Pine Nuts: China is a 13-year-old who has been tossed the car keys

McAvoy Layne

Shanghai River’s dead pig toll has surpassed 16,000 but officials say drinking water quality is normal. Okay …

“What’s for dinner tonight, Honey?”

“Oh, pork chop suey — fresh out of river.”

A Zhejiang entrepreneur has offered 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to any local environmental protection official willing to swim in that river for more than 20 minutes. So far … no takers.

On the brighter side, serious air pollution was reported earlier this week in Beijing, with visibility at Beijing Capital International Airport falling to 5-10 meters, delaying some flights.

Together, China and India are building four coal-fired power plants per week. The levels of carbon dioxide they will be pluming into our atmosphere in 2030 will be stifling. Add to that a projected 400 million vehicles in China and you’ve got air that you could cut with a butter knife. If I thought I might live to see 2030, I’d be investing in night vision goggles.

But now the good news. China’s GDP growth rate is over 9 percent. Prosperity is booming right along and she has a new leader who is promising to clean things up. President Xi Jinping told US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in Beijing last week that he wants to build a new type of relationship with Washington centered on core interests. What “core interests” means is we Americans can continue buying and selling houses to each other with money borrowed from China.

However, there is a dent in China’s armor. We all know how indulgent we parents can be when we have but one child. Well, guess what? China’s first full generation of single children is coming of age, and there will be hell to pay. Already there are sure signs of western degeneration as more and more young Chinese are getting tattoos in English. Serious students are hooking themselves up to intravenous drips of amino acid while cramming for tests.

Perhaps the most telling story is that of a student from Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, whose family and teachers hid from her for two months the fact that her father had died, so as not to upset her before an important exam. “Hey Dad, guess what I got on my final exam? Oh, wow, you’re kidding.”

It’s a threadbare joke in China that students who graduate with C marks go into medicine, students who graduate with B marks go into banking, and students who graduate with A marks go into cyber-hacking.

Personally, I have faith in President Xi because in 1985, as a member of a Chinese delegation assigned to study American agriculture, he visited Muscatine, Iowa, and as everybody knows, anybody who visits Muscatine comes away from there with an attitude of goodwill toward men, not to mention a love for butterfly pork shops. Fact is, President Xi might be the only man standing who has the power of persuasion to calm down the bellicose supreme leader of North Korea, “Capt. Ku-Ku.”

President Xi recognizes that he is governing an aging population with a frayed social safety net and like us, a widening gap between the McMansion wealthy and food-stamp poor. He has inherited a daunting challenge, how to keep the Chinese motor running at 6,000 rpms to accommodate 9 percent growth, while at the same time, keeping that motor cool enough to navigate 40 miles of bad road.

President Xi, we wish you every success, and hope you might one day return to Muscatine for some butterfly pork chops and corn. Oh, and don’t worry, you won’t find any pigs in the river.

McAvoy is a 30-year Tahoe resident. Learn more at

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