An Inside Look At Communist China: Where Capitalism Is All The Rage

Chongqing, China

Communist China is really a capitalist country in overdrive. I've been covering China's economy since 1999. Further, I studied abroad in Communist China in 1997 for six months.

As soon as Houston Rockets General Manager's, Daryl Morey, tweeted “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” the lucrative relationship between the NBA and China began to disintegrate.

Given the Communist China market is worth roughly $1 billion a year to the NBA (versus $0 for FS), it was fascinating to see some owners, coaches, players, and the commissioner either say nothing, throw Daryl under the bus, or grovel for forgiveness.

If you care about your reputation and want money, sending one-liners on social media about a controversial topic is probably not the best idea. Wait until you are truly free. There is always two sides to every conflict.

Of course everybody is going to be pro freedom. But to think the Chinese people are tyrants and don't want freedom and prosperity themselves would be naive. Please differentiate between a country’s citizens and its government.

What's Going On In Hong Kong And Communist China?

During the summer of 2019, a highly controversial legislative measure was introduced that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to the mainland. If you're a Hong Kong resident who has always been wary about the “one country, two systems” policy, you can see how this new law might undermine Hong Kong's legal independence.

There is a real fear by the Hong Kong people that if you get sent off to China for doing something China considers to be wrong, you might never come back!

The expanding power of China is a paranoia I've listened to for over 10 years each time I went back to Hong Kong for work. Due to this legislation, there has been spirited demonstrations for months as Hong Kong citizens fight for their independence.

Part of the reason why I write so much about the college admissions scandal, the absurd rise of healthcare costs, and a rigged system that favors the rich is because they attack my ability to stay financially free to care for my family. Everybody needs to fight like hell for their freedom.

But what about the average Chinese citizen's perception of Hong Kong? Based on my six months of study in China in 1997 and after visiting China more than a half-dozen times for work, my guess is that the average Chinese citizen looks to Hong Kong as a place of curiosity and wonder. They are amazed by the incredible wealth that was created in the region and they absolutely want to emulate its success.

The Chinese are a proud people who have seen incredible economic progress in their lifetimes. They are also fiercely patriotic and protective of their country due to historical atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre.

A strong sense of identity exhibited by both the Chinese people and the people of Hong Kong is a strength, not a weakness. You want your citizens to be extremely proud of their country and everything it stands for.

In this post, I'd like to share my experience going to Chongqing, China in 2011 for work and listening to what some of its citizens had to say about economic growth and more. It’s just one man’s perspective, but a perspective that might help create better understanding.

To Understand Capitalism, Let's Understand Communist China

Communism gets a bad rap for its ability to stifle innovation and effort. However, when you look at Communist China, growing at ~7% GDP per year, do you really think its citizens have no desire to improve their living standards beyond what is generally proposed?

We all have an inherent nature of wanting to do better. Not only do we want to continue improving, but we also want to one-up our peers! After all, what's the point of making $100,000 dollars a year if everybody else makes the same?

We learned a good deal about how the happiest people on Earth live after my 2.5-week trip to Scandinavia. Now it's time to learn more from the folks I met in Chonqing, one of the fastest-growing cities in China.

The Chongqing Fireball

Chongqing is known as one of the “Three Furnaces” of the Yangtze River because its temperatures frequently get into the mid-90s. We're talking muggy, suffocating, scorching heat during the summer months. For sure, the heat is way worse than the “armpit states” of America. Wuhan and Nanjing are the other two “furnaces.”

The first thing I asked my cab driver when I arrived was how his life had improved over the years. I thought he'd be ecstatic, given Chongqing has been growing at a double-digit rate for the past decade. Instead, he was bitter.

Yes, my income has grown by 30% a year, every year for the past five years. But, I am still a cab driver! Everybody around me is making just as much, if not much more,” he explained.

What about living conditions? Surely, they are better now?” I asked.

The government has decided to build these massive high rises for all of us. Yes, at least we have air conditioning during our hot summers, but the space is cramped. Furthermore, food prices have risen by 30-40% a year recently, especially pork prices. We're all richer, but we're all still the same!

