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Oscar
12 Nov 09,, 16:35
Grand New Party

China's Race Problem

Reihan Salam, 11.09.09, 12:00 AM ET


Is racism universal? Since the end of the colonial era, the rising powers of the developing world have been quick to condemn Western racism. Ethnocentrism and color prejudice can be found in virtually all human societies, going back centuries if not thousands of years.

Yet racism as we know it first emerged in the late 17th century. While slavery is an ancient institution, the racial slavery that took hold in the Americas in that era was new and very unusual. In the English-speaking colonies of North America, the violent subjugation of enslaved Africans created a perverse solidarity among people of European descent, who were united by their place at the top of a racial hierarchy. Racial boundaries that had once been fairly fluid became increasingly rigid. Because the egalitarian ideals of the Declaration of Independence clearly contradicted the still profitable and pervasive practice of racial slavery, it was vitally important that the enslaved be regarded as subhuman, lest the whole corrupt edifice completely collapse.

Even now, Americans are dealing with the scarring effects of this monstrous ideological project. It is also true, however, that Americans have been fairly forthright in confronting this legacy. The same can't be said of the new racism that is taking shape in Asia.

As the late political scientist Samuel Huntington argued, "modernization" and "westernization" aren't the same thing. Economic progress in East Asia and South Asia and Latin America doesn't mean that these regions will become carbon copies of Europe and America. But history has a tendency to rhyme. After decades of breakneck economic growth, South Korea has joined the ranks of the world's richest and most powerful states. As such, a growth model built on cheap labor has been transformed by the emergence of a large and expensive welfare state, and also labor market rigidities that have led to high youth unemployment rates.

Like the rich nations of the West, South Korea also has a low birthrate and, as a direct result, a rapidly aging population. This begs the question of whether South Korea should embrace large-scale immigration. Faced with a similar dilemma, West Germany signed a series of labor agreements in the 1950s and 1960s that led a large influx of guest workers. The idea was that these guest workers would come for a time and then return home. That, of course, is not how things turned out. Over 50 years since the beginning of the guest worker initiative, Germany is still struggling to deal with its growing population of ethnic outsiders. South Korea might have an even harder time.

In a fascinating article published in The New York Times last week, Choe Sang-Hun described the intense discrimination faced by a small but growing number of migrant workers from impoverished Asian countries. A number of Koreans have expressed serious concerns about the end of the country's ethnic homogeneity, arguing that a larger influx of migrant workers would lead to a rise in the level of crime and social tension.

These anxieties have the air of self-fulfilling prophecy. Given that many if not most Koreans prize ethnic homogeneity, migrant workers will remain on the margins of society. This, in turn, will fuel alienation and resentment among this class of permanent second-class citizens. And so South Korea's major cities could very well see the rise of segregated ethnic slums. It's worth noting that anti-foreigner sentiments are flourishing in a time when South Korea is experiencing rapid economic change, including a new social and economic inequality. Just as racism provided the basis for solidarity among whites in U.S. history, it could be playing a similar role in South Korea.

Next to China's race problem, South Korea's pales in significance. Earlier this year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a report that found that the current ratio of 16 retirees to 100 workers is set to double in the next 15 years. In absolute terms, the number of over-65s will go from 166 million to 342 million. Someone will have to care for them, and though China has relaxed its profoundly wrongheaded one-child policy, the reform has come too late to arrest rapid aging.

Moreover, as the political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea van den Boer noted in their book Bare Branches, China also has tens of millions of so-called "surplus males" thanks to a strong cultural preference for male children. This means that large numbers of Chinese men will have a difficult time finding wives in the near future. One obvious way for the China of 2025 to address this dilemma would be to embrace mass immigration. Because China remains a poor and populous country, the idea that it will become a magnet for immigrants seems faintly ridiculous, not least because millions of Chinese are desperate to emigrate. Of course, the same was once true of Ireland, which is now one of Europe's most diverse countries.

But like South Korea--and, for that matter, Japan--China is not terribly hospitable to ethnic outsiders, including members of non-Han minorities native to China. Observers tend to overstate the level of ethnic homogeneity in China, not least because the Han category masks tremendous cultural diversity. "Hanness" is as broad and contingent a category as "whiteness."

But as Frank Dikötter of the University of Hong Kong argued in his brilliant 1992 book The Discourse of Race in Modern China, traditional notions about culturally inferior "barbarians" intermingled with Western forms of scientific racism to form a distinctively Chinese racial consciousness in the 20th century. The "yellows" were locked in a struggle with their equals, the "whites"--and both were superior to the "blacks," "browns" and "reds." The dislike and distrust of Europeans was always mixed with envy and admiration. The disdain for dark-skinned foreigners, in contrast, was and remains relatively uncomplicated. Maoist China railed against Western imperialism, and saw itself as a leader of the global proletariat of Africans and Asians.

