China: beautiful, historical — and capitalist. As the country drenches itself in that exquisite essence, known as Capitalism, I wonder if it’s really doing it enough good

 

It’s my first visit to China. A country, a continent swathed in history, bathed in culture and smothered by its industrial revolution leaving cities like Beijing and Nanjing, clothed in smog. Last Wednesday Shout Out UK and CapX hosted an event in Committee Room Nine of the Houses of Parliament with the purpose to debate, ‘The Case for Capitalism. Four speakers: two argued the case for a fairer society based on left-leaning values while the other speakers countered this with support for Capitalism, a system taken up in almost all countries, even China, a country that maintains strong leftist values even if the streets contradict this view.

The sun, forever out of focus, is testament to how strong China has grown economically. The cities burst with business, the vehicles on the road become ever more exotic and the buildings, such as the Zifeng Tower in Nanjing, climb ever higher. China ironically therefore, is a perfect argument for Capitalism as a mode of growth and method of advancing a nation. Over the past fifteen to twenty years a middle class in China has been developing and growing as each year progresses. More people can afford to buy high class items and travel to foreign destinations far in the West. There are also a growing number of Chinese billionaires. We see this on the streets of London and in the papers we read almost each month detailing of Chinese billionaires funding building projects in Central London; flats that will never be occupied standing like bottles of wine that will never be drunk. China then, is where Capitalism is thriving like petrol on a bonfire, burning fiercely.

On the other hand is it also a dragon turning against its tamer? Looking to the sky, the blurred sun is a constant reminder of the price of progress. The smog, at its worst in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing, is breathed in by the millions who live in and visit the country. It enters the body and in the long run, causes irreparable damage to the lungs, throat and heart. Most notably, it is the children who become victim to the pollution, some of whom have never seen the sun clear in the sky. Every day, the local population breathes in toxic fumes from the smog and the multitude of vehicles, which have a catastrophic effect on the average life expectancy. There are environmental policies operating at the factories but they are nowhere near enough to stop the diseases being caused by the smog, or indeed the dragon from biting back.

Back at the Case for Capitalism debate Capitalism and the environment were raised. Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP, was asked how Capitalism helps endangered species. Using Alaska as an example he explained that thanks to the capitalist system, locals could now afford to shoot at the endangered animals with cameras rather than guns. Thinking this rather odd, considering the comparative price of both, I questioned him as to whether this was an appropriate example and whether he would change it, but he  disagreed with the comment. However in hindsight, his point had some ground. In the twenty-first century there is a greater awareness of endangered species, there is a greater desire to protect those which still remain. As a result research is being funded, not only to find these animals but also to keep track of them and keep them safe. A capitalism system, where the individual can thrive, allows this research to happen. It’s hard to see a way in which a Communist system for example, would allow the same luxuries.

Regrettably, Capitalism doesn’t stop all that is endangered from being eradicated. In China again the Capitalist dragon can be seen at tourist spots. Visiting the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, (the Republic of China’s first President) the path through the woods and up the steps towards the path to the mausoleum is caked with all the outlets you would expect from a high  street. Yes, you walk along a path winding through and around trees up Purple Mountain but not without seeing at least seven stalls selling electrical goods, costing at least a day’s wages. You come to the stone marking the area as one of, ‘China’s National Parks’, but not without going to the KFC first or the Coffee Shack for a drink and a bite to eat.

The vast parks, the endless skies and beautiful pagodas are the classical images of China. It’s these images, these scenes of serenity that, aside from the vast development, most entice us to travel for twenty-four hours and suffer disorientating jet lag. China’s Capitalism is attacking the scenes that we traditionally associated China with until a few years ago. Arriving we know where the pagodas are, we know where the endlessly green parks and mausoleums are; we just can’t see them behind a wall of smog. The dragon has taken a limb, the trainer is feebly fighting back but has barely noticed that our serpent is now aiming for the head.