He went on to say, “During the Cultural Revolution, my parents were sent off to the countryside. They couldn't help further my education, so I didn't even go to high school. Here I am, decades later driving a cab. This is all I know how to do, and this is all I will ever do until I die.

By the time we got to my hotel, the cab driver was exasperated beyond belief. I thought he was going to have an aneurysm as he complained on and on about how hard it was to get ahead.

I empathized with him through the smog and the eight million city residents who seemed to have no regard for traffic signs. All you notice when driving into Chongqing are the construction cranes everywhere.

My cab driver's personality matched the climate – fiery!

chongqing-gold-hotel - Communist China
Why not a twin gold hotel?

Related: Why The Smartest Countries In The World are Not The Happiest

Food To Diarrhea For

Chongqing is famous for its hot pot cuisine. We're not just talking temperature hot, but spicy hot chili-infused hot that will burn your intestines from the inside out. In the beginning, I loved spicy food, but today, I almost never enjoy spicy food unless I want to punish myself.

Living in America for the past two decades has made my body soft. Too many ice cream sandwiches, donuts, and lemon meringue pies I must admit. As a result, there is no more lining as thick as an elephant's rump to protect me from harm.

After eating what seemed like a buffet of chili oil, I almost died the next day as I pissed out of both ends. The hot-cold sweats beaded on my forehead as I dared not stray more than five feet from the bathroom. Thank goodness China has largely done away with squat toilets, unlike when I first visited in 1997. Holy hell did my legs get a workout.

Only after I became sick did my friends tell me to be careful of the Chongqing chili oil. Thanks, guys! Duly noted for the next time I visit.

My tour guide said, “Our food is as hot as our souls. We will do everything possible to take advantage of this economic transformation to get ahead!” I believed him.

chongqing-spicyfood - Communist China
Would you like some vegetables with your chili oil?

The Yangtze River Of Commerce

The Yangtze River, also known as Chang Jiang is the third longest river in the world at 3,988 miles. The water comes from the glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Qinghai, flows eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai.

At the eastern point of Chongqing, you can stand and watch the Jialing River and the Yangtze River collide. It's quite peculiar to see water flow in opposite directions, eventually combining to become one great force.

If you didn't already know, the waters of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers are nothing like the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. The rivers churn tremendous amounts of mud and silt as they pass through some of the world's most industrialized cities. I stood at the edge of a cliff looking down in amazement until I finally started to feel sick again due to the 98-degree heat and remnants of chili oil oozing out of my pores.

The Yangtze River is our pride and joy. It allows Chongqing to be a major manufacturing centre and transportation center for Southwest China,” explained my guide.

Chongqing Yangtze River - Communist China
Drinking the water is not advised

The Desire For More In Communist China

With a per capita GDP of roughly $10,000 ($8,840 for China overall in 2021), Chongqing ranks 13th among all Chinese cities. The top three are Tianjin, Shanghai, and Beijing with per capita GDP levels of around US$13,500-$14,500. In other words, in order to catch up with China's biggest cities, Chongqing has to triple its income.

Imagine a 3X income differential for those who live in the Midwest vs. those who live in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. Actually, this is not hard to imagine at all as it takes over $150,000 a year in San Francisco to afford similar luxuries as someone earning $50,000 living in Des Moines.

I've got several friends who live in the heartland of America who want to make more money. When I ask them why not just move to parts of the country where the economy is booming, they tell me they can't leave their families behind.

They also tell me they find housing prices to be outrageous in booming cities, not thinking that it's because incomes are “outrageous” and quality of life is “outrageously better” that leads to higher costs. It's weird how in a day of buses, trains, and planes, folks aren't willing to buy a ticket to a better life.

In Chongqing, residents are also hesitant to move to the coastal cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou as well. But, it's not because they don't want to get on a train or a plane. They don't want to move because Chongqing is growing at a much faster rate than its coastal city sisters. They don't have to move!

Whereas if you are part of a dying textile or auto manufacturing industry in Michigan, it might be best to develop some new skills and reinvent yourself in another part of the country. Easier said than done of course.

