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A Billionaire Worth Rooting For?
July 28, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

As a teenager, Zhang Xin was a factory worker in the sweatshops of Hong Kong. She saved enough to fly to England and at 27, graduated with a Master’s Degree in Development Economics from Cambridge University. At 30, she and her husband started what is now Beijing's largest real estate developer. She is quite candid about China's challenges. Here Charlie Rose interviews the billionaire CEO of Soho China.
posted by beisny (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I caught her on Charlie Rose last week - an extremely interesting character. We could use more of that can-do spirit in the US, even in the ~15 years that I have lived here I have been surprised by how timid the US has become when it comes to large domestic projects. The Republicans are frightened of spending any money and the Democrats are frightened of a sudden environmental collapse, and neither side is willing to concede that the other might have any valid points whatsoever. Meanwhile, projects that would improve both environment and GDP are left undone, like revamping the rail network or ensuring nationwide broadband coverage. Sad.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:28 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, projects that would improve both environment and GDP are left undone, like revamping the rail network or ensuring nationwide broadband coverage. Sad.
We suck and we haven't been an industrial power since Reagan destroyed the Unions and bailed out an auto industry devoted to planned obsalescence.

Film at 11.
posted by vhsiv at 11:38 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Democrats are frightened of a sudden environmental collapse, .... projects that would improve both environment and GDP are left undone, like revamping the rail network

Which Democrats are these? 'Cause Google gives me 2,760,00 hits for "Obama high speed rail".
posted by benito.strauss at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I saw her on Charlie Rose as well. Interesting segment, though it underscored the futility of asking any individual - let alone a land development billionaire - to speak to the general Chinese experience. I wish he would have asked her more about her own business and life experience. He doesn't expect Warren Buffett or Bill Gates to serve as spokesmen for what "America" is like, or to be expert interpreters of US politics.
posted by Urban Hermit at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Democrats are frightened of a sudden environmental collapse

...and the current massive development in China is a real-life example of sudden environmental collapse. Anybody who is declaring damn near anything being done in China as "the way to make things better" is dangerously deranged.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


the futility of asking any individual ... to speak to the general Chinese experience

Agreed, Urban Hermit. It's hard for people to get their head around, but China is geographically equivalent to the size of the U.S., and has about 4 times as many people. Its culture is amazingly rich and diverse, and not in subtle ways. That people act as if the Chinese all look alike or have some unifying personality traits is an insult to common sense.

I guess what I'm saying is that there is as much a general Chinese experience as there is a general American experience, or a general European experience. You can't ask a kid from Detroit what it was like to grow up in small-town America.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:59 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which Democrats are these? 'Cause Google gives me 2,760,00 hits for "Obama high speed rail".

Living in San Francisco, I've been getting a bit tired of the handwringing and endless legal challenges to every single development project made on environmental grounds, including high speed rail. Don't get me wrong, I'm for looking after the environment and don't want the Bay Area to turn into Texas or anything, but we have a lot of people here who just object to anything and everything.

Currently they're complaining about the Treasure Island redevelopment project, and whether it's going to damage the natural environment there. Treasure Island is an entirely artificial geographical feature created in 1936-7 to host a World's Fair; most of the silt dredge it's made of used to be a hill in the middle of what is now Market Street, which the city fathers decided to remove back in the 19th century, so they could make the downtown area flat.

Everything like this moves very, very slowly these days.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:01 PM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


...and the current massive development in China is a real-life example of sudden environmental collapse. Anybody who is declaring damn near anything being done in China as "the way to make things better" is dangerously deranged.

And making such a breathless declarations also seems to clearly misstate the situation. China has clearly done much right, and the result has been huge gains in prosperity not only for Chinese people, but also spilling over into those who do business with China.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:03 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and the current massive development in China is a real-life example of sudden environmental collapse. Anybody who is declaring damn near anything being done in China as "the way to make things better" is dangerously deranged.

So we shouldn't learn from it at all? With this attitude we wouldn't have the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, or any large public works whatsoever. Europe has stringent environmental regulations and somehow they manage to do a lot of building as well, both public and private. I'm all for environmental review, but not to the point of paralysis.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:08 PM on July 28, 2011


The funny thing is, the Chinese way is just about the only way to get that kind of massive infrastructure overhauls to happen: At least 3 Western states have immanent contracts with Chinese companies to build high-speed railways and such. America can't afford to pay American workers to do that kind of work.

