enough capital to invest in the United States.