The price of globalisation

December 18, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

We all know it. The price of globalisation is often the destruction of cultural identities and the invasion of an homogenised, Western (American), consumer and celebrity-obsessed culture, which leads to the breaking down of traditional family structures. But it’s when you read articles like the two I’ve come across this week, you start to get angry and wonder whether the price is just way too high. And this links to increasing social problems of the sort I blogged about recently and ThinkingShift readers alerted me to.

Consider China: a rapidly industrialising society that is witnessing cultural fragmentation and a shift towards individualism. Some would say this is a good thing as it “modernises” China.  And it would seem the Chinese Government is sufficiently robust enough (so far) to withstand any challenge to its Communist Party leadership. Others might say it is a threat to local, autonomous, undisturbed communities with their own cultural traditions and identities and that deep disruption leads to psychological impact that is often ignored or overlooked in the haste to be affluent.

So we’ve heard about the glorious Olympics and how Beijing is a shopping mecca but let’s look at a couple of stories that reveal the dark underbelly of globalisation and rapid transformation. I read recently that a Chinese person takes his or her own life every two minutes despite increasing prosperity and economic reform. That is between 250,000 and 300,000 suicides a year and accounts for one quarter of worldwide suicides.

Economic reform kicked off in 1978 when Deng Xiaopang acquired power in the Communist Party of China. That’s really just one generation ago. But China is struggling. Generations of families used to live under the one roof and care for the elderly, now the elderly are being abandoned (a hallmark of “sophisticated” Western culture if you ask me). The single child policy (a human rights abuse in itself) has led to a heavy burden on children who strive to meet their parents increasing desires for an affluent lifestyle. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Chinese aged 15 to 34. People are migrating from rural areas to the cities, leaving children behind. The suicide rate for women in China is 25% higher than for men and the rural rate is three times the urban rate. And apparently drinking pesticides is the method of choice in rural areas.

Commentators are saying: “People have become more fragile. Since the opening up, the rapid social changes and the clash between modern and traditional values have made many people lose their mental balance“. And they are fragile because they are struggling with the shock of a fast-changing social environment.

Social stability and security is further being threatened by China’s rush to demolish old, historically significant buildings. China has literally been blasting away the past. I often think that the two favourite words in Chinese must be “new” and “construction”. And so we read about Chinese families who are not wealthy having their homes and land seized by local authorities falling over themselves to sell the land for humungous profits. The gap between rich and poor is becoming a gulping crevasse.

So consider the story of Gao Shuhuan who has lived in her house in Beijing’s Fengtai District nearly half her life. Her home, the only thing she has as an anchor, was seized.“This is my house. Within half an hour, it will be torn down by force,” she cries. “They are tearing it down without paying us a cent in compensation.” Naturally, Chinese authorities don’t want this sort of demolition to be caught on video but you can see an example on YouTube:

In Shandong, Communist Party officials have brazenly ignored local court protection orders and sent the bulldozers in. One poor woman who defiantly took a stand against the police and demolition workers who descended on her house (with one day’s warning) had her belongings unceremoniously dumped on a nearby farm together with those of her neighbours. To add insult to injury, these poor people are often charged for demolition costs.

And so Chinese modernisation has two faces: the glittering face we saw presented at this year’s Olympics and represented by modern shopping malls and office towers and the ruthless authoritarianism of government and the greed of property developers, which has disastrous results in terms of human rights abuses and indignities suffered by Chinese citizens.


Entry filed under: China, Social problems.

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