Young Chinese have grown up in a time of epic change, as China has become more prosperous and powerful, more urban, more educated, more connected with the world through technology, travel, television and more. Chinese have also become more connected with each other, with some 800 million of them online. And despite an ongoing government crackdown on free speech, especially dissent, and even the discussion of Western ideas such as democracy, human rights and rule of law, attitudes and expectations are radically different among young Chinese than for many previous generations in China, in ways that could affect not just China, but the world, in this century.
Few generations in the world face a reality as dramatically different from all that have come before, as China's one-child generation. Since the one-child policy started in the early '80s, China has gone from aspiring developing country to powerful global player. It has shifted from being majority rural to majority urban, with per capita annual GDP rising from $300 to over $8,000 now. Young Chinese are more connected with the world than previous generations, thanks to the internet, smartphones, films, television and travel and study abroad, with some 330,000 studying in the United States alone. What does all this mean for the kind of power China might become in this century? Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with Alec Ash, long-time Beijing resident and author of "Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China," in this final episode as a coproduction with PRI's The World (but not the last of the podcast — details in the episode).
Roiled by two years of recession, the impeachment of one president and indictment of another, and its worst corruption scandal ever, Brazil is not exactly on the path predicted at the beginning of this century, when it was hailed as one of the globe's most promising rising economic powers. What happened? Inequalities and imbalances at home may have been papered over in boom times, but they didn't go away, and now Brazil's leaders face the challenge of finding a more sustainable and equitable way forward.
Brazil's economy was blazing along in the first decade of this century, turbo-charged by China's appetite for commodities. And there was the added boost of being named, by a Goldman Sachs exec, one of the rising economies to watch — the BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Then China's economic growth slowed, demand for commodities dropped and Brazil fell into its worst recession in a century, intensified by its worst corruption scandal ever. Brazil is beginning to emerge now, after two years of economic contraction and political turbulence. What are its prospects for again being seen as one of the great rising economic powers of this century? Host Mary Kay Magistad visited Rio de Janeiro to find out.
It wasn't so long ago that South Africa was seen as the natural leader of its continent, with bright economic prospects and a nascent, post-apartheid democracy. It developed strong trade ties with China, and, in 2010, was named one of the BRICS countries — with Brazil, Russia, India and China, the economies seen by some investors (the term was coined by a Goldman Sachs executive) to be the era's dynamic up-and-comers. But it hasn't quite turned out that way. This year, South Africa dipped into recession, with unemployment near 30 percent. What happened?
South Africans' hopes and expectations that their country might become a democratic and economic leader in Africa, helped by a strong relationship with China and membership in the BRICS group — a collection of big countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) expected to emerge as economic leaders in this century — haven't turned out quite as planned. South Africa dipped into recession this year, has unemployment near 30 percent, and a deeply unpopular and, many South Africans say, ineffective president, Jacob Zuma. What happened, what now, and what do South Africans make of the similarities they see between their president, and President Donald Trump? Host Mary Kay Magistad reports from South Africa.
At a time when a surprising number of young Americans say it's not important to them to live in a democracy, when honest journalists are accused of pedaling fake news, while purveyors of actual fake news are too often taken seriously, spare a thought for a man who thought democracy, freedom of speech and a just society are so worth fighting for, he spent four terms in Chinese prisons and work camps, and died in custody, of liver cancer. Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is being remembered for his tenacity and principled focus, and for believing in the power of peaceful protest and the possibility of change, in the face of authoritarian repression.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo spent much of his life advocating for basic political rights and democracy in China. For that, he spent years imprisoned by a government that feels threatened by such demands. He was in prison when he won the Nobel Prize in 2010, serving 11 years for "subversion of state power," and he was in prison as his liver cancer advanced. He was released, under guard, to a state hospital, and died there July 13, 2017. Chinese authorities have repeatedly called Liu Xiaobo a criminal. They have censored information about him at home and appear to hope the world will forget him. That's unlikely. When an individual is brave enough to stand up to an authoritarian power on behalf of justice and rights for many, that stands out. And at a time when authoritarian tendencies are creeping in, in unexpected places, because people aren't always vigilant about protecting the democracy and rights they have, Liu's work and focus stand as a reminder that these things are precious to those who don't have them, and that authoritarians, once in power, rarely volunteer to cede power to citizens, unless pressure builds, and they have no other choice.
China's rise has been fast, impressive, and a little intimidating to some. Howard French, author of "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power" argues that while this rate of growth won't go on forever, the next 10 to 20 years is a potentially dangerous time, as China's leaders consolidate their gains before growth slows, the population ages, and already thorny problems at home demand more attention. Building islands in the South China Sea, a new infrastructure investment bank, and an ambitious new Silk Road network of regional infrastructure may just be the start of a shift of the global center of gravity, back to what many Chinese see as its rightful, historic place.
China was one of the world's great powers for most of the past couple thousand years, and back on its heels only for a couple of centuries, as the Industrial Revolution took off and European colonialism expanded. Now, China's drawing on its past and moving with deliberation to reclaim what many Chinese feel is China's rightful place in the world. The challenges are many, but with slowing economic growth, an aging population and uncertain future challenges from within and outside China's borders, there's incentive to act now to cement China's place as a regional if not global leader. And that's what China's leaders are doing, drawing on their past for inspiration. Host Mary Kay Magistad talks with Howard French, author of "Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Path to Global Power."