The Developing

I started my existence in China in Hangzhou, a very pleasant city as Chinese cities go. Now I live in Shanghai, China’s model modern city and an economic monster. I think it’s good to keep in mind that these cities are not representative of China as a whole. It’s good to keep in mind that China is still a developing nation. It can be remarkably easy to forget… that “developing” means a whole lot more than the public’s stubborn spitting habit. Pictures can be a good reminder.

Pictures of Zhuzhou, Hunan, China. Some of it looks very familiar. Some of it, thankfully, does not.

Don’t miss the comparison of Zhuzhou (China), Kochi (Japan), and Piscataway, New Jersey (USA). This is pretty old stuff, but I thought I’d post it now anyway.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. bingfeng Says: March 21, 2005 at 8:27 pm

    the comparison is very interesting and guess what, although i haven’t lived in japan, i could have most of the quesitons correctly answered

  2. john,

    i think it would be nice to put a background music to your site. i made one in my blog …

  3. Hey- just came across your journal recently:

    I’m living in Shanghai (student at Fudan, was at Huashida last semester) and it’s amazing how different pretty much every other part of China can be. Even big cities like Nanjing. Sometimes I can’t believe how little spoken Chinese people get around with (or how many people try to speak English with me) and how much harder it is to do that other places in this country.

    Also, some of your students have awesome English names.

  4. bingfeng,

    Sorry, there will never be background music for this blog. Ever.

  5. LOL, John. For those that want music in the background, it’s called Winamp and it’s called your music collection. If you want some music pointers, try John’s music page.

    I really love the photos of Zhuzhou, Hunan, China — that side of developing China needs to exist in order for the “experience” that all of us rave/rant about to fulfill itself.

  6. Well, since you’re not going to have background music, how about changing the snowflakes to cherry blossoms.

  7. Kikko Man Says: March 22, 2005 at 7:59 am

    The most interesting comparison I’ve ever heard between present day China and some other time or place was from two older japanese dudes in my Mandarin class back in the day in Tianjin… they said China is just like Japan was in the 50’s. They said it was almost nostalgic how similar it is.

  8. The observations on Zhuzhou are funny and CORRECT!

  9. Hey John, thanks for the link.

    That bit about China being like 50s Japan seems true. If so, now is the time to buy real estate in China… or to do just about anything there really. Current Japan is amazing in some ways. Bt it’s so restricted, while China (for foreigners at least) is way more relaxed than even the US.

  10. Fascinating comparison.

    A friend of mine said street sanitary conditions in Calcutta, India are 10~100 times worse than anytown China but he might be comparing with Shanghai, or maybe he’d say 100x worse than Shanghai and 10x than Zhuzhou.

  11. I have never been to kochi nor to Zhuzhou, but from your sparse economic data my first impression was how cheap Kochi appeared and how expensive Zhuzhou is. A few years ago I was in a city in Anhui and was at a restaurant with some friends. One of the cousins of my friend happened to be a senior party member there. The restaurant did not not how much to charge us (I being the foreigner). I was picking up the tab. The restaurant made a suggestion, I doubled it, and it was still nothing (compared to what one would have to pay in Shanghai).

    I find it amusing how those with very little knowledge of economics use the terms “developing”, etc. This includes those fellows who have majored in neoclassical economics, etc. (let me declare now that I am a follower of the Austrian school, Von Mises, Hayek, et al). I guess you can say that China is 1/3 developed, 1/3 developing, and 1/3 undeveloped. These terms can be applied anywhere, even in the United States.

  12. I find it amusing how those with very little knowledge of mathematics use fractions.

    1/3 developed + 1/3 developing + 1/3 undeveloped = (on average) developing.

    Oh, and the year 2000 was not technically the start of the new millenium, right? So what?

  13. if you put music or cherry blossoms on this site, i will either cry or stop visiting. down with japan. and music (on sites).


  14. Rachel,

    Have no fear, cherry blossoms clash with my sense of design for this page.

    But Japan is awesome.

