China's economy will soon overtake Germany's, and by 2040 it
will trump the US and become the world's number one.
That sounds like good news to me, but the euphoria over the prediction is
nothing but unsettling.
The forecast is a slight variation of the ambitious scheme of almost half a
century ago, namely, "overtaking Great Britain and the US".
You know how that one ended. But the ranking-conscious mentality is a
reminder of how little we have matured even though our economy has made
For one thing, GDP is only one barometer of an economy, and not a
satisfyingly accurate one at that. It does not take into account the
environmental cost and the psychological burden of torrid growth. That's why
someone came up with the fuzzier "green GDP".
For another, GDP does not measure how each individual fares in an economy.
When divided by 1.3 billion, we are still way behind and it's probably easier to
count our ranking from the bottom up.
The irrational jubilation of some of my compatriots derives from a
deep-seated insecurity, which is the result of a constantly refreshed memory of
a century of the country's humiliation: We were beaten because we were weak. Now
that we are strong, we can stand tall and proud.
There is nothing wrong with being proud of our achievement, but getting
carried away with it may have negative consequences. Just as a nouveau riche may
squander his money to boost his image and inflate his ego, a country has the
same temptation. One seems to need a dose of superiority to overcompensate for
the erstwhile sense of inferiority.
That is why it is extremely important to keep a clear head in a time of
unprecedented boom and wealth. We need to focus on what should be done rather
than gloating over what has been done. When you turn your sight from the
metropolises to remote areas, you'll still be able to find poverty gnawing at a
large swathe of our population. There are people who trek for half a day just to
get a pail of water. There are victims of natural disasters that need our help.
There are countless people who toil under conditions that do not meet our stated
or implied standards.
A surge in economic data is only meaningful when it benefits those who make
it possible. GDP is just a number; it will have to be substantiated by things
like better food on the table, roomier shelter for the family and more roads
that link landlocked villages. It has to be made tangible with better and more
affordable education, more and better-paid jobs, more choices of recreational
activities, more access to information and more channels of expression.
If a higher GDP cannot be reflected in these things, why don't we just fill
in whatever number we desire and be cheerful about it?
Along with great strength and stature comes great responsibility. Remember
what Spiderman said? While a strong economy should improve the living standard
of our populace, it also means we should spend more helping those in other
countries who need help and join the international community in fighting Green
Goblin, Doc Ock and Sandman oops, I mean, terrorists.
A Chinese youth who thinks we can do whatever we want now that we will beat
Germany and the US in GDP is playing right into the hands of those who advocate
the "China threat". It's the flip side of "We were beaten because we were weak".
But getting stronger does not necessarily mean acting irresponsibly. Let's start
by acting rationally towards our progress.
(China Daily 08/04/2007 page4)