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Breaking Out the Good China, Part 2

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The author takes us on a guided tour of an economic miracle.

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Editor's Note: This is part 2 in a multi-part series. Part 1 can be found here.

An article in the New York Times Business Section on July 17, 2009 by David Barboza observed that China's National Bureau of Statistics reported that China's economy had grown by 7.9% in the second quarter of 2009. Mr. Barboza opined that China was likely to meet its 8% full-year 2009 growth target. For 2008 the reported growth rate was 6.1%, down from 13% in 2007. Analysts were reported to have concluded that China's economy has "turned a corner." This "rebound" was said to be attributed to an economic stimulus package and aggressive lending by banks.

Whatever the cause of this extraordinary growth (and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Mr. Barboza's reporting), the last 2 figures concern periods in which the economies of most countries have not only failed to grow, but have contracted. The question in the US, for example, is whether the economy will show any growth at all, even into 2010.

Even if the figures reported by the Chinese government may be somewhat overstated (Mr. Barboza expressed mild reservation in this regard), there can be no doubt to the neutral observer who makes the effort to see for him/herself what's occurring: The Chinese economy is on the march. And while some periods may show more growth than others -- and embedded bubbles may exist in various sectors -- this growth isn't a short-lived phenomenon. One can feel the pulse of something very dynamic happening in China.

Let's start with Beijing. Although the city had been spruced up for the 2008 Summer Olympics, I didn't see anything on the TV coverage that prepared me for the electric feeling one gets in this major world capital. Yes -- it has Tiananmen Square with Mao's mausoleum, and the Great Hall of the People. It also has the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven. But with due respect for the reverence of the Chinese people for the ancient and more recent past -- up to and including the 2008 Olympic structures, of which the WaterCube and the "Birds Nest" stadium are the most well-known --those are all tourist attractions.

Although there still are many traditional areas of Beijing (the Houtangs) or neighborhood side streets, the city has extremely modern business districts with new super-high rise buildings (both business and residential) either recently completed or in various stages of construction. In fact, it's said that the national bird of China is the construction crane.

Moreover, the work proceeds at a feverish pitch, all through the night and on weekends. There's nothing like it here in the States. Compared to Beijing, Washington DC is a mere outpost. New cultural buildings are being added. For example, the "Duck Egg" is a super modern concert hall just off Tiananmen square that dazzles in the elegance of its design.

These phenomena aren't limited to Beijing, but are ongoing in Xi'an; consider its ultra-modern Technology Development Center -- not a building, but a very large part of the city – and its 40 universities. Chongging, Yichang, Wuhan (cities we sailed by along the Yangtze), Shanghai, and, I'm certain, in other major Chinese cities that were hardly on the map 10 years ago. As one drives through the central district of Chongging (perhaps larger than all of Manhattan), all one can do is look up and stare.
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