Sam, I love it here in Chongqing. In the next 10 years, we are going to be a powerhouse and the envy of all of China!” explained my guide. I'm sure the residents of Chongqing will grow wealthier. I'm just not sure foreigners will be able to tolerate the heat and pollution.

Morning Taichi in Communist China
6:15am Taichi among the new high-rises for all

Communism Is Disappearing

Many will argue that Communist China is more capitalistic than America, especially since China has a massive capital account surplus. America, on the other hand, has a current account deficit plus a growing budget deficit thanks to unrestrained government spending.

The American government is trying to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots by becoming more like China and Europe. However, China is fast becoming more like the US. Funny how everything seems to converge.

China is in its growth stage and will likely be the #1 economy in the world by the year 2035. The Chinese will turn from net exporter to net importer as they buy all of our stuff with their super middle class.

Their citizens will grow in size and weight as we Americans have done. Services and health industries will explode in profitability as a result of new wealth. Let's hope they have a benevolent leader when it's time for them to rule the world.

China Investment Returns Going Nowhere

To understand Capitalism, we must first understand Communism. Based on my trip to Chongqing, China, Capitalism and Communism are converging. Communist China is slowly becoming no more. The cynical optimist in me also believes the NBA and China will work out their differences because too much money is at stake.

No matter if you're Chinese, Hong Kongese, or American, what's indisputable is the desire for all people to better their own lives and the lives of their children. If you can understand and respect this truth, then it's impossible to not show some understanding towards both sides.

Let freedom always reign!

Unfortunately, in 2022, China has given up much of its investment gains. After the 20th Communist Party in Beijing, foreign investors pulled billions in capital from the market. China stock investment returns are dismal as the government has too much power.

Chinese stocks valuation

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Related post: Why China Evergrande's Debt Problem Won't Take Down The Stock Market

127 thoughts on “An Inside Look At Communist China: Where Capitalism Is All The Rage”

  1. The thing with China is that the shiny wrapping often masks bad things inside. It’s kinda like getting a fake Mercedes-Benz and thinking you have really gotten ahead. China is making improvements in many areas, but it has a lot of other issues that will make it harder for it to succeed in the world.

  2. It’s just killing me how everyone talks about how nice and shiny everything was when they visited.

    China grew fast because was catching up. That in not in contention. This is because they had access (one way or another) to the most modern tech and know-how that the First World created.

    But wealth has not yet achieved the scale and distribution that is needed. Further, let’s face it, a lot of the data they’ve released concerning their economy has been, hmm, not as good as it could have been. As it should have been.

    Drive twenty minutes from almost anywhere, even Shanghai, and what you find is still third world conditions, even in semi-rural and rural areas. Get out into the real boondocks and you will see far worse. For example, cross the border from Russia into China and the landscape changes from endless forest to almost nothing but endless rice paddies with little islands of shacks at various points. (And these are probably the lucky ones, as most of China’s land is not arable, despite it being almost identical in size to the U.S.) 

    As a western tourist or business traveler, these are not the places you will be going to.

    And they’ve already started heavy duty automation. Granted, they have to. But while it will help out the coastal cities, the rest of China will find itself increasingly left behind.

    Then there is demographics. There is an expression for developing countries called: ‘Getting rich before you get too old.’ China already missed it, even though all the birds have not yet come home to roost. The average Chinese adult is now older than the average American adult and that gap is going to grow. 

    China is about to experience the most rapid aging crisis in human history, with the ratio of workers-to-retirees shrinking from 8-to-1 today to 2-to-1 by 2040, with about $10 to 100 trillion in unfunded pension costs.

    China is attempting to create a massive surveillance state and is abundantly willing to to do terrible things to anyone they feel isn’t singing the precise notes they expect.

    Hong Kong residents have good reason to fear being taken away for incarceration. The evidence is incontrovertible, most damningly just because of the extremely high availability rate of organs for transplant, that the Chinese government is using large numbers of prisoners for involuntary organ transplants.

    You cannot remotely compare this to ANYTHING being countenanced in the U.S., Canada, or Europe.

    Want more? Go google on Uighers, Falun Gong, and China organ harvesting.