  15. Gauss, very interesting. But the average of the 1/3’s is 1/3. It is difficult to know whether that 1/3, the average of the 1/3s is the 1/3=devoloped, or the 1/3=developing, or the 1/3=undeveloped. The point is that China is a large country with many different economic aspects. To characterize China as developing is not accurrate, just a describing it as developed is also not accurate. If one looks looks at the total of goods and services produced, then China would be considered the second largest economy in the world, after the United States. In those terms it is difficult to describe China as developing.

  16. Da Xiangchang Says: March 24, 2005 at 8:52 am

    Well, “developed” and “developing” both have its problems, but I like them a lot more than the insulting “third world” stuff. I still can’t understand a lot, though. For example, The Economist magazine puts Spain in the “developed” list, and South Korea in the “developing” column. But dude, South Korea is FAR more developed than Spain is, right?!! What companies do the Spaniards have that are well-known?! South Korea at least has Hyundai, Daewoo, Samsung, LG, etc. Spain only has artists. Almodovar, Penelope Cruz . . .

    Still, I would put China in the developing column for sure. Yeah, the economy ain’t so small, but when you have to divide up among 1.3 billion, the average person is dirt-poor and struggling. Even in cities like Shanghai, if you go outside glitzy downtown, you see impossible living standards–guys living in closet-sized attics, people pissing inside McDonald’s, etc. Like what the @&*%&$&$?!

    Yet . . . here’s the funny thing. Even if the you get the per-capita incomes right, you still don’t get a sense of how well people live. Aren’t Western-European per-capita GDPs comparable to the US’s? But, dude, I’ve been to Western Europe, and their standard of living is FAAARRRR lower than America’s. Slightly lower salaries + products twice as expensive = a crappier standard of living. That’s the European miracle, I tell ya!

  17. Da Xiangchang Says: March 24, 2005 at 9:49 am

    They also forgot the most important criterion for male TEFL teachers:


    Piscataway, New Jersey — Very Difficult.

    Kochi, Japan — Relatively difficult.

    Zhuzhou, China — Relatively easy.

    I’ll add a fourth city:

    Chiang Mai, Thailand — As easy as getting a Coca Cola from the local 7-Eleven.

  18. Da Xiangchang, I also have problems with the terms “developing, etc.”. They were created by Political Scientists to describe the economic status of various parts of the world-but they are not used with any consistency or with any real definition of meaning. As far as finding boat loads of dirt poor people in Shanghai, etc., you can find large numbers in Detroit, Philadephia, Miama, Houston, even Oakland (California). I do not believe that is a criteria one way or the other. Also, people pissing against the walls, etc. is really social behavior, not economic. I saw all sorts of people doing that in New Jersey when I lived there (that was Southern Jersey, and when we arrived there it looked like pass as “third world”. If you look back at American history, say around 1910, there were maybe something like 40% of the people involved in economic activity that produced 1% of the GDP. So that is not much wealth to go around for that 40% of the people (and the USA would usually be considered developed by 1910). China today has about 67% of the people involved in activities that produce maybe 1% of the wealth. That is where your non development is. The country itself is very wealthy. As far as people living and acting in ways that are not copnsistent with our own thoughts, I am not sure that really counts as being undeveloped. I recall my papa telling me that when he was still young, but already married, and bought his first house with running water (for something like $5,000), his dad told him, “Son, it is only a house, why spend so much money on it.” My grandpa thought that a pounded dirt floor, adobe walls, and a river nearby so the women folk would not have to go so far to do the washing was all that was necessary.

  19. JFS,

    Let me get the economics straight. Your dad paid $5,000 for the house and the running water came with it, right?

    Today for $5,000, you can hardly buy running water, that is, get a well converted to public running water in the States. Now that’s development.

  20. You are correct Gin. The increase costs in the United States, indeed, for the entire world, is due to governmental monetary inflationary policies.

  21. Captain Electron Says: May 23, 2005 at 1:08 am

    The comparison between Japan of the 1950s and China of today gives great pause for thought. Japan of the 1950s had abandoned aggressive behaviors towards other nations and was constituted on strong fundamentals of individual human rights. When China becomes the world’s dominant economy in a few short years, its power might be flexed by tyrants in Beijing. The world should consider this now.

