Of Progress and Pleasure

abacus computerToday, an old business friend sent me an e-mail from China. He wanted to alert me that he and his wife had just published a combined memoir, travel guide and compendium on Shenzhen, one of China’s four major cities and its first Special Economic Zone. Ted Rule (a regular contributor to Quadrant on matters Chinese and other topics) and his wife, Karen, have been watching Shenzhen grow from a sleepy village amid the rice paddies to a throbbing city of 14 million people in forty years. They have now documented every aspect of it – its history, language, industry, resorts, culture, as well as the opportunities for shopping and eating, plus a step-by step guide for intending visitors.

Five minutes after opening his e-mail, with its link to the Amazon Kindle listing, I had charged it to my account with one click, and was reading the book on my Samsung Note phone/tablet.

I don’t know which is the more staggering, the most difficult to comprehend – the transformation of raw Chinese peasant countryside to a thriving industrial city set in tropical gardens, or the development of modern communications.  I wrote back to Ted making the comparison.

When I was born, my father, a PMG technician, was installing plug-board telephone exchanges in Queensland country towns. By the time I was five, he was working on Brisbane’s first automatic exchange, which boasted rotary electro-mechanical relays that eliminated the telephonist. What would he have thought of the personal computer, the internet, online shopping and instant delivery of libraries?

What conclusions are we to draw from the Chinese example as we simultaneously take for granted the tools that the microchip, the LED screen, and wireless telephony have given us?  Early adopters of innovation, yes we are, and there can be no denying the pleasure and convenience they have brought to modern lives. But progress?  Australia has built the most efficient mining industry in the world in those same last forty years, but what else?

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist for 26 years

2 thoughts on “Of Progress and Pleasure

  • en passant says:

    “Australia has built the most efficient mining industry in the world in those same last forty years, but what else?” Mosques and ‘no-go’ zones, disharmony, National Parks, carbon sequestration holes in the ground, a blood-sucking welfare state we cannot afford, dependence on the nanny state, a drug culture second to none, geothermal power plants, football grounds and the cream on the cake: the seeds of our cultural destruction. What a Sorry Day!

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    I’m sure Ted Rule won’t mind my stimulating thought and discussion by posting this comment from his email to me:

    The sad thing is that people in the west have not the slightest idea of what is going on in China. We get cliché after cliché, sometimes from people who are actually living there (a favorite one is weird Chinese behaviour). A lot of it comes from the press correspondents – to my mind the Chinese government is to blame for this. Correspondents are the domain of the Ministry of Propaganda, one of the governmental functions which, in the post Cultural Revolution settlement, went to the left of the party. And they harass correspondents to an extent which can only be seen as ridiculously counter-productive. Meanwhile foreigners who aren’t correspondents revel in the sort of freedom from petty government interference that they can only dream of in the West. An example. I bought a flat and proceeded to gut and rebuild it. It all seemed too easy. At a certain stage I asked whether I’d need approvals for this sort of stuff. A sucking of teeth was the response. Yes, you will need an approval. How long will it take? A further sucking of teeth. This afternoon!

    A lot of it is just good old racism. They just aren’t intellectually capable of the difficult stuff. Have a look at what I wrote in the section on the high-tech zone. I was looking at a foreigner blog yesterday: one of his topics was the lack of creativity amongst the Chinese, the sort of charge which is also levelled against the Japanese. This is just such total garbage as to defy rebuttal. You don’t have to have experienced the uniform dull greyness of Stalinism to appreciate the absolute explosion of creativity that replaced it. A petty example: just across the road from where I lived there is an underground mall on the underground railway. There are hundreds of small businesses, shops selling clothes, snacks, fast food, the lot. Every one of these has its own business identity involving quite complex shop design and fit out and some of them are really beautiful. None of these people copied from anybody. They created the whole lot themselves. How do the deniers explain that?

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