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Another dramatic difference between China and the US

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Hopscotch to China

Image by Telstar Logistics via Flickr

By Spengler in Asia Times Online:

China’s six-to-one advantage over the US
By Spengler

America outspends China on defense by a margin of more than six to one, the Pentagon estimates. [1] In another strategic dimension, though, China already holds a six-to-one advantage over the United States. Thirty-six million Chinese children studypiano today, compared to only 6 million in the United States.[2] The numbers understate the difference, for musical study in China is more demanding.

It must be a conspiracy. Chinese parents are selling plasma-screen TVs to America, and saving their wages to buy their kids pianos – making American kids stupider and Chinese kids smarter. Watch out, Americans – a generation from now, your kid is going to fetch coffee for a Chinese boss. That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course – some of the bosses will be Indian. Americans really, really don’t have a clue what is coming down the pike. The present shift in intellectual capital in favor of the East has no precedent in world history.

The article continues putting this difference into a much broader context to give more clarity into the direction that things are taking in China, which the US and the West may not be expecting based on their current perceptions of China.

American musical education remains the best in the world, the legacy of the European refugees who staffed the great conservatories, and the best Asian musicians come to America to study. Thirty to 40% of students at the top schools are Asian, and another 20 to 30% are Eastern European (or Israeli). There are few Americans or Western Europeans among the best instrumentalists. According to the head of one conservatory, Americans simply don’t have the discipline to practice eight hours a day.

As a practical matter, though, American policy-makers might think about it this way. Until now, the West has tended to dismiss China’s scientists as imitators rather than originators. As a practical matter, China had little incentive to innovate; an emerging economy does not have to re-invent the wheel, or the Volkswagen, for that matter.

This was not true in the remote past, of course. China invented the clock, the magnetic compass, the printing press, geared machines, gunpowder, and the other technologies that began the industrial revolution, long before the West. When it comes time to develop the next generation of anti-missile radar, or electric car batteries, Chinese originality may assert itself once again. Chinese who have mastered the most elevated as well as the most characteristically Western forms of high culture will also think with originality. Anyone who doubts this should watch Lang Lang’s performance of the Mozart C Minor Concerto once again.

Music is not the only area where the Chinese are pushing the limits on intellectual prowess. Watch out West, the world’s intellectual future is developing in Asia!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/12/03 at 03:00

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