Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book review, Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas

America's leadership of the world is over, so the conventional thinking goes. The 21st century belongs to China. Right? Canadian Troy Parfitt, who worked as an English teacher in Taiwan for ten years, defiantly says "wrong."

In China's defense, the Middle Kingdom did have the world's largest gross national product in the first eight decades of the last millennium--but the Industrial Revolution upended the world order.

Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas.

Most of the book is devoted to Mainland China, which is at it should be--the geographic and population size of the "other" China, Taiwan, pales in comparison to the People's Republic of China.

In short, in my opinion the people of the Chinas can be defined in one word each: PRC: Grifters, Taiwan: Crazies.

In regards to the grifters, there are numerous examples Parfitt cites. Here's one: In Dali City, a young woman who is a member of the Bai convinces the author to walk to her home for a tea tasting after telling him in broken English "I don't want your money" and that she only wants to "let you understand Bai people hospitality." Parfitt dutifully samples the tea, then she informs him that the tea he prefers is "only fifteen yuan." She is able to make change for the transaction, too.

How is the service in China? "I was served by a rude waiter in a restaurant full of rude waiters."

After a European man is misled on the destination of a tour bus, he exclaims, "You lied to me...you Chinese people are all the same. You're a bunch of f*cking liars."

What are the hotels in China like? Late night telephone calls offering "special massages" are the norm. Other basic services suffer. Parfitt asked a hotel receptionist in Dandong where the Yalu River is. Oh, Dandong is on the banks of the Yalu.

"And which way is the river," I wanted to know.
"What river?" she asked, but I was ready for this one.
"Do you mean there is more than one river in this town?"
"No," she muttered.
"Putting on a good show" is how Parfitt describes Chiang Kai-Shek's military strategy, and that is precisely how contemporary China is run. A German engineer Parfitt speaks with declares "a German student is much more knowledgeable than a Chinese engineer," predicts an unhappy future for a water treatment plant he was working on.


Because no one has the slightest idea of what they are doing. All they want to do is cut corners. And this is really amazing because they dump everything in the river. You wouldn't believe some of the dioxins and chemicals we found. It's unimaginable. If you swam in the water for fifteen minutes, I guarantee you'd get cancer.
By the way, Taiwan is worse. A friend of mine asked a factory manager how he disposed of toxic byproducts during a plant visit. The manager gestured in the direction of the river. In fact, Parfitt points out that Taiwan ranks second-to-last in environmental sustainability in a Yale University study. Last place? North Korea.

More on the "crazies" offshore:

Chicago Marathon, 10/10/10
Chinese-language newspapers in Taiwan are really quite remarkable. They are extraordinarily thick and made up of countless sections that consist of just about everything except insightful news. The detail that goes into them, however, is astounding; they are jammed-packed with photos, artwork, color, and design. Anything involving death or injury is sure to get liberal coverage. Two entire pages of computer-generated images could be used for a "re-enactment" of, say, a drunken domestic squabble resulting in a pair of fatal stabbings, the final frame containing pixilated figures lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of ruby ooze. Real blood-soaked corpses are shown on the front covers, and the rest of the paper is largely given over to gossip, fashion, local politics, restaurant reviews, recipes, entertainment, and sports.
Parfitt recounts a story of Taiwan's inept police force and its attempt to capture a serial killer and rapist, which would be funny, if it of course didn't involve a serial killer and a rapist. Taiwan's garbage trucks, which used to play Beethoven's Fur Elise, now broadcast English lessons.

Organized crime is a serious problem in Taiwan. They control the construction industry and they cut corners too, with predictable results.

But Parfitt writes, "The Taiwanese have to be the friendliest people in all of Asia, if not the entire world."

In addition to not ruling the world in this century, Parfitt demolishes other myths about the Middle Kingdom.

I have one criticism of the book--Parfitt didn't visit Xinjiang, home of the Muslim Uighurs. A few Uighurs went to Afghanistan to perform jihad and some of them ended up in Guantanamo Bay, which I covered several times in 2009. But the author had his fill of China before he was able to mark Xinjiang off of his list, just as I got weary of being conned and propositioned in Jamaica a few years ago. And I was there only for a week. Parfitt journeyed in the PRC for two months.

Why China Will Never Rule The World: Travels in the Two Chinas is a book I recommend. I especially suggest this book to the gaggle of China "experts" who appear on cable news programs.

It's available on Amazon.com in book and Kindle form.

If you are an author or a representative of a publishing house and would like for me to review a book, please contact me at john "dot" ruberry "at" sbcglobal.net.

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