I’ve received some concerned emails about the title of my last blog post. I’m happy to reassure you that I was not making any cryptic metaphors. I took a bath with some flesh-eating fishes last weekend. The sensation of having live animals eating the dead skin off your feet and arms is not something you get to experience every day. The only troubling thing, really, was how ineffective they are. I expected to leave the pool feeling raw and rejuvenated. I should have just bought a pumice stone.
I’m not usually the spa type, but it’s hard to turn down a 90-minute massage when it only costs five dollars. I’m continuously blown away by how cheap labor is in China. Economist Judith Banister estimates that the average factory laborer in China earns 64 cents an hour, compared to $21.11 in the US. But if microeconomics doesn’t interest you, here’s another example. I got a very good haircut my first weekend for 38 RMB, which is about $5.50. A fellow teacher got a thirty minute massage, wash and blow dry for 15RMB, or about $2.20. The off-brand shampoo I bought from the clearance aisle at Walmart (yes, China has had Wal-mart since 1997) cost 42 RMB/$6.15. In other words, China has so many people that skilled labor costs less than common chemicals. On clearance.
In 1979, in an effort to combat overpopulation, the Chinese government declared that couples (with some exceptions) could have no more than one child. Many called it barbaric, but almost everyone who has witnessed the overpopulation of China first-hand calls it necessary. Some parts of the policy, most prominently allegations of forced abortions, can be seen as a violation of fundamental human rights. Because couples who can only have one child prefer sons, who traditionally take care of their parents in old age, there are many reports of female infanticide. And there are chilling implications for the future. An aging population means one grandchild could feasibly be expected to support two parents and four grandparents in old age. Multiply by a quarter of the world’s population, and the stress on the European health care system right now looks as easy to solve as the crossword puzzle in Seventeen Magazine.
My friend Robert pointed out another danger: ‘We’re looking at a rising generation that is almost 75% male. That means at least half the Chinese population will not get a chance to marry – might not even lose their virginity. How excited are you for the world’s most populous nation to be led by a bunch of men with no yin to their yang?’
There are other things keeping me up at night, I told him. But it’s something to consider.