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Cleaver Sharpening with a Crank-Powered Griding Machine

October 26, 2010

Cleaver Sharpening with a Crank-Powered Griding Machine, originally uploaded by timquijano.

“China’s is a kind of Dorian Gray economy, its young and footloose global identity hiding a grayer reality. By and large, older workers have been excluded from its remade, globalized economy. They are left behind in their rural villages, or they are pushed from their urban homes into the ghettos of dour apartment blocks on the urban edge to make room for the new apartments and offices occupied by younger urbanites and the companies eager to hire them. Discrimination – age apartheid might be a better term – is one way to describe what’s going on here: no country sorts its population more ruthlessly by age.

“The problem for China is that it is rapidly approaching the point after which it will no longer be the relatively young country we see today. In 2015, China’s working population below the age of 65 will begin to shrink. Meanwhile, the number of people over 65 will be rising to 300 million by 2050, a threefold increase. Richard Jackson, the director of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes that China will be older than the United States within a generation, making it the first big national population to age before it joins the ranks of developed countries. One of China’s biggest fears, expressed repeatedly in public pronouncements, is that it will grow old before it grows rich.” (


In an earlier post, I mentioned how striking the phenomenon of aged-based discrimination is in China. The most menial and exhausting of jobs are dominated by the elderly. Some like to bring up Confucianism to describe social relations in China, but I rarely if ever see the kind of respect for elders that I have read about in history books. Perhaps, it was one of the many traditions lost in one of the many revolutions in modern Chinese history. Nonetheless, the elderly I daily see in Nanning pedaling ֳ (, sorting through the garbage for recyclables or sweeping the streets, demonstrate kind of hard-working poverty that is rare, if present, in the US.

Earlier, I did not discuss how the age-based discrimination (ageism?) may be related to worries about the aging of the Chinese population. All developing nations see decreasing fertility rates as they become more developed. The costs of raising a child in an urban society are very high. As a result of the one-child policy, the Chinese population will grow older much more quickly on the scale of development than other countries. This has a tremendous effect on the development of a national economy as everyone who is not working is being supported by others. A young population begets a strong economy. All developed nations have lost global competitiveness to some extent as a result of aging populations.

At the gapminder website (, you can watch fertility rates fall (y-axis) as income per capita (x-axis) increases. Press the play button at the bottom of the page to see the progress of the past half-century. Pay attention to China during Maoism, the country moves in a circle as fertility rates and income per person get thrown about during the hectic post-Liberation years.

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