Last semester, I posted Yang Lan’s TED Talk on my facebook page so that the students in my classes, and anybody else who wanted to, could watch it. In her talk, Yang Lan explains – with many examples and much detail – how the young people of China are shaping themselves and transforming Chinese society through social media. She shows how they are pursuing their dreams and living their lives, and through this, she reveals a lot about their humanity. It’s a really fine talk.
For the past few years, I’ve shown the video of her talk to the students in the classes I teach at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. Many students from China attend our university, and over the years a few hundred of them have taken my classes, and they all say that life in China for their generation is just as Yang Lan describes it in her TED Talk.
You can watch and listen to her talk at either of these websites:
A “friend,” a person I hadn’t seen since college but had reconnected with through the convenience of facebook, responded to my posting of the talk with the following:
they are waging a cyber war against us as well as an economic one. all of the western world needs to wake up to this. america has become their dumping ground for cheap crappy products at the expense of the american worker. we need to stop buying their crap and bring jobs back to our people.
oh, i might have agreed with you in the past, but guess what i grew up.
This “friend” wrote his message exactly as it is here, and yes, it’s readable, and there’s no mistake that he’s angry about the Yang Lan’s talk, and angry with me for posting it.
In writing, “they are waging a cyber war as well as an economic one,” what he calls war clearly isn’t war. In war, armies line up against each other in battle, firing rifles, artillery, and other weapons in violent furies of mass-murder and mayhem, war planes fly over cities dropping bombs, destroying the infrastructure and murdering hundreds-of-thousands of civilians, not to mention the launching of guided missiles with the horror that surely can inflict. That’s war.
Manufacturing products, exporting and offering them for sale to customers who have the opportunity to first inspect them for quality and value before they buy them, isn’t war. It’s commerce. And since both China and the United States are members of the World Trade Organization (the WTO), they both must honor fair and mutually beneficial trade policies.
Also, Yang Lan’s TED Talk, informative and fun to watch as it is, is not war either, as this “friend” writes, “cyber” or any other kind. She wouldn’t be on TED, for one thing, if the figures she cited in the talk weren’t accurate of if they were misleading.
Writing that, “america has become their dumping ground for cheap crappy products at the expense of the american worker,” doesn’t reflect the quality of the products made in China or adequately explain why America has lost jobs in the last twenty years or so. All of us buy products that were made in China and we use these items every day, whether shoes, household appliances, lawn and garden equipment, clothing of all sorts, cameras, HD television sets, after-market products for our cars, and countless other things, and it’s clear to see they aren’t “cheap” or “crappy,” though they are much less expensive than they would be had they been made in America or Europe, which indicates the savvy of Chinese manufacturers, because contrary to what people may believe, skilled labor is no longer cheap in China.
Since thousands of Chinese companies have become good at making these products – right now, better than anybody else in the world can make them – we should look at this as an opportunity that frees American invention and industry to pursue newer technologies that will enable us to develop products that haven’t yet been conceived. And once these products are engineered, manufactured, and brought to market, they will be a boon to humanity, and people will wonder how they ever got along without them.
Americans have always been good at innovation. Given the talent America has, and the talent America can attract from abroad, given our splendid universities and superb research facilities (the best in the world, really, with no serious rivals), there’s no reason we shouldn’t be good at innovation right now. (In fact, we should be the best.)
Some examples of American innovation have been the development and implementation of interchangeable parts, the cotton gin, improvements in railroads, the invention and spread of telegraph and telephone systems, airplanes, the modern assembly line of Henry Ford, television, space exploration (going to the moon and coming back safely in 1969), and more recently, the internet – beginning in 1974 – which has become the main driver of the modern world. If America continues to be a nation of innovators, nobody can take jobs away from us, for we will create more jobs than we have people to fill them, just as we’ve done for the past two-hundred years.
Global exploration and trade have been going on for at least a thousand years, but now, the world is globalizing more rapidly and with much greater complexity than it ever has before. The promise of globalization today is that all countries have the potential to realize their opportunities to create value in the best ways they can, to the benefit of everybody.
That the United States is still the most advanced country in the world – by far – we have the best opportunities among all countries to invent the technology that will enhance life for all citizens of the world for the next couple of hundred years. That China and other countries can and do make significant contributions that benefit all of us is something that should please and not threaten us. After all, when the people of any country in the world manufacture and export products to the rest of us that enhance our lives because they have sold us those products, we should be grateful to them. They indeed are our friends.
Clearly, if America is loosing jobs, it’s our fault – and our fault alone.