    They are also shipping Tibetans out of Tibet and replacing them with Han Chinese. Destroying the country completely will ensure it can never again consider itself to be separate from China. Imagine if we did this with, say, Wyoming, or even just San Francisco?

    And the really sad part is, things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better and, sadder still, they will.

  3. Excellent observations. I worked in Shanghai in the mid-’90s conducting marketing training courses for, of all people, Doctors, employed by a multinational pharmaceutical company. Oddly it seems, at that time, sales positions/managers were paid much better than a doctor within the then Chinese medical system.

    Now I can certainly say this was the polar opposite of how these professions were being remunerated in my own country Australia, as well as US and European countries. Now, these medical professionals were just that, highly qualified via European and US Universities but were obviously well and truly underpaid for them to want to dramatically switch careers.

    In fact, I recall that being 1995, they were actually preparing for the return of Hongkong the following year and seemed to be under the impression that this event was the dawn of the new wave of capitalism and change within Chinese society.

    I guess they didn’t figure on the Communist Party not wanting to relinquish its societal mantra apart from occasionally turning a blind eye when it suited!

    Things have not really eventuated as well as people had hoped for way back then. Yes, economic prosperity has replaced the majority subsistence economy, but political interference in day to day lives seems to have remained as strong as ever.

    And for those concerned about pollution, Shanghai’s air quality in ’94-95 was absolutely diabolical, with a constant pall of smog covering the city. When you see the degree of lack of respect for the planet by authority back then, it’s easy to see why the people of Hongkong are getting such a hard time now.

    1. Adrian – China is not exception on this. Doing the industrial revolution, the US, UK , Japan, Germany, France etc…went through this. Currently as manufacturings move to lower cost countries, it starts to destroy its environment too – India, Vietnam, Indonesia etc….If you have time, watch some documentaries. This is the cycle from poor to middle class to rich. Should poor countries stay poor to save the environment? Should rich countries do more to save the planet? Obviously, the developed countries already have their cake and ate it. IMHO, the developed countries should definitely do more and share its knowledge to these countries to minimize the environment impact doing its industrial stage. For example, as of now the US can certainly do more, on a per capita, we’re the biggest offender in the world. As for China, they’re more aware of the environmental impact and certainly are doing more in recent years to contain it and working on more cleaner energies. Instead spending time on pointing fingers, people should start doing its part. I am certainly trying in the last five years by taking public transportation to work, recycling, re-use old stuffs etc…

  4. Fun in the Sun

    China has never seemed communist to me in my visits there. I have only spent a couple of months in China all up split between a few trips. However, China is capitalist. Cuba and North Korea are communist (everyone earning the same income working for state owned enterprises, no choice in career). In China, people start businesses, there are rich and poor people, income varies based on your job.

    China has many issues to overcome to truly become a world powerhouse, endemic corruption being the biggest problem. When Americans call China communist, it feels like there is a different definition to communism than what I understand it to be.

    At most, China could be claimed to socialist as there is greater government support for the citizens than America’s economy.

    1. This is a great post, loved the description of the food!

      Did you see much middle class in China? My perception is one of robber barrons and guys like your taxi driver.

      1. I have been traveling to China each of the past three years. I have traveled through most of the country’s provinces and can attest that the middle class is large and growing. When you chat with younger people, you see the pace of change that is truly unbelievable. One of the best examples I can give is of a university student (studying a doctorate in environmental science, I nicknamed her garbage girl but that’s another story and she honestly likes the moniker), who complains about her lazy father, a poor farmer.
        However, where I notice this even more is when I travel around the world and see huge numbers of Chinese tourists, be it in Egypt, Turkey, any major city in Europe, and even places like Albania. You can even tell the class of those traveling – the middle class tend to take group tours whereas those of the upper middle class and rich will be on their own, often renting very nice automobiles or SUVs. China has approximately five times the population of the USA but I notice Chinese tourists often outnumber Americans by a much larger percentage. Some places like Albania and Serbia have capitalized on this by granting visa free travel to the Chinese. This is only bound to grow when other countries finally realize that China truly is no longer is a country of robber barrons and dirt poor.

