Perspective in Shanghai

I have just finished reading “Autumn In Shanghai”1 by Gilad Atzmon here on Dissident Voice which was of special interest to me as a long term Shanghai resident. His article has two sections. The first talks about Shanghai and China, the second about China and Israel. I feel the need to respond to the first part and the first part only.

Gilad was recently here for the JZ Festival in Shanghai’s Pudong district and he also taught; I’m assuming, at the JZ school. I can imagine the experience. The JZ Festival went off without a hitch in a beautiful park in the Pudong New Zone. The JZ school is situated in the former French concession among old houses and tree lined lanes. Between the lanes, the Jazz and the skyscrapers of Pudong, it must have been an intoxicating week. But we are supposed to be dissidents and radicals and some parts of Gilad’s article are lazy and dangerous. We need perspective.

Gilad writes, “China is a financial miracle.”

I have lived in Shanghai for eight years and a large part of my life is given to the underground music scene. But before we get to the reality of that we have to address the big problem. The myth of the “economic miracle”. This is not specific to China. This is a global myth. Let us start with a reminder of the state of the global system. According to the World Bank development indicators for 2008, 80% of the world, or 5.15 billion people, live on less than ten dollars a day with 3.14 billion of those, or half the world’s population, living on less than two dollars fifty.2 The top 20%, as we are all aware, is divided into the so called middle classes and the super rich.

China is a fair reflection of this global trend. The most recently touted indicator has been the internet usage stats.3 China recently approached the 300 million mark for internet users. Economic commentators foamed at the mouth and noted that was equal to the entire population of the USA. Of course, what it actually represents is the creation of a 20% middle class to go with it’s remaining billion people who are on or below the subsistence mark. Gilad also states, “It is a miracle because it somehow manages to restrain hard capitalism with a unique socially orientated system.” That is simply not true. It is purely hard capitalism. Period. There is no restraint, there is a free for all that is destroying the countryside and resulting in monthly riots across the land.4

In any region of the world, a system which enriches a minority of the people while plunging the rest downwards — while destroying their land rights and environment — should never be called a miracle. It should be called a disaster.

It is also dangerous to freely mix ideas of state or government with people or culture. I love to live here and my experiences on the underground rock scene and with local artists have been amazing. However, a little reading or asking around the subject will reveal that writing, music and art has a glass ceiling that is directly imposed by state censorship. For every Jazz Festival that goes on there are a slew of cancelled events.5 During the Olympics, the entire music scene was forcibly shut down for a month by the police.6 The underground is allowed to exist, as long as it doesn’t try to go public. I might also mention that no word gets published in print media without being first read by the Xinhua Agency.

I love living in China and Shanghai. The people are great and the issues I bring up are not only relevant to China. I myself don’t like ‘China Bashing’ and the countless lazy stereotypes that appear in journalism about this complex country. However, Shanghai is the glossy facade for the rest of the country and it’s our job as radicals to always keep our perspective.

  1. Autumn in Shanghai” by Gilad Atzmon []
  2. Global Issues Poverty Facts.” []
  3. China has close to 300 million internet users AFP.” []
  4. 58,000 mass incidents in China in first quarter as unrest grows to largest ever recorded.” []
  5. Modern Sky Festival 2009” from China Music Radar. []
  6. The Clampdown” from China Music Radar. []

Andy Best Andy Best is a writer and educator from Liverpool, U.K. he is currently based in Shanghai. He can be found and contacted on the web via his Shanghai music scene blog. Read other articles by Andy, or visit Andy's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. RH2 said on October 21st, 2009 at 11:33am #

    Gilad Atzmon does not often allow comments on his articles. You often find, “comments are closed on this article”. A kind of Marxism? He somewhat enjoys protection by being a Jew. Had he belonged to some other ethnic group, he would probably not play Jazz too long, definitely not in China. But Israelis do not kill their dissidents without further ado. One must be a serious existential threat to Zionism in order to be a candidate for vanishing. Zionists are only then afraid if the opponent can really change things to their disadvantage. If you study Marx and make music, you are usually not that dangerous. On the contrary some other ethnic populations have provided us with empirical evidence that they can easily kill their own people. His silly “Chinese miracle” is indeed a considerable human and environmental disaster. Atzmon seems to have found some inane Hegelian Universalism in Shanghai.

  2. Andy Best said on October 21st, 2009 at 11:59am #

    Hello RH2, thanks for the comment.

    I’m not concerned with Gilad’s background or his writing on Israel. I would write the same response to anyone who gave such an ‘analysis’ of China when a more realistic view is in plain view with a minimum of research.

