I lived in China for over a year, and previous to that experience, I was under the same impression as most of my friends and colleagues. China's ability to provide cheap manufacturing, their low labour costs and their inexhaustible supply of people would propel them into the stratosphere of success. I moved to China expecting to be caught up in the whirlwind, expecting my pockets to swell with Renminbi, only to find that my conceptions were misplaced.
If you step back and look at the model of American growth, one could argue that it was based on three factors:
1) Economic power gained through innovation and technology
2) Cultural adoption among other countries, such as music, film and television.
3) Military superiority
In this article, I plan to demonstrate that the Chinese nation lacks formidable strength in these three areas.
1) Economic power -> innovation and technology
Yes, there are a lot of cheap consumer goods produced in China, including DVD players and computer chips. But what innovations come out of Chinese research?
Very little[1-2]. The Chinese government has expressed alarm over how little innovation is pioneered in the nation, directing more funding towards research. As much as 57% of foreign exports come from foreign invested factories, and international firms in China are unhappy with the quality of personnel from Chinese schools.
Will this change over time? The Economist printed that many foreign firms pay the extra money to have foreigners in senior levels, or, ideally, Chinese graduates who have studied abroad. The Confucius-leaning Chinese education system repressed free thought and independence, and children spend their waking hours memorizes passages or completing pages of unstimulating mathematics. Add this to the one-child policy, and
you have millions of graduates who are unable to work in a team, and cannot think outside the box.
And yes, China's economy is growing faster than any other country, but much of that growth is in sectors like steel, coal and construction, crude industrialization that can spell disaster for the environment. For my part, I noticed that Chinese cities are filled with new, modern buildings, but many of them are completely empty. The Central government gives loans to nearly anyone that wants to build something, and these loans default easily, leaving the gleaming husks hollow and sad, but augmenting the GDP to shiny, methamphetamine levels.
2) Cultural adaptation
American culture has become pervasive throughout the global scene, with MTV and Hollywood having influence over teens and pre-teens in every country with reception.
Maybe that will change soon...
Admittedly, Chinese cinema is very, very good, with acclaimed films, such as 'Farewell, My Concubine' and 'In the Mood for Love'. Can Chinese culture become so popular that Mandarin will be the language of travelers, diplomats and businessmen?
I don't think so, but time could prove me wrong. The Chinese language, Mandarin, is spoken by 867.2 million people and is a character-based language, where each character has a certain pronunciation. There are over 10 000 separate characters, but the average speaker has a vocabulary of only 3 000. The inherent structure of the language makes it unable to add foreign words to the vocabulary. For example, Canada is Mandarin is 'Jia-Na-Da', and Brad Pitt is, amusingly, 'Buh-La-Duh-Pit-Teuh'.
The English language has had considerable appeal due to, of course, prevalent American culture, but also because English is easily adaptable and accepts new words like a randy dog. In England, the British often salivate over 'vindaloo', and Montrealers fill their bellies with 'Shish Taouks'.
To learn Chinese as a second language, it takes considerable skill and time. Speaking is easy to pick up, after mastering tones and pronunciation. To read, on the other hand, takes diligence and years of memorization. Chinese children are over 6 years old before they can write or read simple sentences. I believe this is a major impediment to the Chinese language being adopted into the world.
The American military is big and powerful. The Chinese military is also big and powerful. The People's Liberation Army is 2.25 million strong, the largest, numerically, in the world.
The U.S. government has also acknowledged that the Chinese nation is modernizing its army, and will shortly have the capability to pursue miltary actions in Asia, and beyond. China is currently seeking to dispute hostilities with neighboring countries, and is pursuing an agenda of peace.
However, autonomous states within the country will present some formidable challenges to peace and content. The western media is well aware of unstable situations in Taiwan, which threatens to separate, and Tibet, which demands freedom. Escalating situations in Xinjiang, home to the Uighur population, have created tensions between the Muslim Uighurs and the Han Chinese relocated to live in the desert province.
Chinese has even extended a hand to Russia, fighting its own war against Muslim Chechens, to work together to eliminate separatists. The government hushes up the increasing number of protests suppressed by the police, a situation that can quickly rocket out of control.
Perhaps these three factors are small characteristics of the American rise to glory, and the Chinese empire WILL form, under different circumstances. Certainly, the world has benefited from Eastern cuisine, and the temerity of Chinese ex-pats to open restaurants in every part of the world.
 "Survival of the Fittest in China Netcom", BusinessWeek, Aug. 22, 2005.
 "China ambitious for more in aerospace", www.chinaview.cn, 2005-08-03.
 "Savvy India beats China: US' BW", www.financialexpress.com, 2005-08-16.
 "Foreign money pours in, but corporate governance lacking in China's banks", Gulf Times, Aug. 23, 2005.
 "Mandarin (linguistics)", www.wikipedia.org.
 "People's Liberation Army", www.wikipedia.org.
 "Annual Report to Congress: The Military Power of the People's Republic of China',
Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2005.
 "China, Russia to hold joint miltary drills aimed at fighting terrorism", www.forbes.com, 2005-08-02.
 "Land of 74,000 Protests (But Little is Ever Fixed)", New York Times, Aug. 24, 2005.