The little things that make China great

An interesting three weeks, no doubt. British scientists discovered that the Earth was shaped via the melting and evaporation of a number of mini-planets.

Good ol’ Donald Trump emerged from the line of scrimmage no better than a sparrow on a drizzly morning after squaring up against NFL players and supporters of the gridiron sport.

And Kim Jong Un rattled many with his missile trials, brewing lots of consternation in lands yonder.

But as this unfolded, something was rising elsewhere, softly but emphatically imprinting giant impressions on the globe.

China unleashed its high-speed train on the Beijing-Shanghai track on September 21.

At 350km/h, the rail beast is the fastest in the world, clocking the 1 250km journey within just four-and-a-half hours!

What is more, the technology was developed domestically; undergirded by ever-evolving innovations never fathomed in the West.

This certainly makes Eurostar, Deutsche Bahn and others seem like Mary Poppins fantasies.

But hey, there is sullen reflection in the midst of this show of might, especially for an African heart.

China – like much of Africa today – was saddled with poverty not so long ago.

It has, nevertheless, spectacularly leap-frogged most “superpowers” at a speed its latest bullet train can only capture metaphorically.

With its humongous US$7 trillion-plus reserve and a run of year-on-year economic growth spanning one decade, the Oriental nation even has mighty America fretting.

Yet, the lingering question is: Where is Africa in this picture? What keeps arresting its inclination to development? The answer is quite simple. The arras separating the continent and progress partly comprises unsavoury sub-cultures that have been allowed to mutate over years.

We have expunged seemingly minute details of our existence, replacing them with foul attitudes towards social order and a creepy work ethic. Since Freud and Piaget, contemporary psychologists have continued to hammer home the point regarding how humans develop culture from practice.

It follows that who we are and what we shall become is extrapolated from the self-portrait we capture through habit, character and, eventually, culture. And it goes without saying that that culture ultimately pervades an entire society’s psyche.

That is precisely why such seemingly little things as dodging official enterprise daily and then unashamedly collecting pay cheques monthly, short-cuts, littering, and lacking social graces and decorum won’t drive Africa anywhere.

At the centre of our transformation problem is a wrong mentality/attitude and not poverty, the oft-touted scapegoat in this uncanny brand of thought.

The Chinese wrapped their minds around this fact quickly enough.

That is why they are in the fast lane and Africa is yet to get off the blocks.

Much can be extracted from China’s work ethic.

It could be the stuff that separates knaves and nobles; that could spur Africa’s development.

In 2011, South African academics Andre Slabbert and Wilbert I. Ukpere published a paper titled “A Comparative Analysis of the Chinese and South African Work Ethic”.

Their research targeted helping arrest South Africa’s then low national productivity and rapidly elevating it to China’s globally competitive level.

Slabbert and Wilbert’s findings were unsurprising. The Chinese work ethic proved superior and this fed into high productivity.

The paper says, “Paradoxically, a number of other variables exist which impact on the productivity phenomenon, thus rendering a strict causal relationship between work ethic and productivity tenuous in nature.

“Despite this, it is a recognised reality that there is a substantive ‘negativity’ in the work ethic of the South African labour force, possibly in relation to historical and cultural factors. The Chinese work ethic is diametrically opposed to that of South Africa.”

And there were no prizes for guessing the separating factor between the two countries. It’s a fact that applies to most of Africa.

The paper continues thus: “In discussions with Chinese workers held in 2010, four primary schools of thought emerged: a firm belief that hard work will bring desired results; pride in personal accomplishments and hard work; fear of embarrassment or shame in case of failure; and immense patriotic pride in China and its achievements.

“It is the present authors’ conviction that none of these apply to the South African labour force, and that most certainly could be partly responsible for the economic disparities between the two countries. Hence, additional research should be conducted to improve the current state of affairs.”

 

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