Prior to moving to China I’d often hear talking heads fret about the USA losing its status as a superpower to the economic juggernaut that is modern China. “China will own us!” they’d shout, pounding on their newsdesk, inciting fear of our supposed new Chinese overlords.
As Bill the Cat would say, “Pffffft!”
Granted, I’ve only been in China for 2 1/2 months and I’ve only been to Shanghai and Beijing, so there is still a lot of country I have not seen and there are quite a few of the 1.6 billion Chinese citizens that I haven’t met, but…. based upon my experience so far, China has a long way to go before they could ever hope to pass the USA in military, economic or diplomatic power.
If they even want to.
There are a few things holding China back:
Lack of originality. Ever wonder why you can buy a bootlegged DVD of an American blockbuster movie for $2 USD, but you can’t buy a Chinese blockbuster movie for that price? It’s simple: there are no blockbuster Chinese movies. You can buy a fake Rolex watch for $100 USD, but you can’t name a famous Chinese watch manufacturer because there aren’t any famous Chinese watch manufacturers. China’s large automaker is named Chery because they were copying the name Chevy. And in December 2013 China landed an unmanned rover on the moon; the USA had a man walking on the moon in July 1969.
It is a problem plaguing China and it is rooted in their education system where originality is not just frowned upon, but crushed. Conformity is the way. The blade of grass that sticks up gets cut-off. Yes, Chinese students do well on standardized exams, but only because they are drilled in the rote exercises necessary to pass a standardized test. They don’t think creatively. They copy.
Walk down a street of small shops and you won’t find a plumbing shop, an electrical shop and a pet store, but you will find 4 plumbing shops, or 6 electrical shops, or 3 fruit stands or 2 meat stores lined up in a row. If a vendor selling fruits and nuts sets up shop outside the metro station you can rest assured that another vendor selling the same items will set up shop alongside. It is one reason that China is famous for their “markets.” The Silk Market is filled with hundreds of vendors selling the same exact bolts of cloth and the same holds true for the Pearl Market, the Flower Market and the Cricket Market, too. If imitation is really the sincerest form of flattery then China is the perfect example.
Acceptance of Low Standards. In my short time here in China I can count on on hand how many times I have experienced acceptable customer service, or witnessed quality work being performed. The widely accepted standard of performance appears to be “Good Enough.” When I discuss this with my Mandarin instructor she shrugs resignation.
Some examples: We live in an upscale apartment condominium compound of expats and wealthy Chinese; when I asked our landlord to replace a 6″ strip of missing tiles in the bathroom his response was “they have been missing for a long time.” That was it. I was expected to accept that as the answer. (I didn’t). When the workman finally arrived to repair this he noticed that a two foot section of marble slab was separating from another bathroom wall at an outside corner. He left to get the supplies to fix this and returned with a steel corner bead that he wanted to hand cut to size with a hacksaw and glue to the exterior of the marble wall. Despite our language barrier I made it clear that a repair of that nature would be unacceptable. The 6″ strip of accent tile that he installed mostly matches in color; they were installed, but not grouted.
Another repair was required to improve the the satellite television reception in both the living room and the bedroom. The satellite is on an east facing balcony and the televisions are on the west side of the apartment; it is wired so that it goes to the living room first. The cable installer explained –in hand gestures– that he needed to run wire from the living room to the bedroom. I agreed. As I came back into the room with my cup of tea, he was looping cable casually on the floor, roughly along the sides of the room, behind the furniture and into the bedroom. I went into my Marcel Marceau routine kneeling on the floor, tacking the wire to the baseboard. He was not happy with my performance and reluctantly went down to his vehicle, returning with a package of cable tacks and a hammer. When I went back to check on the work I was pleased to see that he’d very neatly tacked the cable to a groove in the baseboard about every 14 inches. And then I looked behind the large palm in the corner where he’d curled the cable on the floor, not bothering to move the plant. When I pulled the couch and the cabinet away from the wall I discovered the same thing. I pulled every piece of furniture away from the walls in both rooms and had him retack everything. After the televisions were working and he’d gone home, I went to the back of the apartment where I discovered that he’d run the cable from the satellite through a door and then into the electrical closet. Neither door will close.
Half-assed work isn’t the sole purview of the private handyman, government behaves the same way. This pipe comes out of the ground, runs along a curb and then goes back underneath the sidewalk, probably because it was easier, or cheaper–or both–than doing it the right way.
And then there is the park worker who sees a leak in the hose, gets a discarded plastic bag from the trash bin, ties it around the hose and continues to water the flower beds as the hose continues to leak.
Wait staff serve food to half the guests at dinner and are genuinely surprised when you ask where is the food for the others; “It might take longer to cook,” they reply.
And you can’t even count the number of sleeping employees.