Nicholas Kristof: Where China Outpaces America

Nicholas Kristof writes in his New York Times column that the life expectancy for a child in Shanghai is now 82, whereas it is only 79 in the U.S.:

The harsh repression in China these days rightly garners headlines, but health data reflect another side of a nation that could scarcely be more complex and contradictory.

For those who remember Shanghai a quarter-century ago as a dilapidated city where farmers would collect night soil from families without sanitation, it’s extraordinary that among permanent residents of Shanghai, infant mortality is 2.9 deaths per 1,000 births. That is well below the rate of 5.3 in New York City. (Include migrant laborers living in Shanghai, perhaps a fairer comparison, and the rate climbs to a bit higher than in New York.)

That Shanghai child enjoys a world-class education in a public school — the best school system of any in a recent 65-nation survey, although it’s also true that Chinese schools have their own problems such as widespread cheating and stifling of creativity.

Since 1990, the country has reduced infant mortality rates by 54 percent, according to Unicef statistics. On a Chinese scale, that represents more than 360,000 children’s lives saved each year.

That’s what makes China such a fascinating and contradictory place. Other countries, from Egypt to North Korea, oppress and impoverish their people. But the Chinese Communist Party in the reform era has been oppressive politically — even worse lately, with the harshest clampdown in two decades — while hugely enriching its people.

April 30, 2011 10:33 PM
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