China’s Strengths, China’s Weaknesses

By August 25, 2008General, Trade

The best column we’ve seen in some time on China’s ability to challenge manufacturing in the United States appeared in today’s Washington Post, and it’s a sports column about the Olympics. Thomas Boswell writes, “They Made the Buses Run on Times.”

At 3 a.m. on most Olympic nights, a bus with a few reporters would return to the Beijing Tibet Hotel. A dozen security officials met us to make sure we had credentials. During the day, knee-high tape outside the hotel created lanes for entering and exiting — a reasonable way to keep things organized.

But in the middle of the night in a sleeping city, the tape was irrelevant. So, exhausted, we’d step over the tape and take the direct route to the front door. And every night the security people objected, insisting forcefully that we obey the stupid tape maze.

Finally, a Chinese solution was devised. Instead of stopping by the front door, our bus continued to the side of the hotel so, even though our walk was longer, the direct route now obeyed the tape.

Though we were the guests and they the hosts, we didn’t matter. Common sense was irrelevant. The tape — symbolic of a decision made by somebody somewhere in an unknowably complex and security-conscious control structure — was all that mattered. They had uniforms. We didn’t. That’s big everywhere. It’s huge here.

Rigidity, authoritarianism, unimaginative but must-be-obeyed rules — none of these serve the creative, innovative demands of an advanced industrial society.

But on other hand, you want to halt economic activity to clean up the air, you can just order it. The smog went away, as James Fallows reports. Granted, the weather cooperated, with good winds and timely rain.

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