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When East meets West – what will the World look like?

July 20, 2010

Some earlier posts on this blog express my fascination with China and its increasing impact on the world. The marketing department I’m running in my current role shares its office space with purchasing and my two immediate colleagues are Chinese. Much of my day is filled with the sound of conversations in Chinese as information about our latest product innovations is exchanged with our offices in Hong Kong and suppliers in Guangdong. This is my 3rd job in a row where Asia has represented a significant part of the organisation’s operations and it has heightened my interest in Asian countries and cultures.

With this in mind, I jumped at the chance (excuse the pun) to take the family to see a preview showing of The Karate Kid at the weekend. The original film was a classic during my youth so I did have some reservations about the remake. The story is a good one, which is always a useful starting point for a remake and the passing of 26 years since the first film makes for some interesting analysis of how the world has changed – the biggest of which is the film’s location – from California to China.

Well, back in the cold war days of 1984, you wouldn’t imagine a US film-maker getting such uninhibited access to the authentic sights and sounds of Beijing (probably still better known as Peking in the early 80s), detailed shots inside the Forbidden City, such awe-inspiring views of those pointy mountains in the southern Guangxi province, amazing tours of the Wudang Mountain monasteries and incredible panoramas of the Great Wall in the north. For me, it was this Chinese authenticity and insight that marks the film out as a worthwhile remake.

It was with some sadness therefore that later on Sunday, I read the review of ‘When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind – Or Destroy It’ an assessment by journalist Jonathan Watts of the environmental impact economic advance has had on China. The review makes grim reading, as do the preview pages accessible via Amazon.

However, although I’m sure I will find this book fascinating and depressing in equal measures, it struck me that the immediacy with which I could satisfy an impulsive urge, place an order for it via an iPhone from my bed and have it delivered to my door the next day sits at the heart of the issues it highlights.

This is a monster of our making. Mass consumerism in the West has led to what the book preview describes as a ‘pass the parcel’ approach to the detrimental environmental effects of manufacturing – the tatty remnants of which China is now holding. But our excesses are just the start. Understandably, the Chinese wish to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour. For the majority of them to meet the levels of lifestyle enjoyed today in the West means a level of consumerism beyond anything this world has yet seen. So, this does indeed raise the question ‘when East meets West – what will the World look like? It’s undoubtedly a question we all play a role in answering.

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