(Meanwhile, the Tea Party assholes argue about how to suffocate and further obstruct economic development in this country.)
(We are blessed, truly blessed.)

posted by vhsiv at 12:13 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Europe has stringent environmental regulations and somehow they manage to do a lot of building as well, both public and private.

So why don't we learn from Europe, instead from China? Oh right, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism!
posted by benito.strauss at 12:17 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


So we shouldn't learn from it at all? With this attitude we wouldn't have the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, or any large public works whatsoever.

The idea that learning from china could help us build the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam is logically nonsensical. In reality, they learned from us.

Also this "environmental impact studies are preventing us from doing anything" stuff is total nonsense. China is, in fact, an ecological disaster much worse then anything in "Texas" The air is full of smog in Beijing, etc.

The other thing is that it's not even the reason that this stuff doesn't get built. It has nothing to do with actually stopping these projects. Stuff that really is ecologically problematic, like deep sea oil drilling and coal extraction doesn't get stopped.

The reason that they don't happen is that the money isn't there, most likely because there isn't sufficient lobbying on behalf of those projects, as opposed to oil and coal extraction, which has plenty of lobbying muscle.
posted by delmoi at 12:20 PM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


At least 3 Western states have immanent contracts with Chinese companies to build high-speed railways and such.

An appropriate contract to have with Celestials.

America can't afford to pay American workers to do that kind of work.

They'll be using American construction workers to build them, so I guess we'll see. Maybe with Chinese management and engineering American workers can build large infrastructure projects affordably.
posted by atrazine at 12:20 PM on July 28, 2011


LOL!
the Golden Gate Bridge
the Hoover Dam

[NASA]
or any large public works whatsoever
If Eric Cantor and Grover Norquist have their way, it'll be Never Again.

Government spending is now like the Holocaust. Too bad the great things we once did are now (Communist|Socialist). All of the Randian greed-heads wouldn't be where they are now, without the inputs of a visionary New Deal.
posted by vhsiv at 12:24 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


So why don't we learn from Europe, instead from China? Oh right, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism!

I suspect it is more like "They don't speak english!"*
posted by srboisvert at 12:29 PM on July 28, 2011


Oh god, not SOHO! My wife's office was in Jianwei SOHO and it was like a cross between a shopping mall and a Kubric film!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:31 PM on July 28, 2011


So why don't we learn from Europe, instead from China? Oh right, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism, Socialism!

Don't be ridiculous, Europeans love capitalism. Europe is less socialist than China, and few Europeans think of themselves as living under socialism. Europe has a mixed economy, with a strong public sector and a strong private sector. Sometimes one has a great success or screws up, sometimes the other. sometimes both luck out or screw it up at the same time. In any case, the economic questions relate to the method of financing, not to the issue of environmental review.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:42 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea that learning from china could help us build the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam is logically nonsensical. In reality, they learned from us.

Also this "environmental impact studies are preventing us from doing anything" stuff is total nonsense. China is, in fact, an ecological disaster much worse then anything in "Texas" The air is full of smog in Beijing, etc.


That's true, and China has also learned from us in that respect. Remember from the mid 19th century to mid 20th century US/Europe, there were little to no environmental regulations anywhere. I recall reading how ghettoes and slums were worse than medieval cities and how brackish and awful the River Thames was too.

I forgot where I got this, but one way to look at change in China is to imagine the Industrial Revolution, post-war Asian tiger development, and globalization all compressed down into a 30 year period. It's never pretty, but how else are you going to pull yourself out of the funk of a "Century of Shame and Humiliation"?
posted by FJT at 12:49 PM on July 28, 2011


I was referring to the common reaction from American voters when people suggest that we learn from European examples. It is very easy to provoke strong opposition from many Americans by painting any move that involves strengthening the public sector as "Socialist" (unless it's presented as military spending). This use of "Socialism!" has nothing to do with accurately describing governmental organization, and is surprisingly effective.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:51 PM on July 28, 2011


Government spending is now like the Holocaust.

