Socrates in Shanghai

Reports about China’s economic prosperity often obscure the serious problems the pace of development is creating for the world’s most populous nation. Nowhere is the distance between China’s Communist past and its hypercapitalist present more evident than in the gap between wealthy urban elites and dirt-poor villagers in the provinces.

An egregious example of the desperate measures to which many poor Chinese have been driven is the unsanitary blood trade that developed in the 1990s. To support their families, parents sold their blood, and sometimes bodily organs, to illicit tissue traffickers who traded on the global market. In the process, many contracted HIV. China has been reluctant to admit the extent of its AIDS epidemic: in addition to the stigma of the disease, the link between the illegal sale of blood and organs and the spread of HIV exposes disturbing inequities in a society that until recently claimed to be radically egalitarian. To make matters worse, China’s health-care system fails millions of people, and there is little or no support for AIDS victims. The epidemic has created a generation of orphans.

I discovered the dark underbelly of China’s success during a recent trip there with an international group of leaders. We wanted to learn more about the country and people who, more than any other, will shape the social, political, economic, and environmental landscape of the twenty-first century. We spent a week meeting with Chinese...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Mark C. Taylor is chair of the department of religion at Columbia University. His latest book is Field Notes from Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living.