  5. It’s interesting how China is often painted as a tyrannical government while the US is seen as some pillar of incorruptible justice given the current mess of US politics. Foreign powers paying lots of money to lobby congress to its whims. Impeachment proceedings for a president who is accused of leveraging foreign leaders to help in self-motivated schemes. In Canada, Justin Trudeau is been mired in scandal over silencing top officials in his own government in order to let a large company off the hook for crimes against humanity. A friend of mine just returned from France where she saw protesters in the streets met with police that carried guns and threw tear gas into the crowds.

    Yet these things are not reported as corrupt, tyrannical or any of the words used to describe China, India, or middle eastern powers. They are reported as failings of the individual rather than a system.

    Communist or capitalist, every government uses hard and soft powers to its own benefit. The US uses foreign aid as a soft power lever in much the same way to silence dissenters. They have just been historically more strategic and aware of PR on a global stage than the Chinese are with western powers.

    I do find the western media coverage of China extremely negative. It was a shock to travel to south-east Asia and hear China spoken of favorably by many people living in places like Nepal where the Chinese government has spent a lot of money building infrastructure. A stark contrast to western views that express these efforts as “self-serving” and manipulative as if the US efforts in foreign countries are entirely altruistic.

    There is actually not that much difference between parties or political views when it comes to quality of life for the average person. We all want the same things and trying to paint other nations in this “good” vs “evil” narrative is destructive. Whether or not you are Republican or Democrat, capitalist or communist, whether you believe in climate change or not, everyone should be able to agree that it’s not okay to be drinking toxic water or to be feeding people food that has steroids in it.

  6. China is one of the places I would like to visit (behind Japan though as one of my bucket list vacations is to go to Japan and sample a few of the Michelin rated sushi places).

    Good warning about food issues. When I went to Bali a few years ago (my best vacation so far), I had a case of “Bali Belly” that had me overtaxing my resorts plumbing (they actually had to send maintenance to fix it, lol) because I sampled some of the local street food (chicken satay at a market).

    I agree I think that China is going to be a major consumer in the future. So what advice would you give for investors who want to perhaps take advantage of the upcoming boom?

  7. I don’t see Communism vanishing from China anytime soon. Rather the opposite. Chinese Communism is leveraging its economic power and the huge consumer market to impose its censorship outside of China. The case of the NBA is only the most recent of a series of threats China posed to companies around the world that were guilty of expressing ideas in contrast with the views of the Communist party. I have a friend who teaches in a large state university in the U.S. with a significant portion of international Chinese students. Apparently, one of these students admitted to his professor that most of his Chinese friends are afraid of speaking up in favor of the Hong Kong demonstrations, for fear of potential Government spies hiding within the group. They are afraid to lose the government sponsored scholarship if they express their opinion. Many American colleges counting on the rich tuitions paid by wealthy Chinese families share the same fear of losing this vital financial pipeline, if students/or faculty members join the protest on campus. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future now that the Communist government is trying to enforce its sphere of influence outside its sovereign territory.

  8. Sam,

    I’m Chinese American. I grew up in San Francisco, lived in Hong Kong and now live in a New York suburb. For me, there was always this duality of growing up Chinese American, especially if since I went to a “tony” private school in Pacific Heights. I am American. I loved Guns n’ Roses in 7th grade, Nirvana in 9th and Green Day in 11th. I loved the Giants and 49ers. I played baseball. I had a sick baseball card collection. In my mind, I was like everyone else. Unfortunately, my white classmates made sure that I knew I was Chinese. I remember when I was in fifth grade I sucker punched the son of the CEO of a major toy company for calling me a “Chink.” (he was my classmate, and everyone was a rich kid except for me and the el savadorian refugee) I ended up washing toilets as my punishment, and the son of the CEO ended up wiping down walls for pencil marks. When I complained to the vice principal that he too was a racist, he said to me “Son, the world isn’t fair. Better you find out now.” That person went on to be principal of an all girl’s school in Sea Cliff. My HK mother told me that day, “one day, the world will go back to normal, and you can be proud to be Chinese. Don’t ever let anyone look down on you.”

    My mom was right. I don’t think she knew China would rise again. She had emigrated to the US for a better life and found a much better life, but that said, a Chinese mom is always right.

