Monday, September 21, 2009

The China Syndrome

In the collective unconscious of the American spirit, China is a black and white Charlie Chan movie with proverb-chanting Charlie played by the Caucasian actor Sidney Toler. China is take-out Chinese food or the Cantonese restaurant, circa 1955, with big oriental shades, Han dynasty murals, and impassive Confuscian waiters in white jackets pulling the silver covers off the #1—egg roll, chow mein and fried rice. China is foot binding (less brutal than the clitorectomy, but torture nevertheless), Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai Shek, Mao, the Long March, the rape of Nanking, Zhou En Lai, The Gang of Four, the Cultural Revolution. China is the Forbidden City and the Great Wall as pictured in Richard Haliburton’s Book of Marvels or William Hinton’s Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village. This sleeping giant epitomizes the Orientalism of Edward Said’s famous essay.

But while the mythology of China festers in the imagination, a real China burgeons. Shanghai has 4000 skyscrapers, which is double that of New York. Embedded within the structure of an ostensibly communist society is an engine of wealth production that cannot be adequately accounted for by the usual terminology—free market, economies of scale, division of labor—employed to describe capitalist production. This new China is a socio-economic chimera, an authoritarian head presiding over a free market body, the overactive superego accommodating the demiurge.

China is science fiction to the extent that its wealth is like a black hole. Imperial America has declined, leaving in its wake stealthy expansion through magnetic pull. China doesn’t invade (with the exception of secessionist provinces like Tibet). Its expansion is by way of attraction rather than promotion.

America is about to be foreclosed on by China, which more than ever holds the mortgage to our property. In The Man in a High Castle, Philip K. Dick envisions the Axis powers winning the Second World War, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America imagines the rise of anti-Semitism as Lindbergh beats Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The WMD of the China novel is bound to be a credit default swap.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.