Elephant and the Dragon.

The Elephant and the Dragon (2008)

-Robyn Meredith

This book was one that I liked reading and didn’t like reading. It had ideas and explanations that were new to me and also, sections that seemed lengthy and redundant. I would really get in to a chapter and find 4 pages later that she was describing the same thing in with different props and characters.

The book is a dichotomy between India and China. It’s a compare and contrast piece that gives the reader a much expanded look in to the history, cultures and workings of these countries. It is generally transitioned chapter to chapter with alternating main topics and the respective country being talked about.

The history of China and the oppressive reign of Mao basically collapsed all point of life in China. Freedoms completely eroded, properties divided by communal collectives, and separation from the outside world. The people were starved, ruined, children unschooled. They became animals of agrarian labor, which had to give up most if not all of their bounty to the govt.. all in the name of keeping Mao happy and alluding to a successful empire. Since all people die, change came gradually after his death, but the people were so brainwashed and numb, they had no spirit left. By chance a village had decided against the ways of ‘The Man’ and started a slow revolution. Eventually their leader Xiaoping decided to investigate neighboring countries and basically copied what they had done to prosper with his own well meditated twist. Make the people think and fear Communist China, while economically sell out to the Corporatocracy. He enticed, attracted and basically begged big business to come in to China.

Freedom still did not exist. Thousands of people kicked out of their villages in order to lay down infrastructure and let factories come in. he was smart by throwing the people of China a bone here and there. Little by little the people got more money, but barely enough. He knew that there was a line that would be just enough to keep revolution chances minimal. When revolts sprung up, China became Communist again and killed them. People are ‘better off’ there now, but barely. To his credit, he did insist that companies coming in share their production and technology secrets. So in a nutshell, China gets trade secrets and doesn’t have to worry about their own R&D. Kind of scary.

India has more freedoms, but still has a culture of not trusting globalization or big business thanks to the UK. Generations are fed Ghandi’s teachings and that’s jus the way it is. Slowly, the country realizes they can’t go on like this forever and starts to open it’s doors to the world. The problem?  India doesn’t quite have the heartless authoritarian way of beating it’s people down. They do it to themselves in a lot of ways through their customs and culture of misogyny and other oppressive traditions. This is not to mention their accepted system of bribery and ridiculous licenses (Much like the video we watched) When they finally decide to get serious, they run in to the hurdle of infrastructure. It doesn’t exist. Until massive amounts of money are spent to build roads, sewage, water sanitation, etc….they just can’t reach potential.

Ms. Meredith (U of M grad) compares the types of work between the two. China is more blue collar uneducated type of work where as India is the typical ‘call center’ or ‘back office’ work. She very thoroughly describes the difference in the boom time of America vs. India and China’s. Where Henry Ford had set up an ‘Assembly Line’ where multiple different workers each had a different specialized part of the process housed in one factory, the way globalization works now is like a ‘disassembly line’ or ‘SUPPLY CHAIN’ where a product travels to many different countries based on the cheapest place to assemble a specific part. This SUPPLY CHAIN drives down costs and speeds up time to get product to market.

The author also attempts to compare the rise of these economies to the US, but it always seems to fall back on a few main points. The US may havelost jobs, but hope is not gone (this is over and over through the book). At the end it culminates to the fact that the US needs to invent new jobs and most of our problems stem from our public education and the fact that we overspend. Basically she thinks if our public education had more money, we’d be okay and if people would stop filling their garages with junk and buying big houses that we could live more modestly and not think we have the right to make as much money as we do. I found this odd since she explains how in India, people that make 40k a year live like kings, with housekeepers and private drivers.I thought sending work overseas was supposed to make things cheaper for us? She explained how Indians only spend 5 dollars a month on cell phones. 5 dollars!!! It sounds like we are the ones be exploited.

It was nice that the author brought up how devastating the rise in economies in these countries are to the environment. Corporations get to go in for almost nothing, set up shop and use up natural resources like it’s going out of style, exploit and use the people for the corporations bidding and then pollute the hell out of the environment to boot. SUSTAINABLE?

All in all, it was readable and had great anecdotes and history blurbs. It was a nice soft read, but it left me wanting more, especially with solutions for us in the US.


2 thoughts on “Elephant and the Dragon.

  1. Audrey Pittel

    I found it interesting that you commented on wanting more from the book, as far as solutions for the U.S. go. I felt that way as well when I was reading my first book that even had a section entitled “How to Change the World”. You brought up things from your book that were also discussed in mine: an example being, living more modestly. I find it interesting that we both weren’t satisfied with the solutions provided. I think a portion of that has to do with the fact that the problem is so big anything we can personally do seems small. One of my book’s suggestions was to eliminate “retail therapy” from your life. With the materialistic nature of our society I feel like the products are going to get produced regardless of personal action. If a large group of people decided to make this change it would have more of an impact, but just one person would be ignored. Perhaps if that suggestion was made on its own it would have made more of a difference (because all of the readers of the book would focus on it), but it was part of a list of things that could be done.

  2. Jennifer Pawlowski

    It seems like many of the books reviewed left the readers wanting more of a solution to the problems that we are facing in the economy. We’re just not quite getting it. I do believe that the US could obviously benefit from spending more where it counts but spending less overall and agree with you that the author’s take on this seems strange when comparing to India where people have drivers, etc.

Leave a Reply