A Wake-up Call: China Passing Us By

An article by Knowledge @ Wharton cited David G. Marshall, a real estate guru and CEO of Amerimar Realty, about his experience of visiting China recently:

“In the last 10 years, not the last 22 years, Shanghai has built 2,000 high-rise buildings between 20 and 108 stories high — one more spectacular than the next. We stayed on the fifty-ninth floor of the JW Marriott, which was the headquarters for our Wharton Fellows Conference. You can look in four directions as far as the eye can see and you see nothing but spectacular high-rises. At night it looks like Las Vegas: All the buildings are lit up, they look like rocket ships going off. It looks like the Fourth of July. It is absolutely incredible what they have accomplished.

And we, on the other hand, are arguing over Sarbanes-Oxley, stem cell research, an archaic tax code, social security and health care — and I could go on and on. They’re all very important issues, but we are paralyzed by these issues and we are not growing. It is reminiscent to me of what probably took place with Great Britain not watching the United States — when the United States went flying by Great Britain. [China is] going to go flying by us and we’re going to wake up one day and say, “Oh my God, look what we missed.” That was my take away from China.”

I think Mr. Marshall’s observation and his sense of urgency are very valid. China is growing at a breathtaking speed. Things change in a matter of days. Yet people here are still rumbling about “human rights,” “Internet censorship,” “intellectual property,” when it comes to China. It’s not that these issues are not important, they are just so out of sync with the reality of China these days; or at minimum, they account for a small percentage of what’s going on there. As Mr. Marshall said: “Their goals are to get one billion, 300-500 million people educated, clothed, housed and fed. Intellectual property rights are not on their radar screen and [won’t] be.”

I also think Mr. Marshall’s comments are brilliant: “We’re trying to play a basketball game with a basketball, and they’re trying to play a basketball game with a football. It’s a different set of rules. We better realize that it’s a different set of rules and that they’re not going to play by our set of rules.”

It is a wake-up call for Americans, as Marshall further pointed out: “I think that it’s very na├»ve for us to have our congressmen arguing about how we’re going to punish China for not letting the Yuan float; and how we’re going to punish China for intellectual property rights. When [China is] sitting there with $1.3 trillion of our Treasury bonds, you’re not going to punish anybody.” Perhaps America has been in dominance in the world for too long. I hope Americans won’t learn the British lessons the hard way.

13 thoughts on “A Wake-up Call: China Passing Us By

  1. I’m called helen wang as well
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  2. Wow !!! 2000 buildings in 22 years. China is definitely growing at a fast pace. Interesting post.


  3. You hit the nail on the head. We fought the communists in Vietnam, and now we borrow from them to fight the so called terrorists. And we buy most of our crap from China now. Sure seems like we are in deep shit here. I don’t understand why our government is giving away our country, but I assume they are getting very rich in doing so.

  4. China passing us by may not be such a bad thing if China is learning from our mistakes. I am reminded of the management guru, W. Edwards Demming, who taught the Japanese auto industry superior management methods. The American auto industry wasn’t interested, and now we buy Japanese cars. The American auto industry tries to catch up these days, while politicians like John Dingell protect them into oblivion.

    The same thing is happening to a large extent with architecture. While Americans scoff at environmental design, William McDonough is designing sustainable cities in China for 400 million people over the next 10 years. While he also consults with corporations in the U.S., and designs corporate headquarters for them, there is no comprehensive, sustainable policy in the U.S. to address how we approach the whole issue of sustainability.

    The real disadvantage for the U.S. is that we have turned (again) our backs of technological advances that could keep up us ahead of curve. During the current administration, European countries have taken the technological lead in renewable energy. American companies aren’t major players any longer in the development and distribution of renewable technologies.

    Meryl is correct saying that the U.S. has become backward looking. We’re stuck in a cold war frame of mind, and as you say, we don’t get the big picture. We’re going to pay the price – indeed, we already are.

