There is probably no more pertinent global question right now than the China question. Adding his voice to the chorus of queries is American director Brook Silva-Braga, whose documentary The China Question trots out an impressive roster of talking heads to grapple with the issue, including Harvard economist and historian Niall Ferguson, Orville Schell, director of the Asia Society’s U.S.-China Center, Barry Naughton, author of The Chinese Economy, Wu Jianmin, former Chinese ambassador to the U.N., and Cui Zhiyuan, a leading member of China’s New Left. Gaining rare Western access to the inner workings of Chinese factories, Silva-Braga lays out the implications, specifically for Americans, of China’s economic ascendancy. Silva-Braga’s mother declares early on that, for moral reasons, she will never buy any Chinese-made goods. This proves to be rather difficult, since, it seems, just about everything, including American flags and the popular American Girl doll, is made in China. In a larger sense, the film asks what it means for Americans, and by extension many other democratic countries, to contribute to China’s rise, given its suppression of free speech and history of jailing dissidents. We are told that every day China sells a billion dollars of goods just to the United States, which is four times as much as the U.S. sells daily to China. Alan Tonelson, of the U.S. Business and Advisory Council, says that “there is no doubt that the biggest and only beneficiaries from the current U.S. and China relationship have been the the big, focused, outsourcing multinational companies who have recognized that producing in a very low cost, very lightly regulated country like China for a pricey market like the U.S. is a great way to expand your margins and profits. It’s a no-brainer.” To make this system work, China needs to create 25 million new jobs every year just to keep pace. And to create jobs China must remain the world’s work force, which means it must keep winning on price –which means low wages. Chinese factory workers, many of whom are migrants from the countryside, make on average $200 a month. That’s still higher than the $50-60 a month they would likely make as farmers. Niall Ferguson sums up: “I’m constantly struck by how much thought the Chinese leadership gives to the United States. In Washington I see no such long-term thinking.”

—Peter Rainer

The China QuestionAvailable on DVD
from Earthchild Productions:

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