    I went into finance. I worked in Hong Kong. Absolutely amazing. I married a Beijng girl, who graduated from Beida so we could have super Chinese babies (and we do). Then we left Hong Kong (too expensive). We moved back to New York (a relative bargin) because we are in finance and we live a great life.

    I’m still conflicted. Part of me feels like I’m from Hong Kong. I’m born to a HK mom. Lived there! I taught my five-year old daughter to say to my wife “Freedom! Glory to Hong Kong!” (more Braveheart style than protest) when we are being nagged by my Beijing wife. She beats me as if she was a HK police officer. We’re American too (even my wife). I’m working on a holiday in my Vineyard Vines (now that’s American). I still love the Giants and the 49ers (oh shit, 5-0!). I’m super proud that I’m Chinese. I say to my compliance officer that he should be nice to me otherwise I won’t protect him from his future Chinese overlords. He smiles at my nervously (pay back is a bitch–I wonder what happen to that kid in 5th grade–I bet his dad had to learn Chinese). Can I be American, Chinese and a Honkie (that’s a hong konger for the PC) all at the same time? A perfect day would be dim sum for breakfast, hot pot for lunch, a 49ers game and then a burrito (Gordos on 24 and Clement).

    Do you ever have the same conflict? Don’t front. You know you love Andrew Yang. #yanggang

    1. Hah! Amazing comment. I feel you on your childhood experiences growing up as an Asian American.

      You should find the kid who called you a chink and have a conversation today and see where his head is at. I love doing that.

      49ers to win it all this year. What an amazing turnaround!

  9. Was Chongqing previously called Chungking by Westerners?

    7% GDP growth – I am always suspicious of these kinds of numbers coming out of China. If Chongqing is indicative of China, it appears as though inflation matched or exceeded GDP growth.

    re: Chongqing residents moving to Beijing or Shanghai. My understanding is that Chinese nationals need permits to move to these cities. W/o the permit, residents won’t be able to get legitimate work or housing and their children will not be able to attend public schools.

  10. Capitalism isnt for everyone. I think the Chinese are easing into it, except for Hong Kong. I cant say that they picked the wrong strategy given they built a behemoth economy relatively quickly. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

    My 2 cents

  11. Chinese people are very capitalistic. It’s in their blood. I can say that because I have Chinese roots. The problem with communism/dictatorship is this – “Let’s hope they have a benevolent leader.” It’s not bad right now, but some ahole is bound to take over. At least in the US, it’s only 4 to 8 years before we can move on. Look at North Korea, they’re so backward over there.
    I hope China continues to prosper. The communist party is doing an okay job. They need to keep finding moderate leaders to lead the country. I’m with the HK people, though. Once you tasted freedom, it’s hard to go back to living under a repressive regime.

  12. First on China. About two years ago I did about 4 trips to China including to Chengdu, Beijing, and Shanghai. Shanghai reminded me of NYC. Chengdu was closer to what you describe here. A bit of the Wild West. I love hotpot by the way.

    I’ve also traveled to India. I’ve listened to the Indians lement the Chinese rise while theirs is so much slower being a democracy. The general statement was the totalitarian piece allowed China to invest and drive change more quickly, which I guess I could see

    My own take on location and cost of living. You don’t need to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world to have a great opportunity. I wouldn’t recommend living in Appalachia and trying to find a job but there are plenty of mid points.

    There are plenty of diverse cities or regions with high pay. Philly comes to mind.

    My standard of living in Delaware is that of someone making 3x my salary in SF. There are plenty of opportunities where I live at my pay point. Its debatable whether moving to the Bay Area would 3x my pay since I’m already a highly paid individual. I know my company only increases valley pay scales about 25 percent from Delaware.

  13. Excellent article and perspective, and with the respect that we all just want to better our lives for our family and ourselves. I was born in Hong Kong, moved to the US in 1982 to Atlanta, and then SF peninsula for 30 years, and 5 years ago to Lexington KY, so I’ve seen and experienced viewpoints from all these very different locations and cultures.