Another government spending project, if I recall correctly.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:52 PM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


If Eric Cantor and Grover Norquist have their way, it'll be Never Again. Government spending is now like the Holocaust. Too bad the great things we once did are now (Communist|Socialist). All of the Randian greed-heads wouldn't be where they are now, without the inputs of a visionary New Deal.

Well, I did mention the Republican aversion to spending as well. And let's face it, the New Deal wouldn't have been possible without the contributions of the rail and steel barons before them, and everyone in the US benefits from the discovery of a continent whose indigenous population only numbered about 2 million people when the European explorers turned up. My underlying point is that if we want to compete effectively with China and India then we're going to have to review our own way of doing things from top to bottom. And it's clear that those countries are moving ahead with some bold visions for long-term development. Not without problems - see the rail crash in China the other day - but with much more ambition and willingness to think big than is popular in the US these days.

Basically I'm for more skyscrapers and buildings that look like spaceships and shorter procedural marathons. Things We Need To Do like dealing with our nuclear waste storage problem, repairing our infrastructure and so on are totally bogged down, and there's cause for blame on both sides.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:54 PM on July 28, 2011


~Government spending is now like the Holocaust.

~Another government spending project, if I recall correctly.


I'm pretty sure it was run through the military budget, so it was off the books.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:18 PM on July 28, 2011


Actually lots of the workers worked for people like the Krupps. It's a Public Private Partnership.
posted by jaduncan at 1:25 PM on July 28, 2011


Her wiki profile sounds more like a bio you find on a business website and it doesn't look like she's staked her reputation on any sort of meaningful activity like trying to get out detained human rights lawyers or trying to stop local government corruption.

So, unless she dresses up in a cape and cowl and goes around at night putting fear into criminals, I'm afraid I can't really root for this billionaire.
posted by FJT at 1:25 PM on July 28, 2011


I just love the irony in all this. How about we follow the money, folks? As China sees a serious real estate bubble looming, we have a leading Chinese real estate developer asking for more "market" control. She complains about how the Chinese government has taken the "market forces" out of everything via central control, except for "making money" from manufacturing. Baloney! She's just trying to save her company from massive losses, now that she (and other developers in China) have come to the conclusion that the incredible abuses that made Chinese workers a little more money have not translated to the kind of transparent capital infrastructures that permit her to make more profit (or, maybe lose a fortune as the bubble she helped to create looks like it could go bust, which it won't, because her cronies in the Central Planning Committee won't let that happen). I'm surprised that Fareed Zakaria (one of the best-informed commentators and writers about today's world) let her off the hook on this.

China, like the Soviet Union, has *always* been a corrupt capitalist nation - most recently they've been cloaked as capitalist monarchies wrapped in Marxist ideology. Maybe the intentions toward sharing wealth were good at the beginning, but that didn't last long. Marx would roll over in his grave if he could see what has been done in his name. It's one thing to spout Marxist ideology, and another to use that same ideology to destroy the intellectual capital infrastructure of a nation (like Lenin and Mao did). And, another thing entirely when even *fewer* people at the top end up enjoying all the riches and power and privilege that were once supposed to represent "corrupt" capitalist regimes. Give me a break!

China (like Russia) has always been controlled from the center. There is zero tradition re: private property rights, habeus corpus, etc. etc. It takes a long time for the concepts of individual liberty, transparent property exchange (and control), etc. etc. top take place in a culture that has zero tradition in those areas. A really, really good read about just how long it does take, and how capital and property transparency have evolved, and how they might be sped up in places like China is The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto (the Peruvian economist) - here's a good summary.

What gets me about the United States is that we have been living among one of the biggest power and money grabs ever seen in our culture. We're not centrally controlled; we're a democracy, so the upending of a robust middle class that runs from the center has to be legally enabled. That's the secret sauce currently in use by power elites. Thus, we have power/capital doing everything it can to keep folks ignorant of the real issues. Combine that with the disappearance of the artifact of unnatural advantage that we got from post WWII America, where nothing we did could hurt us because we had no competition, and we're set up as culture satiated with excess - i.e. food, clothing, shelter - and increasingly kept in the dark (degradation of education structures, centralized control of mass media, money controlling political debate, etc. etc.) We're being set up for more inequality, with the powerful using the law to take riches. That's what's happening today. With the added irony that dumbed-down American culture doesn't have a freaking clue; instead, we have been manipulated into throwing stones at each other, while those at the top just get richer. The problem is that the American public has been made more and more powerless through *legal* means; we have been victimized by powers that have access to our lawmakers; THAT is the problem. In a really ironic way, America and China are moving toward concentrated market power from different directions; we're doing it through the law, bought and paid for my the wealthy; they're doing it by government fiat (bought and paid for by the wealthy).

