On China and Reform

My husband and I were chatting with his parents this morning about our observations about China and the future. After living here for almost a year, and studying China for several years, I have my own humble opinions about how China can continue it’s astronomic growth into the future. If you’re interested, my suggestions for reform are as follows:

  1. Development of rural areas:  Over thirty years ago when China began its march into modernity, rural farmers were told that the development of the urban areas in China would come by their personal and familial sacrifice, and one day their hard work would be repaid. Today these farmers maintain notoriously poor, subsistence farming on menial plots of land, using antiquated technology, dangerous pesticides, and sell their harvest for little profit to sugar mills, and other factories, who are managed by corrupt elites.  While the national government has invested heavily in free trade zones, which bolster profitable foreign factories in the large cities, they have only just begun to build housing for rural farmers, and health care and education remain poor.  But the answer is not this drop in the bucket, aid and social services for poor farmers, but a relocation of industry and investment to the countryside, that would draw and sustain investment and labor.  While it it true that an agricultural revolution in China, like the one in the states, would ultimately eliminate jobs for many people, investment in all sectors of these village communities would raise the standard of living and create jobs fro China’s rural people.  As it stands, the economic inequality between urban citizens and rural citizens creates an imbalance that China cannot socially afford.  Additionally, families are being torn apart by the unprecedented migration by rural farmers into the cities, parents living apart from and  leaving their children to be raised by grandparents, and returning only once a year during spring festival.
  2. Development of skilled labor:   While recent statistics from China’s 2010 census suggest the gap between rural and urban residence has leveled, these statistics reflect the movement of farmers into urban factories and college students to the cities, and don’t reflect the hardship these temporary workers face, including low wages, an inability to break into the middle class, and provide a better life for their families.  When it comes to college students, their fate following graduation is almost as precarious with unemployment at an all-time high and a severe lack of skilled-labor jobs for the record number of university graduates.  In short, China needs to revamp its education system, creating a culture of independent thinking and investment, that will lead to a revolution in industry, that will create a majority of skilled labor jobs for their numerous college graduates, and raise wages for its factory workers and other unskilled laborers.  This shift will be both dramatic and difficult in that it makes China less reliant on foreign investment (something they need in the long term and definitely want overall), but it’s definitely necessary, in that it’s no secret that factories are experiencing a labor shortage, and high school and college students are increasingly disillusioned about the value of education in China today.
  3. Reform the hukou system:  One of the challenges to the type of rural and industrial reform I’m suggesting is the hukou system, an internal passport system that assigns local registration to Chinese citizens and makes migration, as well as, arguably, self-development, difficult.  Under the current system, it is exceedingly complicated for rural citizens to temporarily or permanently legally relocate to cities to work, and nearly impossible for them to bring their children with them and enroll in better schools and take advantage of opportunities offered in the prosperous cities that would allow for a better future for their families.  Now the hukou system prevents mass migration into the cities, but it also allows the government to monitor its citizens closely.  In an argument similar to the one Americans make about South American migration, the Chinese government fears that if the hukou system is lifted, rural peoples will migrate in mass to the cities, causing a national crisis.  While perhaps a valid concern in the short term, such an argument fails to acknowledge the government’s contribution to rural poverty and its subsequent responsibility to invest in its rural population.
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