As China opened its markets and rose to become the world's second-largest economy, foreign media focus has shifted from tales of political repression and exotic outposts to largely a business story. Corporate chiefs and bankers unpack the meaning of hard, cold economic figures, and the latest data revealing Chinese "expansionary territory," with the odd mention of the apocalyptic pollution levels that go with the rest. While Western media coverage can make us all feel like amateur "China Hands," we strangely know very little about the people of the People's Republic.
When we do stumble upon such reports, however, we get a glimpse of the challenges China will have to face in the near future. And, much like everything else when it comes to this country, the challenges are massive — and eventually may touch our lives as well. One recent article in French dailyLe Figaro (in English via Worldcrunch), a reporter visits a local pig farm in southwestern China to show how the country has gotten hooked on the use of antibiotics in animal farming and for treating common ailments, which has led to the creation of incurable infections.
Almost one in four boys under 18 are obese.
Though still far short of a genuinely free press, China's media does include newspapers reporting on the problems of ordinary Chinese. A recent article published in the Beijing-based The Economic Observer also reports on a health issue: childhood obesity, in what is already the world's second most obese nation behind — you guessed it — the U.S. The author, Huaiyu Han Hao Tong, reports that as a result of the "fast-food invasion," almost one in four boys under 18 are obese.
One recurring topic for foreign observers of China crosses both the human and economic realms: demographics. The rapid aging of the population, which not even the end of the country's one-child policy can reverse, may be the most crucial single fact about China today. Speaking to French daily Les Échos, Isabelle Attané, a research leader at the French National institute for demographic studies, says that only 16% of the couples eligible to have a second child have actually asked for authorization. She adds that financial incentives will change little: Contrary to Japan, she says, China "risks become old before it becomes rich."