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In the book The Elephant and the Dragon, Robyn Meredith depicts the rise of the two global economic powers: China and India. She fills the pages with detailed stories, stunning statistics, and insight on what the United States needs to do to compete with the two countries. Meredith begins by describing the evolution of the Chinese participation in the global economy. In detail, she presents the country’s history starting with the reign of Chairman Mao in 1949 and the poverty that existed as a result of China’s strive for communism. Food shortages lead to numerous starvations and even the ultimate act of yi zi er shi, in which neighbors traded skinny children and ate them, knowing that their neighbors were doing the same to their child (19). Whole villages vanished while China continued to export most of its food for money. It wasn’t until Deng Xiaoping entered the scene several years later that China began to modernize and introduce China to capitalism. Since then, China has risen at an astounding rate to become the economic giant that it is today given its strict enforcement of communism that has given the government the ability to develop the country’s infrastructure. More than ever, Chinese citizens are able to afford luxuries that Americans would consider necessities due to fruitful work opportunities in the factories. Many are content with the improved way of life yet they are still politically repressed. Meredith states that even 30 years after Mao’s death, “Chinese are still allowed to carry only money, not voter’s identity cards, in their new wallets” (27). As the Chinese suffered politically and achieved economically, India experienced nearly the opposite. After India gained independence from Great Britain, the people had a difficult time getting on its feet economically. Ghandi’s started by implementing economic policies that weakened and crippled the country while the population grew at a dramatic rate. This led to grand-scale poverty and a weak standing in the world. It wasn’t until Rajiv Ghandi became prime minister in 1985 when India began to change, which ultimately led to an economic boom in 1991. There was positive change until 1996, when a new party took office and since then, India has been struggling, particularly with building appropriate infrastructure to accommodate its increasingly educated population. Meredith puts it succinctly when she says that “Progress on India’s development projects is on again, off again, as if ambivalent India still can’t decide whether it wants to be part of the modern world” (53). Despite China and India’s individual strengths and crippling weaknesses, they are still the two countries that most threaten the United States, particularly its workforce. China is providing the power of labor, India the power of the brains, and America is failing to maintain its competitive advantage: creativity and innovation. Meredith ultimately suggests that the United States “must strengthen its educational and economic foundations and foster the innovation that will keep the United States ahead in they
technology that underpins so many parts of the nation’s culture and global economy” (205). Who the book serves This book offers some startling insight through quotes, statistics and detailed stories of the Chinese and Indians. The data and facts alone could have a huge impact on general Americans, who get a striking glimpse at what their future holds. Furthermore, Meredith takes a stab at U.S. policymakers for not encouraging the importance of education. As Californians are seeing now, schools are taking the biggest cut and are being impacted the most. More and more students are falling behind in academics and Meredith takes notice of this and is practically screaming at policymakers to wake up and see that education is the United State’s most valuable asset. Like Mr. Chen of Sybase says ‘ “Yes, we have the best university system in the world, but we’re not feeding that system. We’re not investing in creativity” ’ (206). Most importantly, I think this book targets businesses in the United States that seem to be accepting mediocrity as its way of doing business. Meredith exclaims that this shouldn’t be the case and that businesses should focus on stimulating creativity, innovation, and differentiation. Those are the United States’ strengths and they should be exploited. Strengths and Weaknesses I think the greatest strength of this book is the data that Meredith supports herself with. She is able to back herself up with facts rather than speculations, which validates her points and insight. This also gave her quite a bit of credibility if her journalism experience in Hong Kong was not enough. She managed to retain a relatively balanced opinion throughout and gave a strong case for the evolution and expansion of China and India. Meredith also takes a different approach to her statements than Fareed Zakaria did in his book The Post-American World. She used historical data to support her insight on how China and India have achieved their success now, as well as her predictions for the future. It was an effective way to create validity for her comments. Also effective was her style of writing. She was a storyteller and made the all the facts and statistics enjoyable to read. She didn’t completely lose the reader in numbers. Overall, it was an enjoyable read. I did not feel like there were too many weaknesses or contradictions in this book. It was very strong literature backed up with legitimate facts and with the personal touch of the anecdotes. I think Meredith could have speculated more on the future and expanded on questions that she posed throughout the book. Other than that, the book’s strengths by far outweigh its almost nonexistent weaknesses. Comments The only part of this book that I thought was inadequate was Meredith’s take on the future. She does a great job focusing on the history of China and India and their strengths
and weaknesses, but she definitely could have expanded and elaborated on some of the questions she posed in the book. For example, she could have speculated more on what India must do to convince even the poorest people that change is possible with improved infrastructure. She claims that they need to change, but does not offer any sort of opinion on how or even if that change can occur, given the current political setbacks. Despite the need for more elaboration, my only real criticism is not actually of the book itself, but rather how outdated it has become today. The book was published in 2008 and most likely written well before then. It doesn’t quite encompass what has happened in the United States in the last two years and how quickly the United States has dug itself into an economic hole. Furthermore, it doesn’t examine the global recession that has taken place since then and how China and India have still remained strong in growth. Although Meredith makes some very accurate predictions including the recession for the United States and its consequences, it’s not enough to truly cover the impact. This is not an issue that I have with the author but I would suggest that she write a second book that complements The Elephant and the Dragon. Impressions Overall, I would recommend The Elephant and the Dragon to other readers for the facts and history. However, I would encourage people to pick up a book that incorporates the recent events in the U.S. and the world. I would be interested to see if Meredith comes out with another book or a supplement that takes these enormous economic changes into account.
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