  5. We are in a state of serious decline, and there’s not much excuse for it. The Cold War ended, Clinton had balanced the budget, overcome Reagan’s amazing deficits, and was beginning to pay down the national debt, and somehow we just couldn’t face the fact that we could have a period of unbridled prosperity with very little effort. The result was that we fell right into the neoconservative trap, opted for war, started running up the deficit as though money existed only to be spent, wrapped ourselves in the old Cold War attitudes as though we simply couldn’t part with them. And we continue to fall for the “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” doctrines being shoved at us by the Bush administration. I guess we deserve what we’re getting, considering how many people voted for this guy twice.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I remember Tom Friedman said in his book “The World Is Flat” that Chinese and Indians are competing us to the top, not to the bottom. As a native Chinese myself, I see American and China have different strengths and weakness, and they can really learn from each other. The important thing is that we don’t get too complacent.

  7. no offense to anyone but i disagree that intellectual property and human rights are not major issues when it comes to china. The number of buildings built has nothing to do with that, and on the other hand you should expect that a mature economic system should lead to a more mature approach to these problems, rather than just brushing them off as growing pain…
    On the dominance thing, apart from the fact that this sounds very much like a discussion between 3-year-old and not grown-up nations, I’d like to know what criteria is used. Number of buildings or stuff produced? I’d argue those might well impress many, but there is more than meet the eyes. Most of the innovation is still coming from the US, Japan and Europe. The environments in those countries are not as polluted and deteriorated as in China. This is the real deal.
    Lastly, I noticed that Chinese love to compare themselves to other countries, be it to show they are “back” on the world scene, or their admiration for the US. I’d just say it may be time to get rid of that competitive sentiment and stop looking at the neighbours to decide how beautiful your house is…

  8. let me add that i love so many things in the chinese culture and heritage, but not the pride/”face” which i see as preventing open communication. In other words, the chinese will really get to the top of my world when they learn to better accept constructive criticism. I realize i am generalizing, i met many chinese who are like that but also many who are not. And there would be many things to say about any of the other cultures in the world, too.
    Thank you helen for posting this article and making us think and discuss

  9. Hi,

    In the past 50 years, China has researched solutions on how to solve the problem of water shortage in the northern China. There is a gigantic engineering project called Nan Shui Bei Diao (Bringing the South Water to the North) http://www.nsbd.mwr.gov.cn/. It’s one of the most ambitious project in world history. It’s a network of canals which bring the water from flood zone of southern China to the North.

  10. The fact is, China has won already. It’s inexorable. We can’t compete. Go watch the movie Idiocracy with Luke Wilson to see what the future holds for us in this country. Just last month, a commuter trained collided in Boston and another in Chicago. Within the last 6 months, bridges have collapsed, killing people, cranes have toppled in NYC, our public fountains in major cities are in disrepair. 7 years after 9/11 and we still haven’t built anything where the WTC once stood. We liberate a nation ( Iraq ) and don’t even ask them to pay us with oil. We wrangle over stupid things in this country and pretend that Democrats and Republicans are really adversaries when behind closed doors they are altogether one party. The list goes on and on and on. It boils down to a lot of things. One is our low IQ when compared to China. That book “The IQ of Nations” sums it up pretty well. It takes brains to build a civilization, but all we care about is sports, sex, getting drunk, watching 2girls1cup and fukcing and listening to our musicians rap about their dicks and their guns. But it’s not just IQ. It’s our culture. 2000 years of wars here in the west, fighting each other, killing each other, poisoning each others water supplies etc. How can we compete with such a homogenous, harmonious unified force like China? Just look at their history and culture, then compare that to ours. Game Over.

  11. Hmm, look at history folks. Many a great NATION has been built and then fell due to their overall lifestyles and following of pagan gods. China is no differnt when it comes right down to this fact. The communistic leadership and what Mao believed in and followed was indeed a degrading way of life.
    After one of my trips to China with a high school group from the USA, one of our girls got a letter froma 14 year old Chinese girl after we returned home. In that letter this little girl asked a very basic question that shows exactly what is lacking in China today. She said ” This God you spoke of, where does He live? Does He live in America? If He does then I will NEVER meet Him.”
    That right there tells me what the middle class of the Chinese will be facing in 15 years or so. Even the great empire of Rome fell, Germany fell, the Aztec tribes fell, the Greek empire fell and on and on because they failed to recognize God.

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