  3. RH2 said on October 21st, 2009 at 12:37pm #

    Yes, Andy, I have understood your sympathy and at the same time your realistic view. China is indeed a huge ground for toxic waste and cruel police activity.

  4. rosemarie jackowski said on October 21st, 2009 at 12:48pm #

    Andy…Thanks for the view that so few of us know about.

  5. dan e said on October 21st, 2009 at 1:24pm #

    —– Original Message —–
    From: DanE
    To: ku.ten.letenonull@zta
    Sent: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 4:04 PM
    Subject: shanghai
    Hey Atz, great article, dig your unique POV, sent many your pieces to my email list — but how could you write an article about Zionism in Shanghai without mentioning Sir Victor Sassoon even once?
    Hehe, take it easy,

    Dan:)

  6. lichen said on October 21st, 2009 at 1:53pm #

    China runs a sweatshop economy, where the poor masses are miserably exploited, polluted, and impoverished–and like many countries in the world, official policy encourages or forces poor people off of their traditional farm lands and into an abyss. There is no “miracle” involved, and making admiring comments of it’s radical capitalism and authoritarian crushing of dissent is ridiculous.

  7. Al said on October 21st, 2009 at 2:56pm #

    Lichen, this is true of all 3rd world economic “miracles”. India is another example. Even animals in Europe live in a more human enviornment than the poor in India.

    This is what Capatalism is all about!

  8. Andy Best said on October 21st, 2009 at 7:39pm #

    Al

    I had the good fortune to see Arundhati Roy at the Shanghai Literary Festival a year or two back. After she spent a couple of hours going over the situation in India and developing countries, talking in detail about the poverty splits, some guy asked her “But what about the economic miracle.”

    It’s like a propaganda slogan that some people can’t get past.

  9. lloyd said on October 22nd, 2009 at 6:55am #

    I recently watched the Shanghai Master Tennis Tournament, in California. It was presented by US TV of course, and the images were far from being pro-China. The main image that sticks with me is the almost deserted stands, with several spectators photographed from such a distance that they looked like commissars attending the trial of an offender.

    Do you watch Shanghai TV and tennis? If so, I’d appreciate your thoughts on them.

  10. Andy Best said on October 22nd, 2009 at 7:58pm #

    Hi Lloyd,

    Shanghai TV/Dragon TV is a city wide private cable channel. I always watch international soccer games and English premier league soccer games there, it’s fairly normal. The commentary grates a bit as the guys who call the games are quite racist and sexist at times.

    As for the Tennis comps. It’s just a normal type privately run tennis comp. The attendance is more to do with the timing and location. It’s a prestige event and they built the new stadium and site way out in a suburb, but not that many people have cars and that particular suburb doesn’t have a rail link yet (Shanghai metro and public transport is excellent mind you). Also, the ticket prices are high too.

    So most people are cut out of it logistically. Although a lot of people go out for the bigger names if they can, mainly ex-pats and richer locals who live in that area. It’s not really my thing, to be honest.

    Then again, despite all the Olympic hype and nationalism, people here are not that into sports unless it’s done up in ideology. The local soccer team, Shanghai Shenhua, have an amazing soccer stadium and affordable games, as well as being situated in a working class neighbourhood, but the games are half empty. The reason? People are all like “oh, Chinese men’s soccer is no good, they don’t win.” Only the hard core sports fans are there.

    Young people play a lot of basketball these days because that’s what’s mainly provided at city schools. To become a pro sports person, they still run the system where young kids who seem to have good fitness are whisked off to sports schools, but regular schools and colleges do not have meaningful programs or tournaments.

    It’s an odd situation because the nation as a culture is quite into it’s traditional health and fitness lore. You’d think that more sports in education or in the community would push through.

  11. lloyd said on October 23rd, 2009 at 1:05pm #

    Thanks, Andy. I’ve been having fantasies about “What if the ATP (the major tennis tour) actually had an active union? ” Because tennis is becoming increasingly international at the top; and sports is so much a part of American (and my) consciousness; and after all, wasn’t it GBS who hoped sports would become “the moral equivalent of war”?

    Of course “ATP” stands for the Association of Tennis Professionals, but its members have no say about anything from how many tournaments they have to play every year to qualify for the big money to whether a “sky cam” will be used to decide disputed points.

    Howsoever, your views in your article and your comment were very welcome, and frankly they help me accept the fact that if my particular fantasy ever materializes, it will not be soon.