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Printable Page One Nation: Two Futures? by Melvin Maskin
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TIME ALLOTMENT: Three 45-minute class periods (excluding homework time)

Since the mid-l970s, economic reforms have transformed China from one of the most egalitarian societies into one of the most unequal in the world. Wide disparities currently exist between the income levels of a relatively few rich and middle-class Chinese and their fellow citizens who number in the hundreds of millions. This "wealth gap" is particularly acute when one compares the incomes of urban and rural residents, between Chinese living in the interior of the country and those living in the rapidly developing cities on China's eastern coast.

The causes of the growing income gap include previous governmental policies that favored city dwellers over farmers, the uneven regional patterns of foreign investment, and the massive outflow of displaced farmers to China's already overcrowded cities in pursuit of manufacturing jobs.

Recently, the Chinese government, in recognition of the potential for social instability, and in the face of growing unrest amongst China's poor, has made the elimination of economic and social inequalities a top priority. Plans are in motion to build a more "harmonious society" through the delivery of improved educational and health services to those who appear to have been left behind in China's rush to modernize its economy.

This lesson, using clips from the WIDE ANGLE film "To Have and Have Not" (2002), can be used after a lesson on the Communist Revolution and Mao's rule. A basic knowledge of China's geography, of the tenets of Chinese Communism, and of Mao's efforts to redirect the course of China's future by means of the Cultural Revolution, is required for the successful completion of the lesson.

SUBJECT MATTER: Global History and Geography/World History


Students will be able to:
  • Appreciate the nature and scope of the economic changes that China has experienced over the last three decades;

  • Explore the economic and social consequences of China's modernization efforts;

  • Identify the varying impacts of globalization on Chinese society;

  • Explore regional and international implications associated with the conflict;

  • Assess the likelihood that China's current free market policies and openness to foreign investment will lead to the PRC's adoption of Western-style democratic institutions.

New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies
Standards available online at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/pub/sslearn.pdf.

    Standard 2. World History (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Investigate the various components of cultures and civilizations, including social customs, norms, values, and traditions; political systems and economic systems.

      • Understand the development and connectedness of Western civilization and other civilizations and cultures.

      3. Students:

      • Analyze the roles and contributions of individuals and groups to social, political, economic, and cultural practices and activities.

      • Explain the dynamics of cultural change and how interactions between and among cultures have affected various cultural groups throughout the world.

      • Examine the social/cultural, political, and economic norms and values of Western and other world cultures.

    Standard 3. Geography (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Investigate the characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations.

      • Understand the development and interactions of social, cultural, and economic systems in different regions of the world.

      • Analyze how the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of the Earth's surface.

      • Explain how technological change affects people, places, and regions.

    Standard 4. Economics (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Analyze the effectiveness of varying ways societies, nations, and regions of the world attempt to satisfy their basic needs and wants by utilizing scarce resources.

      • Understand the nature of scarcity and how nations of the world make choices which involve economic and social costs and benefits.

      • Compare and contrast the U.S. economic system with other national economic systems.

      • Explain how economic decision-making has become global as a result of an interdependent world economy.

    Standard 5. Civics, Citizenship, and Government (commencement)
    Performance Indicators:

      1. Students:

      • Analyze how the values of a nation and international organizations affect the guarantee of human rights and make provisions for human needs.

      • Compare various political systems with that of the United States in terms of ideology, structure, function, institutions, decision-making processes, citizenship roles and political culture.

New York State Regents Global History and Geography Curriculum Tie-Ins
Curriculum available online at http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/pub/sscore2.pdf

    Unit Seven: The 20th Century since l945

      D. Chinese Communist Revolution

        3. Communism under Mao Zedong

          b. The Cultural Revolution and the Red Guard

        4. Communism under Deng Xiaoping

          a. Economic reforms -- Four Modernizations

            1) Limited privatization

            4) Foreign investment

          b. Fifth Modernization -- Democracy

    Unit Eight: Global Connections and Interactions

      A. Social and Political Patterns and Change

        1. Human and physical geography

        2. Population pressures and poverty (China)

        3. Migration

          a. Urbanization

        4. Modernization/ tradition -- finding a balance

        6. Urbanization -- use and distribution of scarce resources

        7. Status of women and children

          b. social issues, e.g. access to education

      B. Economic issues

        3. Economic interdependence

      D. Science and Technology

        1. Information Age/Computer Revolution/Internet

Advanced Placement World History Curriculum Tie-Ins
Course Description available online at:
(Requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader)

    Major Developments:

      2. The Cold War, international organizations and the impact on the Global framework

      4. New forces of revolution and other sources of political innovation (Pacific Rim; multinational Corporations))

      6. Religious fundamentalism (peasant protest)

      7. Globalization of science, technology and culture (global cultures and regional reactions, including consumer culture; interactions between elite and popular culture)

      8. Demographic and environmental changes (migrations)

      9. Diverse interpretations (Is cultural convergence or diversity the best model for understanding increased intercultural contact in the 21st century?)

