On the long flight back from China to New Zealand recently, one of the films I watched was Elysium. The sci-fi thriller probably won’t make my top-10 list, but some of the content felt disturbingly close to home.
Although earth in Elysium was depicted as a polluted and overpopulated Los Angeles in 2154, it had elements of the way China is going right now, as the air and water pollution seem to be getting worse every year. The luxurious space habitat that the earthlings wanted to escape to, reminded me a little bit of New Zealand – although with slightly better looking inhabitants and a far superior health system.
While most of the world’s major economies splutter along, China’s blistering economic growth has businesses everywhere salivating for a piece of China’s increasingly wealthy middle class.
Everyone peddling something from adventures down the Nile River to skin-whitening face cream are redefining their strategies to get a piece of the Chinese pie. Even Porsche chose Shanghai for their world debut of the 4-door family wagon Porsche Panamera – its biggest launch in years.
But it seems ads with backdrops of Chinese skylines are for beginners, when you see the lengths the world’s biggest auto manufacturer is going to get their cars on Chinese roads…
With a history spanning 5,000 years, China is rich with cultural and artistic treasures – albeit not nearly as wealthy as it should be.
There’s no arts and culture killjoy quite like a Cultural Revolution. In just 10 years from 1966-1976, innumerable works of splendid art, antiques, architecture, books and paintings spanning millennia were destroyed by Red Guards. Countless Chinese artists were persecuted and people were encouraged to criticise their cultural institutions. Arts students, or any students for that matter, were shifted en masse from their universities, to raise pigs and grow grain in rural labour camps.
Their mansion cellars are chock-full of the finest burgundies. Their gift cupboards, packed with luxury European goods. As they play real-life monopoly with central London property, their offspring purr around the cities in orange Lamborghinis. In this land of China, where the authorities have traditionally strived for a classless society with common property ownership, the number of US$ billionaires are growing like Jack’s beanstalk.
As much of the world suffers through their financial crises, China’s rampant economic growth continues to pump out billionaires. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of Chinese billionaires grew 45% from 130 to 189, from 2010 to 2011, 43% to 271. China’s tally is now second only to the United State’s 413 mega-wealthy.
In less than 20 days, New Zealand will be overrun with striped jerseys and empty beer vessels as the rugby world converges for the third largest sporting event on the planet, the Rugby World Cup
20 nations will be competing for rugby supremacy in the Nile River of rugby tournaments. Yet in China, the world’s most populous nation, the dedicated following of the rugby will be limited to a few smoky expat bars and a handful of committed Chinese rugby heads (most of whom will be supporting the All Blacks)
I’ve lived beside four rivers in my life. As a youngster, Wellington’s mighty Hutt River was my favourite spot for sitting in inner tubes and doing ‘bombs’ into. Then there was Dublin’s River Liffey, the resting place of more pint glasses than any other river in the world. Preparing for our paddle down the Blue Nile, I lived in Khartoum, Sudan where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. It was there I caught the bug for the world’s longest river.
Since moving to Shanghai on banks of the Yangtze River Delta, my fascination with rivers hasn’t tempered and I’ve become curious about how two of the world’s greatest rivers compare.
I’ve never been a fan of shopping malls, that was before I went to Yiwu China Commodity City.
Yiwu City, about two hours by fast train from Shanghai, has the largest small commodity market in the world. In laymen’s terms that’s a massive mall where you buy large quantities of all the Chinese-made stuff you see in shops and markets all over the world.
And massive it is. 4.3 million square metres of floor space containing 62,000 booths representing factories and suppliers producing everything from 2011 Rugby World Cup balls to Hello Kitty socks.
When I was a youngster, China really scared me. I’d been told if everyone in China all jumped at the same time, the whole world would wobble. Although there hasn’t been a coordinated hop, China is without doubt, shaking up the balance of the world.
Curiosity has drawn Ellen and me to get in amongst China during this fascinating time in history. I was lucky enough to be working for an Internet company in North America during the dot-com boom, Ireland when the Celtic Tiger was roaring and New Zealand when microwave ovens were introduced, but nowhere has the rate of change been more apparent than in the Middle Kingdom. This is the biggest boom in history.
The rate of change for almost everything in China is staggering; incomes (almost 300% since 2000), car sales (32% last year), the market for art (25% last year), number of billionaires (57% last year). Even more impressive is the scale of it all – the rates are measured across 1.3 billion people! And although developing countries have a low starting point to measure growth from, significant tracts of China are long past the ‘developing’ stage. Shanghai, for example, now has a higher average GDP than parts of southern Europe.