What’s China got?

Cessna, as American a company as ever was, made an announcement Friday that was easy to miss. It will build its new light-sport airplane — a new category of airplanes that the U.S. hopes will restore the sagging general aviation industry — in China.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

“A sad end to the best workers in the aircraft industry in the world, who are here in Wichita, workers who built the B-29 and all WWII-related aviation items that saved the world only to have it all go to China. Sad, sad. A moment of silence for the American aviation industry,” opined one observer on the Kansas.com (Wichita Eagle) Web site.

Cessna’s main competitor, Minnesota-based Cirrus, announced last summer that its version of the plane would be built in Poland. Nobody played taps. Poland isn’t China.

The lead paint scandal, the falling dollar (which may or may not be a good thing), the loss of American manufacturing jobs — shoot, even Miss World — have many Americans in a grumpy mood toward China, even as we buy its products at a record rate.

Face it. We’re scared. We are looking back in time, and seeing the birth of the American Century — special China edition — and wondering who we are and where we fit into it.

Consider this week’s observation by James Fallows, the Atlantic Monthly writer, when he had his plane — a made-in-America Cirrus — refueled in Japan last week…

And in China last year…

china_refuel.jpg

Fallows says he realized that Japan is all about the way of doing things, and China is about a way of doing things.

“I am feeling positive toward both approaches. The emphasis on the right way of doing things is… surprising on each encounter with Japan. And the determination to do things in China, no matter what, commands respect, despite the obvious complications and problems it creates.”

When it comes to doing things, what is America about? Because “the determination to do things” was one of those “uniquely American” characteristics that isn’t so unique in a global economy, perhaps we’re searching for a new identity.

Let’s think about how to do that. First, consider this…

Now, are you excited by the possibilities? Or are you scared by the enormity of change? It’s not a rhetorical question.

  • Derek

    I can’t imagine what aviation fuel must taste like. I hope that guy at least got a Chairman Mao breath freshening disc for his trouble.

    Also I think I’m already resigned to the fact that China will overtake us as the world super power in my lifetime. For good or bad.

  • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/objects_in_mirror/ Julia Schrenkler

    Maybe it less about when China wakes and more about “When the rest of the world daydreamed about something else while frozen with indecision.”

    Bob, you’re onto something.

    To answer your question: Personally speaking, I’d like to be excited about the possibilities but that can be an intellectual task. It is very hard to determine what role we can play amidst all these shifting layers of economic and cultural evolution. Perhaps that’s where the fear comes in… where does this wide wave of change take our sequestered view of homelife? I’d like to charge ahead with some confidence but we’re pack animals and we check those alongside us.

    It takes an immense amount of energy to plunge into the future without hesitation – notice I didn’t say without reflection, or without forethought – and I’m dismayed at the thought the U.S. is that uncertain. Can we find the individuals who identify themselves as excited? Hope they speak up here. And soon.

  • Sylvia

    As most of the U.S. population can’t remember a time when the U.S. hasn’t been the #1 power, this will take some adjustment. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. will drop off the map. We’ll become more like England, dancing to another piper’s tune.

    Also there may be unforseen problems like epidemics, regional wars (military or religious), population shifts or ecological poison that may upset the Chinese juggernaut, albeit temporarily.

  • Andrea K.

    It is frightening and overwhelming.

    Mostly, though, I want to nap after hearing all of this.