A Low Cost Way to Learn About the Future of China

Matthew E. Kahn's picture

During my first week in China, I have spoken to dozens of people and toured all over Beijing. I even have a map listing the locations of all of the McDonalds in Beijing. Spatial theorists need to write down a model to explain how a uniform distribution of McDonalds is what we observe.

While I am quite happy to be here, this is not a low cost trip. The flight over was literally a pain in the neck. I'm in trouble with my wife

for vanishing for 2 full weeks.  Apparently, professors are supposed to reply to student emails and colleagues' requests. While this is all "new news" to me, I will have to address a subset of such issues if and when I return to UCLA.  There is also this new thing called a course syllabus that we are supposed to hand out at the start of a quarter. I keep receiving requests for them but I feel they limit a professor's freedom to improvise.

 So, for those of you who are busy but would like to know what is really going on in China, permit me to offer you an insider's tour.  Go to this newspaper and read it carefully;   http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/.

It is more interesting than the predictable New York Times and I believe it is honest as a sociological statement about the "mindset" of what smart people care about and are thinking about in China. 

I very much like the daily section of the paper that tries to teach Western people a phrase in Chinese and tries to teach Chinese people a strange Western phrase. For example, last thursday there was a quote about the "brown noser who is just kissing ass".  So, this English phrase was presented and translated into Chinese characters.

I was impressed that the State views this as good stuff for their citizens to know.

To be serious for a moment,  China will "take action" on carbon mitigation but they will take these efforts to build up their next "green export" sector and to reduce their economy's energy intensity because they know they are energy importers.  They also don't want to be

cast the villians in international relations.   Status is taken quite seriously in this nation and they appear to believe that a first tier nation should not be "brown".  Green Cities are in vogue!   



Matthew E. Kahn is a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment.



China Daily

Having worked in various parts of China on numerous World Bank and Asian Development Bank urban or regional transport projects for more than 20 years, I'm quite familiar with the English-languange version of 'China Daily'. When I'm in-country, I do read it and can gain a variety of insights from doing so. However, one should NEVER take anything published by Xinhua (New China News Agency) at face value, as it (and all of its output) is first and foremost an organ of State propaganda. If this is Professor Kahn's first trip to China (as is my impression), I am certain his trip will have been carefully arranged to provide the best impressions of what his sponsoring organization would like to present as capital-"T" Truths in black-and-white terms, without offering the full panoply of greys which are the actual reality. My interaction with various levels of officialdom in the different cities where I've worked has consistently involved obstruction and delay on many environmentally-oriented project aspects which differ from those promoted by the local leadership, primarily due to the inevitable gamesmanship of development objectives which are the true objectives for securing loans or grants from multilateral banks that can unlock domestic matching funds and loans.

I have worked with many excellent technical people over the years who have become some of my best friends, but none of them view any of the official newspapers (and there really aren't any "unofficial" or privately-owned news outlets which are truly independent) or television news broadcasts as anything more than propaganda. China has come a long way toward a modern society in the past several decades in so many respects, but when it comes to certain fundamental characteristics which Western democracies rely upon (freedom of speech, independent judiciary, due process), these continue to be illusions which are carefully fabricated and maintained by the State.

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