Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Our Role, Our Responsibility, Our Indignancy

with 3 comments

My uncle recently asked my opinion on a suitable metaphor for the development of China.  He is teaching a humanities class to high school students and wants to introduce a bit of Chinese tradition into the curriculum.

I lacked any amazing ideas.  The expanse and current trajectory of Chinese history afford an innumerable measure of words.  The Chinese never fail to mention their 5,000 years of existence.  It is a type of self-recognition, a stabilization of tumultuous times in the not-too-distant past.  It seems every corner of Asia, most recently Thailand and Myanmar, suffer neoteric setbacks of the human condition.  Usually, and painfully, of a massive order.

So I have been thinking of the additions and defining points of contemporary Chinese humanity.  After all, humanities classes, the study of the distinctly undefined by natural science, are an exercise in determining contributions to life itself.  How is life changing in China?

The Sept/Oct issue Foreign Affairs features an article by Elizabeth Economy titled “The Great Leap Backward?”  Economy, a terrific name for an FP writer, does an extremely apt job of describing how the economic development of China will be crippled by its wanton disregard for its own environment.  She also insists that the answers must come through a bottom-up approach, in which the citizens themselves must recognize the need for change rather than await the outcomes of an undulant authoritarian government.  In short, Chinese must go green.

The one weakness of her article rests in her intractable Western identity.  She insists the West, mainly the U.S., must help China recognize its inefficiencies and remedy them.  Like the good doctor on a house call.  ‘Hey, China, heard you had a bit of a cough from all the smog.  Take three of these and call me in the morning.’

The fact of the matter is that America is well aware of the looming Chinese environmental crisis, and I am hesitant to assume it wishes to alleviate the ailment.  After all, as large MNCs and government agencies well know, this condition is not a product of China; it is a byproduct of American enterprise.  We have manipulated China, from its farms to its factories, into our personal economic playground.  We can kick dirt in the sandbox at recess, but when that afternoon bell rings we head home.  We leave it to some poor chump to come shovel it all back in, to clean up our mess.

Knowingly, wittingly, we have dumped (outsourced) our worst polluting industries to China, i.e. CFC-producing manufacturers after the 1990 effort to save the ozone layer.  Continuously, and mercilessly, we have demanded products from China at whatever the cost.   Occasionally someone makes a fuss over child labor, but how often do we hear concerns over the environmental living conditions of all people in a place where 750,000 die every year from airborne pollutants?

We made China this way.  Now we are demanding it amend this part of its history, without taking any responsibility for it.  But, hey, that is what Americans do.  That is what we are good at.  “Why do they hate us?” Right?  “Why can’t China clean up its environmental mess?” Right?

It reminded me of another recent article I read.  Here, in this piece by Howard Bryant, we see a very poignant depiction of the American psyche.  One where history is ignored.  One where reaction belies repentance and repercussions beget animosity.  One where we tie the notions of justice, reality, and equality around the eyes of a women and make her pose like AbuGhraib.


Written by Miles

September 26, 2007 at 6:37 am

3 Responses

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  1. yo, that byrant article was perhaps the best article I’ve read on the Vick case on capturing the complexity of the american psyche, while also letting the complexity itself make it clear what the role of race is in American society. Spending time hear in New Zealand race has attempted to hide behind those liberal notions of justice and equality that we throw out there without any true commitment or understanding, but it has remained a critical lens with which i see the world and will always see the world.

    As for the article on China and the Environment, I must plead ignorance. Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. I found your brief critique of the article in framing the issue as a problem for the US to come and fix without recognizing the role they have played in creating it is right on. Keep up your studying and if I’m able to do the same you should be inundated with some of my papers in the upcoming weeks. HOLLA


    September 28, 2007 at 5:30 am

  2. Alright, I finally tore though the articles. I purposely avoided reading Evan’s and your opinion until just now as well.

    And you guys sound like a couple of expats.


    I’m on bored with you guys and the whole America is a bunch of latent racists but this is hardly a new idea.

    America has more to deal with than other countries in terms of racism and xenophobia, but that’s because we have a cultural makeup that’s more diverse than pretty much anywhere in the world.

    Racism is institutional and there’s no delicate way to deal with it. So you have hot heads on both sides of the debate polarizing the issues when a discourse (not a debate) is what’s needed.

    So until America accepts its racism and talks it out, we’re going to continue to sound like idiots.

    I don’t really know if that’s a full point but I thought I’d though it out there.


    I find it hard to digest that America “made China this way.”

    This type of development is nothing new to China. What about “The Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution.”

    A country needs a societal mindset before it embarks on slaving itself in the name of development and progress. Mao did that not GW Bush.

    Also where are all the building codes, human rights laws and environmental standards? That’s totally in the hands of the government, a government by the way, America has never been able to control and kicked our ass militarily on several occasions.

    All I’m saying is there is another side of the argument. And the only way to find the right, or best, answers is to talk it out. So thanks for throwing it out there Miles.



    October 11, 2007 at 8:46 pm

  3. […] by milesfromhome under Radar of Sensible Observations.   This is a response to my buddy BTG’s comment on a previous […]

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