Now, as China emerges as an economic and cultural superpower, those notions of Third World solidarity, always skin deep, seem to have vanished. It is thus hard to imagine China welcoming millions of hard-working Nigerians and Bangladeshis with open arms. This could change over the next couple of decades as China's labor shortage grows acute. I wouldn't bet on it.

If China remains culturally closed, the Chinese Century will never come to pass. Instead, the United States--a country that has struggled with race and racism for centuries, and in the process has become more culturally open and resilient--will dominate this century as it did the last.

Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation. The co-author of Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, he writes a weekly column for Forbes.

China's Race Problem - Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/08/china-race-racism-opinions-columnists-reihan-salam.html)

Its only a matter of time of time before Japan, South Korea and China thanks to their extremely low birth rates, start importing immigrants from South East Asia or Africa. And the ethnic tensions that go with it.

Ironduke
12 Nov 09,, 17:22
Now, as China emerges as an economic and cultural superpower, those notions of Third World solidarity, always skin deep, seem to have vanished. It is thus hard to imagine China welcoming millions of hard-working Nigerians and Bangladeshis with open arms. This could change over the next couple of decades as China's labor shortage grows acute. I wouldn't bet on it.

If China remains culturally closed, the Chinese Century will never come to pass. Instead, the United States--a country that has struggled with race and racism for centuries, and in the process has become more culturally open and resilient--will dominate this century as it did the last.
The only reason I see China having any labor shortages would be because agricultural efficiency isn't proceeding at a fast enough pace, along with their current population policies.

According to the World Factbook, 43% of the Chinese labor force (representing 11% of GDP and 350 million people) is employed in agriculture. In contrast, agriculture in the US comprises 0.6% of total employment (while representing 1.2% of GDP).

Let's say even with China's relatively more labor-intensive process of agriculture, this percentage were to be reduced to five times that of the US. 325 million people would be freed for other types of employment.

China therefore, in my opinion, can continue to free up domestic labor by making strides in agricultural efficiency, and thus won't face the possible problem put forward in the article at any time in the foreseeable future.

The article also fails to recognize the fact that current population trends in China have in large part to do with the population policies of the Chinese government. Nowhere is this fact mentioned. A considerable portion of the Chinese population is either subject to a one-child policy or is given incentives to adhere to it. If there were critical labor shortages, the government could simply do away with it or create incentives that are the exact opposite of the current policy for a favorable effect.

To sum up briefly, even if China were to be confronted with this problem, there's more than one way for them to skin the cat. At the very minimum, they have the means to strongly mitigate it.

astralis
12 Nov 09,, 17:33
matt,


If there were critical labor shortages, the government could simply do away with it or create incentives that are the exact opposite of the current policy for a favorable effect.


the one-child policy is very spottily enforced, though: wealthier urban folks can pass on the right bribes and they're fine; in the villages, it is enforced here and there as the county boss or other low-level flunky demands.

so doing away with the one-child policy will really have fairly minimal effects on growth rates, and we see in places like russia that "pro-growth" policies also have minimal effects.

you're right, though, in stating that the population problem will hit china last. i think there will be large incentives for places like japan to develop robotics even further, while south korea will end up a hybrid.

the irony is that for china, in the next twenty years we may well see the development of a large high-tech industry, with a slightly smaller manufacturing population, and a still large agricultural pool. it's hard to talk about a shift for china from industrial to post-industrial processes when in reality, significant portions of the chinese economy haven't even turned industrial yet!

Ironduke
12 Nov 09,, 17:37
astralis, as I understand it, the one-child policy isn't simply a matter of enforcement, it's also a matter of incentives. If people voluntarily adhere to it because they're given incentives to do so, and those incentives are then removed, what do you see as the impact? As I see it, China has a wide array of options to delay, mitigate, or even completely pre-empt any possible labor shortage problem.

Oscar
12 Nov 09,, 18:31
The only reason I see China having any labor shortages would be because agricultural efficiency isn't proceeding at a fast enough pace, along with their current population policies.

According to the World Factbook, 43% of the Chinese labor force (representing 11% of GDP and 350 million people) is employed in agriculture. In contrast, agriculture in the US comprises 0.6% of total employment (while representing 1.2% of GDP).

Let's say even with China's relatively more labor-intensive process of agriculture, this percentage were to be reduced to five times that of the US. 325 million people would be freed for other types of employment.

China therefore, in my opinion, can continue to free up domestic labor by making strides in agricultural efficiency, and thus won't face the possible problem put forward in the article at any time in the foreseeable future.

Chinese population is growing old faster than we have ever witnessed. In 20 years a sizable portion of this manpower will have reached the retirement age. Around 30% of the population is already 45 or older, and there will be no replacement for this generation, coupled with no immigration it would become disastrous for their economy.


The article also fails to recognize the fact that current population trends in China have in large part to do with the population policies of the Chinese government. Nowhere is this fact mentioned. A considerable portion of the Chinese population is either subject to a one-child policy or is given incentives to adhere to it. If there were critical labor shortages, the government could simply do away with it or create incentives that are the exact opposite of the current policy for a favorable effect.

