Friday, May 16, 2008

Evidence of Progress In China

Many heart-rending stories are coming out of China in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Sichuan province that likely killed more than 50,000.

One thing that's interesting is the relative openness of China to reporting of the disaster from the western news media. (Contrast: Myanmar.) It wasn't that long ago that the Chinese government's response to a natural disaster like this would be to clamp down on the media and try to control all reports of the catastrophe.

Today, China continues to look more and more western. The Chinese premier goes on television to discuss rescue efforts, does a few flyovers, and (unlike our President during Katrina) stays in the area to direct relief operations.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported today that ordinary Chinese citizens are opening their wallets to contribute to private relief efforts, just as Americans do when the going gets rough.

And while the Chinese government is directing search and rescue, as it should, there are reports of many volunteers, such as a doctor from Tangshan--a city destroyed in a 1976 earthquake--who decided on his own to go to the earthquake zone and provide whatever help he could.

These are all signs of an increasing "middle-class-ness" in China, especially in the more prosperous cities, with values that mirror those of the middle class in western societies.

Another value of the middle class in many nations is nationalism. In the Chinese, it manifests when westerners try to tell them what they should do with Tibet.

Will these emerging values eventually lead to a clamor for democracy, and a potential showdown with the Communist Party? Or will Party leaders who share similar values eventually allow the country to morph into a multi-party system? Those are some of the issues this massive nation will likely face in the coming decades.

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