Back to China. This is not about China releasing market forces, not from Zhang Xin's *real* point of rational self-interest. She wants more market forces, but what about market transparency? She talks about the inequality present in the Chinese population, but it's the very "China as factory" ethic she criticizes that made the real estate boom possible. Now, it's stalling, because (duh!) the Chinese people are sick of being extreme wage slaves, with no benefit other than having the choice to not die of starvation, but instead slowly ripped of their lives in another way.

So, now, like all good capitalists at the very top, Zhang Xin wants to legislate "market reforms" to help people make more money so that her real estate empire can grow. Bottom line: she's scared silly about what might happen to her asset holdings, and now she's coming over here telling us how we might improve our country with better railways and broadband infrastructure? We don't need her advice on this; we already know that.

How many American investor partners does Zhang Xin have? How many of her partners are at or near the top of the Chinese bureaucracy? I would love to know the answer to those questions. Who is she really arguing for?

China will not have property transparency for decades, barring some kind of world crisis that I don't see coming (Black Swans will, no doubt fly into town, sooner or later). How long did it take to get from the Magna Carta to the American Bill of Rights? Centuries. China can and will exceed that record, and move towards more so-called "market" economy structure (they have the American template siting out there, to use as a rough guide - as do others) - no doubt about that. That said, how will China's power elite evolve the "market"? It sure as heck isn't going to look like America's. No way! (and not that it should; I'm just sayin'.)

Summing up: this is more about making Zhang Xin and her partners rich, than helping the Chinese people to freedom. It blows me away how every time we hear from some rich Chinese capitalist about what "China needs to do", we take it as a sign of a sincere offer to want to "befriend" the US. I don't see it that way. Chinese capital is partnered with American capital; money is "on the wire". Zhang Xin might as well be some conservative here in the United States. Why didn't she speak up sooner about the lack of market transparency *before* she made her money? Maybe that's harsh, but this needs to be said in service to deconstructing her current strategic move to come off as a visionary. Damn! she stating the obvious!

I don't believe she's sincere; I think it's all PR. I would love to be shown wrong. Time will tell. I've been hearing the same wishful thinking from our power elite, as well. What has come of that? I am very afraid for the future of this country, and our world, because we are slowly losing control of the transparencies that permit diversity of opinion. Yes, we have more democracy in the world than we has some decades ago, and we also have more wealth spread around, but what about the current, long-term projected shrinking of the benefits thus gained. Now that money/power/capital have picked the low-hanging fruit, they want to start squeezing and consuming the juice. We are that juice.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:48 PM on July 28, 2011 [22 favorites]


And it's clear that those countries are moving ahead with some bold visions for long-term development. Not without problems - see the rail crash in China the other day - but with much more ambition and willingness to think big than is popular in the US these days.

"Not without problems"? The crash last week that killed over 40 people, compared to the previous worldwide HSR death rate of 0? Yeah, we all hate red tape and NIMBYism, but public review means public accountability and that's always in short supply.
posted by psoas at 1:50 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Yorker profile of her from 2005 by Zha Jianying. IIRC, Zha's recent book TIDE PLAYERS has an updated interview with her and her husband. Worth reading.
posted by jng at 1:50 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Not without problems"? The crash last week that killed over 40 people, compared to the previous worldwide HSR death rate of 0?

Yes, that is why I brought it up, because it's a problem. I could point out a lot of problems in China stemming from rushing into development without sufficient attention to environmental, occupational, or consumer safety.

Just like I can point out problems from not upgrading your existing infrastructure, like this 22-car freight train derailment in Southern California last night.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:56 PM on July 28, 2011


anigbrowl: So we shouldn't learn from it at all? With this attitude we wouldn't have the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, or any large public works whatsoever. Europe has stringent environmental regulations and somehow they manage to do a lot of building as well, both public and private.