Its not with the stroke of a pen that you change the birth rate of a population. Even in a communist country. There are lots of failed attempts by governements all around the world to encourage their citizens to have more babies.

This generation of Chinese tastes for the first time the wonders of capitalism and a comfortable living. You didn't need a one child policy for Europeans' birth rate to collapse, it has much more to do with the arrival of a consumerist society where genders have a somewhat equal access to the job market. This is therefore a much heavier trend that we're witnessing, the last thing Chinese households want is to have more babies. They already have to save for health care and the education of their single child.

It will be a very long time before we see this trend reversing.

astralis
12 Nov 09,, 18:36
matt,


astralis, as I understand it, the one-child policy isn't simply a matter of enforcement, it's also a matter of incentives. If people voluntarily adhere to it because they're given incentives to do so, and those incentives are then removed, what do you see as the impact?


well, here, the incentive for following the one-child policy is-- don't get massively fined, or publicly humiliated, (or in rare cases) get an abortion/sterilization.

but the "problem" is that it is only enforced here and there. no village boss or county boss wants to have to deal with the acrimony these things cause without a very tangible payoff.

so some villagers will decide to take the risk, or try to make sure they have enough money for a saving bribe. in other cases, villagers turned into migrant workers will seek to wait until they're fairly settled in the city, so they can get the appropriate hukou (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hukou) for their kids. this won't change despite what happens to the one-child policy.

take away the one-child policy, you'll probably see an uptick, but given the aging population of china and other factors (such as the move from countryside to crowded cities), the effect will be relatively minimal.


As I see it, China has a wide array of options to delay, mitigate, or even completely pre-empt any possible labor shortage problem.

delaying and mitigating i can see-- completely pre-empt, that i don't know.

gunnut
12 Nov 09,, 19:58
China's Race Problem - Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/08/china-race-racism-opinions-columnists-reihan-salam.html)

Its only a matter of time of time before Japan, South Korea and China thanks to their extremely low birth rates, start importing immigrants from South East Asia or Africa. And the ethnic tensions that go with it.

Japan is already importing labor. It's a dying nation.

China, despite the coming mass retirement and the 1 child policy, still has hope. That being mechanization of the interior. Mechanization will free up labor force to do other things. Japan is already mechanized, except for their family farm system. There's not much man-power they can free up any more.

RollingWave
19 Nov 09,, 09:46
The only reason I see China having any labor shortages would be because agricultural efficiency isn't proceeding at a fast enough pace, along with their current population policies.

According to the World Factbook, 43% of the Chinese labor force (representing 11% of GDP and 350 million people) is employed in agriculture. In contrast, agriculture in the US comprises 0.6% of total employment (while representing 1.2% of GDP).

Let's say even with China's relatively more labor-intensive process of agriculture, this percentage were to be reduced to five times that of the US. 325 million people would be freed for other types of employment.

China therefore, in my opinion, can continue to free up domestic labor by making strides in agricultural efficiency, and thus won't face the possible problem put forward in the article at any time in the foreseeable future.

The article also fails to recognize the fact that current population trends in China have in large part to do with the population policies of the Chinese government. Nowhere is this fact mentioned. A considerable portion of the Chinese population is either subject to a one-child policy or is given incentives to adhere to it. If there were critical labor shortages, the government could simply do away with it or create incentives that are the exact opposite of the current policy for a favorable effect.

To sum up briefly, even if China were to be confronted with this problem, there's more than one way for them to skin the cat. At the very minimum, they have the means to strongly mitigate it.

This is a mirage, most of the workers in coastal cities are still "classified" as agricultural workforce by the CCP, because of their rather outdated laws on domestic migration. and since the international community have no other means of tracking the figure, they have to use the CCP official estimate.

Basically, if your born into a farmer family, your classified as a farmer, even if your actually working in a factory in Gaung Dong, changing your status is difficult in China.


overall, i think this article miss two very obvious problem.

1. China's population density is already very high: which makes it unattractive to additional immigrants, the reason why places like the US and Australia draws so many immigrants is because it still have a lot of room to give, China does not.

2. China's population is insanely high: let's point out the obvious, for the domestic population to feel the threat of new commers, the new commers must make up a pretty noticable portion of the population. since that population is ooonly 1/4 of the world total, it would be a liitttle difficult to get that many people in to make the local inhabitants feel their existence.

Officer of Engineers
19 Nov 09,, 10:43
Basically, if your born into a farmer family, your classified as a farmer, even if your actually working in a factory in Gaung Dong, changing your status is difficult in China.You've missed the fact that no one cares.

RollingWave
23 Nov 09,, 11:07
You've missed the fact that no one cares.

i'm not sure what your implying here, it matters a whole lot to that particular post. and I'm very skeptical of why a moderator would want to suggest something like this.