    Major Comparisons and Snapshots

    • Assess the impacts of Western consumer society on a non-western civilization

    • Assess different proposals (or models) for economic growth in the developing world and the social and political consequences

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WIDE ANGLE, "To Have and Have Not" (2002) (selected clips)

New Worker Class
Photo of Dwanshi She in his new apartment.
Home Village
Photo of a girl in the Chinese countryside.
Illegal in Beijing
Photo of a Chinese girl.
Beijing Riviera
Photo of a Chinese businessman.
Barshefsky Int.
Photo of Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky.

Web Sites:

  • Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages: Lei Feng.
    The site features poster art from the days of Maoist China exhorting the Chinese population towards self-sacrifice and volunteerism. The "Lei Feng" posters are annotated by Stefan Landsberger and the site itself is hosted by the International Institute of Social History in the Netherlands.

  • "Pulling Away," THE ECONOMIST. September 25, 2003.
    This site contains a graph as part of an article that appeared in THE ECONOMIST and which is posted on the Web site of The Global Policy Forum. The text that accompanies the graph details the nature and scope of China's wealth gap, and suggests the means by which the gap can be narrowed.

  • "China's Wealth Gap." BBC NEWS. Picture Gallery.

    BBC NEWS Online visited two of China's poorest interior provinces and recorded comments by Chinese peasants as to what their government has or hasn't done to alleviate their economic and social plight. The peasants interviewed appeared keenly aware of the extent to which rural areas have been shortchanged by government policies.

  • "China Pledges Elimination of Rural Compulsory Education Charges In Two Years." PEOPLE'S DAILY. March 5, 2006.
    The article appears in an official government publication noting what the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, has promised to do to begin to close the recognized rural-urban gap in educational services. The article is quite candid in pointing to China's inability to live up to its goal of providing a government-funded, free and compulsory education for every citizen.

  • "China Puts Its Best Face Forward." ASIA TIMES. April 6, 2006.
    The article focuses on Shanghai's premier shopping street and the growing cadre of "Xiaobailing" (white collar princesses) who patronize its exclusive cosmetic boutiques. The article claims that urban Chinese women spend an unusually high percentage (over 10%) of their annual income on cosmetics. Skin whitening products are especially in high demand.

  • "China's New Shoppers." BBC NEWS. Picture Gallery.

    BBC NEWS Online visited one of Bejing's largest new shopping malls to sample shoppers' opinions about the economic changes sweeping China. The photos and text reveal some ambivalence about the direction in which China is moving, but generally the shoppers view the changes as producing a huge and welcomed impact on their quality of life.

  • "First-Time Homebuyers in Beijing." BBC NEWS. Picture Gallery.

    BBC NEWS Online visited with Beijing residents who have just moved into their newly constructed apartments. Although the costs of purchasing and furnishing the living spaces drew some complaints, the overall reaction was one of excitement and anticipation over the prospect of being able to own their own homes.

  • "China's Tight Rein on Online Growth." BBC NEWS. March 8, 2005.
    The article details the explosive growth of China's online population (now second only to the U.S.) and the Chinese government's strenuous efforts to control the country's Internet infrastructure. Despite severe penalties, the posting of politically sensitive comments continues within the country.

  • "China Village Democracy Skin Deep." BBC NEWS. October 10, 2005.
    The article discusses the difficulty for political reform (e.g. Democratic institutions) to take root in the PRC. Citizens are given a modicum of political freedom only to see that freedom disappear when candidates who oppose the Communist party line are discouraged from running for office. Political change is slowly occurring in China's villages; when such change will reach China's cities is an open question.

  • Tim Johnson. "Chinese Premier Defends Internet Policy." KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS. March 14, 2006.
    Premier Wen Jiabao’s defense of the use of firewalls to block "disturbing" and "subversive" messages on the Internet is presented here. Wen clearly is putting pressure on Internet service providers who operate in China to exercise more "self-discipline" in what messages they allow their users to send and receive.

  • Tim Luard. "China's Censored Media Answers Back." BBC NEWS. February 23, 2006.
    Demands for freedom of expression in China are being heard within the PRC—some of them coming from former senior Communist Party members. The author notes that China's leaders are faced with a dilemma: they need the media to expose corrupt local officials as a way of heading off local unrest. However, they worry if too much exposure of corruption within the Communist Party will cause even more unrest.


For the class:

  • Computer monitor or computer connection to television/projector for clip viewing

  • Chalkboard, Whiteboard

  • Wall map of Asia (updated)

  • Nice ceramic plates and metal eating utensils (enough for 5% of the students in your class)

  • Paper plates (enough for 20% of the students in your class)

For each pair of students:


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com.

Preview all of the video clips and Web sites used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students, currently available, and accessible from your classroom.

Download the video clips used in this lesson onto your hard drive, or prepare to stream the clips from your classroom. RealPlayer is needed to view the video clips. If your classroom computer does not have it, download RealPlayer for free at www.real.com.

Procure an updated wall map of Asia.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

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