While I know little about China, the press it has received over the last few weeks has fascinated me. There seem to be three Chinas:
- China, the model to emulate
- China, the competitor to fear
- China, the human and environmental tragedy
Clearly, the three Chinas are interconnected, since they are all the same country. The question for me is: how dependent are the first two on the foundation of the third?
Photos by Lu Guang
The descriptions of China remind me of 19th-century America, when the nation underwent enormous growth based on technological and financial innovation, the exploitation of natural resources and the abuse of human labor. It was a time characterized by the creation of massive wealth, with unprecedented chasms between rich and poor, and with almost no regulatory protection for workers, consumers, children or the environment. The period experienced harsh labor violence from Homestead to Cripple Creek. In 1886 the U.S. Supreme Court implicitly recognized the personhood of corporations in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, and a decade later in Plessy v Ferguson, the court endorsed the Jim Crow South. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in Manhattan burned 146 young seamstresses to death.
Our economic prosperity is also built on the foundation of that era, but it is hard to imagine returning to such unregulated times – as some of our aspiring leaders are urging us to do.