    It is in the interest of the World’s dominant superpower of today, the United States, to prepare for #2 status, and to again prepare to deal with empowered despots. Perhaps a dramatic strengthening of the institution of the United Nations now, is one tool that is available to curtail the future bullying the world could experience from China.

    If China takes a more positive path of individual liberty, then the growth of China’s economy will help enormously to improve the human condition everywhere. The new inventions and ideas that will flow from a liberated China will be of remarkable benefit to us all.

  22. How’s this for developing/developed: 40% of the world’s peasants (read: below the UN definition of poverty at $2 U.S.D per person per day or less), feeding 20% of the world’s population on 7% of its arable land. China has 40% of the world’s poor.

    I’m sure there are multiple interpretations of this, and I’m interested in hearing them, but to me this says more or less that there is a developed China, and a more or less undeveloped China. The developed China continues to develop – increasing incomes of legitimate urban citizens by 50% in the past 10 years or so, while the rural incomes, already far less than the rural, got a 25 to 30% increase (pretty good nonetheless, but still below the poverty line set by the U.N. Before the average peasant was in the “abject poverty” catagory, but they’ve moved up to the “poverty” catagory).

    Oh, Da Xiangchang – I agree that the European standards of living are a lot lower, but that’s because they fork over 40% + of their earnings to the government for free healthcare and other socialist stuff – and so the actual disposable incomes are lower than the U.S., and this is certainly reflected in the perceived standard of living, if you take it to be based on ability to buy “stuff”, although one might argue that the overall standard of living is brought up by giving healthcare to everyone, vs. the U.S. where we have something like 20% of our people without health insurance. Some people prefer the new T.V. though.

    China, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to provide crap-all to their poor. New T.V.s or health insurance. And therefore I say it is undeveloped, or developing at best. You aren’t a truly developed nation until you can bribe your poor from revolt with fast food and new household appliances. This sounds bitter and sarcastic but actually I think it’s a pretty good threshold, since it presupposes a certain level of disposable income and a certain level of currency purchasing power.

    I would also put running water up in the list of prerequisites for developed nation. Basic infrastructure. You can’t even flush toilet paper in Beijing. sometimes you can’t even flush your stool. Laduzi is actually just a government plot to prevent them from having to rebuild the sewer system! “You’re not solid, so we don’t have to worry.” You thought it was microbes in the food and water that you weren’t used to; actually it’s just that they put exlax in the water, which isn’t affected by the boiling, in order to keep the human waste running through its antiquated sewer as fast as it runs through you.

    By this standard, the U.K. wasn’t developed after WWII until about 1980, because just about everyone had outhouses. But I stand by my requirements. A certain level of disposable income, demonstrated by the ability to buy basic household infrastructure, and running water. I think the Chinese had the ´ó°Ë back in the day. Maybe it’s similar.

  23. (in shanghai metro and in english) “I want to make love again” – m

    (in shanghai metro and in english) “I want to make love again” – m

  24. dfgdfg343243243 Says: November 26, 2005 at 7:16 am

    it is not fair when people say Senegal is an economic failiure as it is not as rich as south korea, people always say south korea was as wealthy as zambia in 1950, and is richer now, well that ,eans, north korea was toop, and it had a typical communist sytem, and is far richer than that dictaoral land now, i say that surely and north and south korea were succeses as they got loads of aidf, off the ussr and china, and the su and japan, to say look communism, id best or capitalism, is best, as look at malwai, and swaziland, and nepal, none of them, are succeses, or bhutan,. all capita;list socities, and north korea is richer than china, but did not have a superior system it just got loads of aid, like south korea, and sdtability by promisses of protection by foreign regimes, and south korea was allowed to sell ships to europe and japan, when if it had been a social democracy or leftist state ships from there would juist have been banned and cars, ity does not proove anything except that cia nucleat anti-kyoto people own caertles trhat run tehw orld

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