What's that, you'd like to discuss environmental review? OK. I'm not versed in how other countries (or even other states) do their environmental review, but I know a bit about California. Here, the review is intended to shape projects, either through proposing mitigation for the potential impacts (remove 1 tree, plant 4 more with the idea that in the long run, 2 may survive), or to classify the impacts as unavoidable but offset through the positive elements of the project. This information is available to the public and decision-makers to make the reasoning behind approving or denying projects more clear. The problems come when the decisions are made on subjective topics -- is it better to decrease the habitat for an endangered species here and improve it elsewhere, to allow this development to go through?

And after the decision-makers are involved, there's the chance for litigation, often on the details of the process, not the meat of the matter. Did the planning staff meet their mandated deadlines? Did the proper parties get notified in a timely manner?

The problem is, the only place to build big projects are 1) currently developed, or 2) less desirable or suitable for new development.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:31 PM on July 28, 2011


> it underscored the futility of asking any individual - let alone a land development billionaire - to speak to the general Chinese experience.

Maybe; but wow.

Zhang Xin moved to Hong Kong at age of 14 with her mother and lived in a room just big enough for two bunk beds. She worked for five years in small factories that make garment and electronic products to save for education abroad.... By 19, she saved enough for an airfare to London, supporting herself for English study at secretarial school.[2] Later, she studied Economics at the University of Sussex. In 1992, she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Development Economics from Cambridge University.

If her story epitomizes anything significant about the spirit of the age in China, and the couple in this fpp from yesterday does represent a developing consensus in the US, it's hard not to weigh the two together when you place your bets about who p0wns whom in the relatively near future. Barring Mongolian uprisings, asteroid strikes, etc.
posted by jfuller at 3:01 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just like I can point out problems from not upgrading your existing infrastructure, like this 22-car freight train derailment in Southern California last night.

Which neither killed, nor injured anyone.
If her story epitomizes anything significant about the spirit of the age in China, and the couple in this fpp from yesterday does represent a developing consensus in the US, it's hard not to weigh the two together when you place your bets about who p0wns whom in the relatively near future.
Oh come on. Looking at a single individual (or pair) and taking that as the epitome of a country is absurd. How many Chinese billionaires are there? Compare that to the U.S? Amazingly Wikipedia has the answer: 110 in China compared to 410 in the U.S, 1/4th despite having 4x the population.

Not that "number of billionaires" is an important metric, but this woman is anomaly. Tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of girls worked in factories like her and didn't become land developers. In economic booms, it's easy for people to get swept up and become rich. Look at silicon valley in the computer revolution, lots of unlikely millionaires.

And anyway, what's wrong with people who don't want to work hard? There are probably billions of people in the world who would be happy to support themselves without working hard.
posted by delmoi at 3:53 PM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


The crash last week that killed over 40 people, compared to the previous worldwide HSR death rate of 0?

This is technically incorrect. The Enschede train disaster killed 101 people. There were 23 deaths at Lathen in 2006. Two people were killed in Victoria, Australia when a high speed train derailed in 2006.
posted by biffa at 4:23 PM on July 28, 2011


Speaking of big projects, why isn't railway public transport in the U.S. common yet? Because that would really help out a lot of people with jobs, family, etc.
posted by Malice at 4:36 PM on July 28, 2011


There is absolutely zero chance that Zhang or her husband Pan are "self-made" in the sense of the usual mythologising trope; no-one gets plots of prime development land in Beijing without serious connections to the Party-state apparatus, which does the allocating. They can be credited with developing their corrupt acquisitions in a way that was more innovative than the rest of the fuckers picking apart the corpse of the collective economy, as God knows there's no shortage of failed prestige projects, but it's nonsensical to consider the real estate market in a country where the state still owns all urban land in the same terms as elsewhere.
As an aside, pace Vibrissae's comment above, China did famously have a tradition of private property rights in land prior to 1949 (see, for example, Pomeranz pp.71 ff.); one common argument concerning the "failure" of capitalism to emerge in the most economically and technologically advanced society (as China long was) is that merchants were able to invest in land (which the culture encouraged, while the state usually frowned on trade) and so did, rather than setting their capital to work in commerce or industry.
posted by Abiezer at 6:59 PM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Abiezer, thanks for that reference re: private property rights in China; also, for your salient comments and deconstruction of the reality of just who it is that has access to land, in China. China is seething with private privilege for the few, and the *only* way to get that privilege is to be very, very well connected to the top.

