Tuesday, July 27, 2004

deep thinking

a student of mine showed me this speech she is working on...each student must present a formal prepared speech at the end of the 5-week program. she gave me permission to post it here. i find it quite impressive, how she has thought so much about her country, and has pride in china, but not too much:

[text of her entire speech]

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am April.
Today, my topic is, the costs of economic growth in China.
Now, think it over. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times…
We are having better food, but worse nutrition;
We are having bigger houses, but smaller families;
We are having taller skyscrapers, but shorter temperaments;
We are having wider highways, but more narrow outlooks;
We are having forward technology, but backward psychology…

No one would argue that China is today world’s most promising country. In the past 25 years, China's economy has been able to attain a high 9.4% annual growth rate of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. During the past three years China has accounted for one-third of global economic growth, twice as much as America. The per capita net income last year was US$1090, with a real growth rate of 9.8% year-on-year. Obviously, Chinese people are a lot richer now. With the tremendous wealth they have created, they are leading a higher standard of living than ever before. In big cites, more and more people start buying their private cars. Personal computers, mobile phones, all kinds of modernized products can be found everywhere. Sometimes, people are so surprised by the rapid changing around them that they even do not believe it. They are saying that we are so lucky to live within this best period of all times.

But are we really that lucky? Are we gaining that rapid growth of economy without losing anything else? What has been sacrificed?
The answer is, our environment and culture.

First, let’s draw some concerns on the environmental cost behind the scenes.
Here are some examples of pollution and ecosystem destruction impose direct costs on China's economy:
- Fishermen in Hebei Province filed suit in November 2000 claiming wastewater from upstream paper mills in Henan Province killed US$ 3 million worth of fish. Sources indicate perhaps a thousand such incidents occur nationally each year.
- Red tides brought by marine pollution caused more than US$ 120 million in losses to the fishing industry in the Bohai, Yellow and South China seas in the spring of 1999, according to Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
- Erosion claims about 5 billion tons of China's topsoil each year, washing away nutrients equivalent to 54 million tons of chemical fertilizer twice what China produces in a year.
Pollution costs the Chinese economy anywhere from 3 to 8 percent of GDP each year, according to estimates of various Chinese and Western scholars. Ecological damage potentially costs another 5 to 14 percent. Even at the low end of these estimates, environmental damage is roughly equivalent to annual economic growth meaning that the economy is producing little or no new net national wealth. However, in addition to the above-listed direct impacts, environmental degradation imposes other important indirect costs, for instance, our health is being threatened. Statistics show that chronic obstructive lung disease is the leading cause of death in China; one-eighth of total deaths in the country were attributable to air pollution between 1990 and 1995.

Our blue sky is greying, our clear rivers and lakes are mudding, our green grassland is desertificating…Is the economy growth really worth it?

Besides serious environmental degradation, another challenge we are facing, brought by the globalization, is the gradual eliminating of our culture.

As we all know, in the history of mankind, there appeared the Mesopotamian civilization in West Asia, the ancient Egyptian civilization along the Nile in North Africa, the ancient Greek-Roman civilization along the northern bank of the Mediterranean, the ancient Indian civilization in the Indus River Valley in South Asia, and the Chinese civilization originating in the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. Yet as time flows by, due to either natural disasters or human conflicts, some of these ancient civilizations withered away, some were destroyed and others became assimilated into other civilizations. Only the Chinese civilization, with its strong cohesive power and inexhaustible appeal, has survived 5,000 years to the modern time. Every Chinese should be very proud of that and try best to preserve it.

But the truth is, we are losing them now. Under the overwhelming rush of western cultures, our own traditions are on a weak defense. It seems that the more we open to the world, the less we keep for ourselves. You go hanging out with friends, both of you wearing Nike shoes, walking along streets under new ad-stands of Coca-cola. After watching a movie named “Spider Man 2,” you go and eat hamburgers in McDonald’s, then buy a newly released record of Britney Spears. Hoops, are you in New York? No, you are in Wuhan, a city thousands miles away from United States, but you are doing exactly the same thing American teenagers are doing. Why? Because those western business giants push you to. They not only sell their products, but their way of life as well.

We are adapting to the world quickly, that’s good and necessary, but we should not throw our traditions and customs back. We need Valentine’s Day, but we also need Spring Festivals. We need identical modern skyscrapers, but we also need creative, unique folk houses. We need Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, but we also need our own folk art, like paper-cutting, needle-working, shadow-playing and hundreds of others. We are so fortunate to inherit such a splendid culture from our ancestors, we are highly responsible to keep it alive and hand it down to next generations.

We Chinese are so prestigious. We occupy one of the most beautiful lands on earth, and we possess one of the most brilliant cultures of all. And now, we have the fastest growing economy in the world. But the gods sell all things at a fair price. If we only seek for economic increases but ignore the environmental and cultural impacts, the growth in GDP just doesn’t worth the all the costs we actually pay. We are having the best of all times, but do not make it the worst of all times.

Thank you!

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