Monday, May 26, 2008

As China wakes

Some 26 percent of the water in China's largest river systems is so polluted that they have "lost the capacity for basic ecological function." There are nine thousand chemical plants along the banks of the Yangtze River alone. [E.A.]
At first pass, I misread this sentence as "nine chemical plants," which seemed like an unremarkable number of plants that could, nonetheless, wreak a lot of damage on surrounding ecologies. But nine thousand! 
This is from Fareed Zakaria's breezy, but informative account of the burgeoning New World Order titled, The Post-American World. Zakaria talks about how every American businessman has a fact about China aimed at staggering listeners, and proceeds to cite his own:
China is the world's largest producer of coal, steel, and cement. It is the largest cell phone market in the world. It has 28 billion square feet of space under construction in 2005, more than five times as much as in America. Its exports to the United States have grown by 1,600 percent over the past fifteen years.
It's easy to oversimplify a nation by resorting to a laundry list of statistics, and that's not what Zakaria does in his consideration of China's rise. One point he emphasizes, for instance, is the challenge that the Chinese government faces in accommodating political changes as the country develops a broad-based middle class that will, almost certainly, demand political rights and privileges that are largely absent today.