China’s imminent collapse: what’s the unasked question?

I’m currently in a place called Guang Han City because tomorrow my wife and I will visit San Xing Dui Museum, most people outside of China have never heard of this but that’s ok it’s a museum dedicated to a 5,000-year-old community unearthed just 40 years ago. This morning, we were in a place called Dujiangyan, another place where most people will scratch their heads and wonder. People who know China however, know it’s the birthplace of Daoism. The two places are both in Sichuan Province, about 70 kilometres apart and it took one hour and three minutes to travel between them using freeways and very good roads.

This road in central Gansu, 2019, is100km from the nearest city is a great example of recent infrastructure, it was a dirt track in 2014

I’m not an academic, a diplomat, a journalist or even an expert. I don’t study China or Chinese, I happen to live in China and people who know me know that I like it. Not being an academic means, I’ve never qualitatively or quantitatively studied what it’s like to live in China but, what I do know is that the “experts” have an even more difficult time than I do understanding this country and it’s their lack of knowledge, lack of experience and, the most important thing of all, lack of curiosity about the “real” China that draws them to some baffling conclusions.

For example, during the last 20 years, it’s impossible to count how many times China has been predicted to fail. During the same period of time, we’ve read articles and seen news reports of China’s expansion and military escalation, yet there’s still no expansion. China trades with many countries but has never expanded its military[1] into, or attempted to influence, the countries it calls trading partners. So, the “expert’s” conclusions seem to fall a long way short of the mark when it comes to accuracy and yet they continue to predict and the Western world, or at least their media, continues to believe they might one day be right — they won’t and there’s a very good reason: they never thought to ask.

Unlike many people who visit China on holiday and go to Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an or Hong Kong for a few weeks of “China experience” and unlike some academics who voraciously study books or even those who visit and conduct research, usually whilst attending seminars and from the comfort of a campus or the surrounding bars and restaurants, I actually live here, and have done for over 17 years but, unlike many other foreigners who live here, I don’t live in a western enclave, I rarely eat in western restaurants or frequent western bars. I live in a small city of “only” 4 million people and in that city, I live inside the gates of a public park, to get to my apartment, you park your car, walk 120 metres along a lane, then you turn and walk 70 metres along an alley and then turn again and walk 30 metres up a footpath, the last building is where we live, on the second floor of a three-storey building. There are no cars within 100 metres and only a pedestrian, motorbike or a bicycle can actually reach my apartment building. This is what it’s like to really live in China.

Even in Rural areas such as Long Sheng County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Zone houses are new, good contition and have water power and WiFi

In 2014, just for fun, I started to travel around China by bicycle; so far, I’ve pedaled about 30,000 kilometres, from the border of Macao to the Border of Kazakhstan, from Heilongjiang in the north to Guangdong in the South, from Urumqi in the Northwest to Zhongshan in the Southeast and recently 6 weeks on a touring holiday in Western Guangdong and the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. I’ve also worked extended periods as a trainer or consultant in Beijing, Harbin (Heilongjiang) and Hohhot (Inner Mongolia). And, as an employee of the British Council during 2016 and 2017, I visited no less than 20 different cities, each of them multiple times. It’s easier to list the provinces I haven’t been to (Tibet, Guizhou, Yunnan, Qinghai and Taiwan), than it is to list the provinces I have been to. I’ve been to three of the four municipalities (not Tianjin) as well as both of the SARs, many times. Everywhere I go, I’ve asked a question: how are you doing these days? Invariably, the answer is something like: “better than it used to be”. And this, is how I know how people in China feel.

Taken in Jiangsu in 2018, a similar scene in 2005 would have been the shepherd/goatherder walking along a dirt track to market

In rural China, apart from the well documented poverty alleviation scheme where nearly 100 million were lifted out of poverty, we see new houses everywhere, usually built in the local styles. There are new clinics and brand new schools in almost every village and new, (mostly) concrete, roads into and out of every village as well as bus services running throughout the region so that people can get in and out. We also see express delivery outlets in every single place where there are people so that they can not only receive deliveries of goods they ordered, they can send products they’ve made or grown to the wider world. We can also notice a very important fact, 4G, 5G and WiFi is abundant, there is only one place I’ve been to in China where I couldn’t get a signal, but even then, I walked 30 metres and was able to post my blog from the middle of the Taklamakan desert.

