Being an international technical sales and marketing type, done 40 years traversing this ball of dirt and reached some places where few roundeyes preceded. These are some ramblings to get y’all thinking. I know, I know, that entails hard work, but don’t shirk.
Since China is all the rage of late, thought I would give y’all some snippets of what the place is/was like from the time I started visiting and doing business there.
From 79 to 85 had already been in and out of Taiwan and HK many a time. When a first opportunity arose to show/sell our wares to the PRC in 1985, boss and I were invited to Beijing and the “International Educational Exhibition and Fair”. A very big foofaw was expected by all, I am sure.
Arrival at the main airport was quite a shock. Dingy, dusty grey concrete buildings with easily 15′ ceilings. lit by single incandescent bulbs dangling from wires straight out of the roof. One half asleep guard with an AK across his belly and little initiative to help a batch of foreigners trying to clear customs (there was no one, plane was late arriving from Kuala Lumpur). So first entry into the PRC, totally un inspected and unassisted. Cabs were at the exit, drivers sleeping crosswise on the front seat. Had to wake them to get transportation. Sole western hotel was the Holiday Inn half way between airport and downtown, no highway, all back roads from airport to hotel.
Peoples Exhibition Hall – Russia friendship era 1950’s grey dirty concrete, 3 by 3 meter space per exhibitor with 2 chairs and a rudimentary table. There were only 17 of us foreign country persons there. That was it.
The toilet was a separate building outside of the hall (thankfully) as we soon dubbed it the skunk farm, no sewer traps and the place had not been cleaned since built.
Pollution. This was fall, the temperature inversion trapped 100% of the city pollution, it was so bad that just breathing at the hall caused tears and burning nostrils and throat. Were it not for the Swiss group handing out giant cans of Ricola lozenges, we would have not been able to function or tolerate it for one day, much less 5.
Transportation. Some few “special taxis” assigned to us foreigners, everyone else on bicycles and a very few mopeds. Cars almost none existent unless it was a government functionary. Some buses and plenty of 1940 vintage Studebaker trucks, looked like American tooling other than the embossed Chinese characters on the side of the engine cowl.
Jump forward to 1992, new company, different line of business, now going to the hinterlands of China seeking special castings and other metal parts. This is a scant 7 years from first visit.
Beijing – now main highway
Got to traverse China’s oil fields getting from A to B, miles of devastation, derricks, pumps and literally pools of crude oil all over the ground, place looked like Dante’s vision of hell. Poverty in the north is astounding, mud huts with piles of corn stalks on the roof, both for insulation and to burn for heat. Cages full of huskies packed in so they can barely move, those were the only source of meat for the locals. Chickens and ducks don’t do well at 30 to 40 below zero.
Jump forward to 1998, another 6 years on, the dusty dull towns and cities we traversed in 92 are now lit up in neon, paved roads where it was dirt, construction of apartments going 24/7 and the old traditional Chinese walled in hovel towns being leveled for new construction, not to mention the main airport now looks first world and is well lit and far better managed. Of course everyone in those hovels which may have been in the family for 1000 years, so sorry, ya gotta leave and here are the keys to a nondescript concrete box with 3 rooms and one toilet.
The “system”. China operates on a top down command economy and every unit of humanity is controlled in this way. Local villages always have a political commissar that represents the local party. Above is the regional equivalent and above that the state level, above which is the central party in Beijing. Nothing gets done without approval all the way up then back down the chain of command. Even “private” companies have to pay a cut to each step of the chain. One learns real fast that everyone “knows someone’ who can help you with any problem you might encounter. The unspoken rule is that every person “assisting” expects to get some small compensation from your business , ergo it pays to go to the top and skip all the middle and lower tiers, otherwise there is no way to obtain permission or negotiate a good deal as an outside company.
The PLA. From the start, it was always apparent that the PLA is 80% social security net for the party loyalists, they get fed, housed and clothed but are used for menial work everywhere you looked. Originally most were ill equipped and had very poor appearance and demeanor. Towards the end in late 90’s it was becoming visible that a move was being made to improve the actual capability of troops, especially those around high tech facilities.
China has never been able to match even the Soviet/Russia level of know-how to make jet engines and other precision high tech, some of what I saw at certain factories would make any U.S. engineer run away screaming, but it is what it is.
Thanks to BJ Clinton and Loral, the PRC were given a huge boost in the area of rocketry and controls. IMHO a lot of folks should have been tried for treason over that debacle. And the continuing cooperation by the likes of Boeing with their airline sector just seems to be a real bad decision all round.
And in case you are wondering, one does have to ask what the U.S. CDC was doing funding virus research in Wuhan in cooperation with members of the PLA, some of whom were actually trained here in the U.S. with the latest and greatest technology at our institutions of higher learning. A lot of folks are making a lot of $$$ off China and the end result is most definitely not in our long term interest as a nation.
Chew on it all and consider well what we do going forward ’cause where we are currently heading is not a healthy destination.