That said, pre-Mao, property rights could get called back by the Emperor, and/or other powerful officials, at will. i.e. ""all land under heaven belongs to the emperor, and all people on the earth are the subjects of the emperor."

Cite: "Historically, the people's awareness and acceptance of ethical norms was shaped far more by the pervasive influence of custom and usage of property and by inculcating moral precepts than by any formally enacted system of law."

In other words, the mechanisms of Civil Code were either primitive and/or virtually non-existent. If property disputes arose, they were settled through informal power network structures - i.e. one had no recourse through a national, standardized civil code. In fact, to this day, the lack of a tradition of transparent civil code re: property is one of the cultural artifacts responsible for the impetus to steal intellectual property. It's been only recently, with the wealthy and connected worried about their grip on property that we start to see more civil code arise, but it's still far from transparent and ruled by standards. It's still the Wild West, re: intellectual property rights and many other civil rights.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:39 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


To the best of my knowledge those remarks about the state of the civil code are broadly true for long periods in much of pre-1911 China, but oddly of all things landed property was slightly more formalised, as evidenced by the widespread use of land contracts (地契 - linked examples date back to the Ming). Those also relied largely on custom for enforcement, but the very fact that they appeared in the manner they did tells you that the concept was more than informal, and I've certainly read of cases of disputes being settled by the county magistrate rather than the clan (indeed, often because the dispute was over clan lands held in trust to pay for the clan hall or charitable works etc.). This article mentions an example of a sale contract dating back to the Song, and notes the distinction made in the vernacular between contracts without an official stamp and those with, again telling us that there was some formal oversight at least in some instances, if by no means all. You'll also see mention of the 'fish-scale books' (鱼鳞图册) that were registers of the land compiled at various times and places (never nationally IIRC) for tax purposes, again listing owners.
Should add this was a genuine aside and I'm not trying to imply it refutes the general tenor of your first comment, just happens to be something I've read a bit about.
posted by Abiezer at 4:51 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


@psoas

"Not without problems"? The crash last week that killed over 40 people, compared to the previous worldwide HSR death rate of 0?


Wrong!
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:10 AM on July 29, 2011


> Not that "number of billionaires" is an important metric, but this woman is anomaly. Tens
> of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of girls worked in factories like her and didn't
> become land developers.

The billionaire part wasn't what I found so remarkable about her, though, and was not what I quoted from the wikipedia link. It was the bit about starting out in Asian garment and electronics sweatshops, and working and saving Asian-style to the point of not just getting out of the sweatshops but getting abroad and ending up with a degree from Cambridge.


In that contrasting thread I linked to earlier, pastabagel said...

> I seem to recall endless stories of immigrants and refugees who after arriving in
> America, worked themselves to the bone to ensure their children had a better life.

...and was called down for it in comments like

> Yes, what marvelous fantasies we've been told about this. Ask 100 or 1000 immigrants
> how their reality matches your fairytale, and I suspect you'll find out for sure that
> it's almost always a fairytale.

I know perfectly well that Hispanic immigrants to the US and Turkish immigrants to Germany don't often rise to the top. I know perfectly well that most Asian sweatshop workers don't even get out of the shops, let alone becoming billionaire developers. But the fairytales you tell yourself matter, and rare events that lend themselves to becoming your (or someone's) Cinderella stories do sometimes occur even in real life.

The related questions I ask myself are: what rare events does a given culture think are worth mythologizing and setting up as desirable ideals and moral fairytales? Is there a significant difference, in this, between today's China and today's US? And if so, what determinative influence might that have on individuals of either culture?

Quite a lot, I expect. The current line in the West, or in a certain segment of the West anyway, is that corporations and "the rich" have made it impossible to succeed by intelligence and hard work, even if (in the starkest contrast to Zhang Xin) you get to start out already in a western country with citizenship papers and a college degree. There was a mournful lot of this in the most recent young men won't grow up thread, for example.

One would certainly predict that people who accept the "it's impossible, they've made it impossible" proposition will want to choose Thoreau at Walden as their Cinderella story of choice rather than The Tale of Zhang Xin. And, yep, one would be pretty much right.
posted by jfuller at 8:05 AM on July 29, 2011


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