The lifeblood of the rural regions, express deliveries come in and despatches go out several times a day, fresh food is delivered anywhere in China within 24-36 hours
In the last 10 years in China, this is the only place I slept a night where my phone wouldn’t connect, but the position I took the photo from in 2019, the phone worked fine
Guangxi 2021, every village has a road straight in for deliveries and pickups — there’s a saying in China, if you want to be rich, build a road first
Main road between towns in Guangxi 2015 — better now!

In cities we see hospitals extended, every day seems to bring another department or an extension to an existing one, so much so, I can’t keep up with my local hospital which has gone from a small building in a busy street to encompassing the entire city block and more. Each and every university is bigger than it was when I first saw it and, in my own city, two new universities and a vocational college have been built since I arrived in 2004.

Added to this, there’s a High-speed train line with two stations in the city, I can travel to almost anywhere in China within 24 hours — bear in mind this is a small city and China is bigger than the United States, imagine being able to travel by train from Florida Keys to Seattle in 24 hours, or from Newcastle Upon Tyne to Istanbul. We also have, just an hour away, a bridge to Hong Kong and, a brand-new ferry port so we can come and go internationally through there or just 70 minutes by road to Guangzhou where there’s a 100 million passenger per annum airport too.

In 2014 this road was a gravel track, it’s the G312 from Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan, in 2019 travelling through Gansu, into Xinjiang, this is what we found

New legislation which the Western media claim will destroy this industry or that industry, in fact destroys only one thing, the profitability of the industry for a handful of people. New data-privacy laws prevent IT and social media organisations from harvesting and profiting from private information. New education laws prevent conglomerate corporations from benefiting financially from the stresses of students and the anxieties of parents. New laws relating to working hours and “gig” contracts prevent corporations from profiting from the labours of thousands of drivers and delivery staff but the most important thing to note is that none of these industries has disappeared, they have all revised their practices and improved the lives of millions of people. Huge business failures, such as Evergrande, were forecast to be China’s “Lehman moment” but none of that has happened. Steps are in place to protect the millions of small investors while the speculators look set to lose out.

In terms of power supply, there have been a few problems but this is inevitable when nearly 30%[2] of all global manufacturing and production comes from one country, but at the same time, that one country, which has more people than every other country in the world, has more Wind, Water, Solar and other sustainable energy production than every other country — furthermore, it almost has more electric vehicles than the world combined[3] and is working hard to reduce emissions to improve air quality whilst, at the same time, maintaining power for the people.

Western economists look at these measures and say they aren’t sustainable — well, no they aren’t sustainable if the requirement is to produce double digit growth, huge CEO bonuses and ever-increasing shareholder dividends. But, if the requirement is to provide a constantly improving living wage, better working and living conditions as well as health and social security support for millions of people, whilst, at the same time, continuing to do business without losses, then these are highly sustainable business models.

When an “expert” declares President Xi is under pressure, or that China will collapse within the next, week, month or year, we can be assured, that “expert hasn’t asked the people of China what they think and maybe, they should because it’s the people of China that Xi does this for, not the economists and experts in the West and this is why, China isn’t going anywhere, the people are happy, the country continues to invest in cost saving infrastructure and despite all time and energy expended in travelling across China, I haven’t yet met anyone who feels China might be going backwards, let alone in danger of collapse.

[1] Except with the approval and support of the UN in Djibouti

[2] https://www.statista.com/chart/20858/top-10-countries-by-share-of-global-manufacturing-output/

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/07/todays-electric-vehicle-market-slow-growth-in-u-s-faster-in-china

I’m British born Australian citizen. I live in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write about China experiences on and off my bike