  14. Wow. This post would make the CCP propaganda team proud, it’s straight out of their playbook. A classic attempt at misdirection intended to confuse the issue surrounding Hong Kong and the oppressive polices of the authoritarian regime that is the CCP.

    The following is particularly enlightening:
    “Of course everybody is going to be pro freedom. But to think the Chinese people don’t want freedom and prosperity themselves would be naive.”

    To be clear what he’s doing: He is implying that being pro-freedom should not equate to being pro Hong Kong because Chinese people love freedom too.

    Let’s read that line one more time: “But to think the Chinese people don’t want freedom and prosperity for themselves would be naive”. What? What?! Who holds that position? Who “thinks” that Chinese people don’t want freedom and prosperity for themselves?
    This is classic Ad Hominem; an attempt by Sam to conflate supporting Hong Kong freedom with the entirely fictional perspective that Chinese people don’t also want freedom and prosperity for themselves.

    This, of course, is bullshit.

    While Sam does summarize the origins of the Hong Kong protests correctly, there’s little he gets right after that. The movement in Hong Kong has since moved far beyond the extradition bill. The people in Hong Kong are rallying for democracy, plain and simple. They want the same basic human rights to things like free speech and due process that we enjoy here in America, and the CCP is dead set on not letting them have it. It’s that simple. Hong Kong wants democracy, the CCP wants their typical control and censorship. It’s free speech vs censorship, democracy vs authoritarianism dressed up poorly as communism. To characterize it any other way is a crock of bull. What’s even more ridiculous is trying to assert that supporting freedom and democracy in Hong Kong is to misunderstand that Chinese people just want freedom too.

    All said, it’s a transparent attempt at smoke and mirrors to conceal the obvious truth: that the heart of the issue of Hong Kong is freedom and democracy vs censorship, control, and authoritarianism.

    Choosing the side of freedom DOES NOT mean you don’t support freedom of the Chinese people, it means you do support the freedom of those in Hong Kong.

    Be it the ongoing suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, aggressive and unlawful expansion encroaching on the sovereignty of their neighbors in the South China Sea, or the forced internment (and likely organ harvesting) of millions of Uighar Muslims because of their religious beliefs, one does not need to look far for evidence of the CCP’s oppressive nature. Sam chooses not to look at all though, instead opting to go with vague sentiments like “there are always two sides to any conflict” or “Chinese people like freedom too”.

    Sam, it’s not complicated issue. If you believe that every human is entitled to the same rights we all, you and your family included, enjoy in America, then it’s obvious which side you should support.

    But hey, maybe you don’t believe that. Maybe you believe Hong Kong needs to shut up and accept authoritarian rule. After all, that’s what makes America great, right? The ability to exercise your right to free speech in order to spread misinformation in support of oppression overseas.

    This post reads Red with yellow stars. Fully expecting my comment to be taken down, in the true spirit of censorship and the CCP :)

    1. I love your comment actually and how it has fired you up!

      Can you share your thoughts on several things?

      * Why hasn’t the NBA been more critical of China given your remarks?

      * Do you equate what the average citizen does and thinks to what the average Chinese politician does and thinks?

      * Why do you think there are not more riots in the big Chinese cities against the government if you think the government is so oppressive against its people?

      * What is your background and association with Hong Kong and China? It would be helpful to understand where you’re coming from.

      * Would you like to write a guest post about a Hong Kong person‘s perspective if you are indeed from Hong Kong and live in Hong Kong/have experience living through both regimes?

      Thanks! And keep the fire coming, my comrade.


      1. Thanks for the reply. Happy to share my thoughts:

        * Why hasn’t the NBA been more critical of China given your remarks?

        Because they have chosen profit over principals. As you pointed out, the Chinese market is extremely lucrative for the NBA, but order to maintain access to that market they must comply with CCP censors or else they will be banned. Rather than stand up for their values and take a hit to their already preposterously loaded wallets, they cowardly kowtowed to Chinese censorship. It’s especially ironic considering how many NBA figures fancy themselves as “activists” of sorts, often speaking out on many controversial domestic issues. But bring up Hong Kong, which is a clear cut issue of democracy vs authoritarianism, and all of a sudden it’s “too complicated” for them to speak on it.

        Its not only the NBA who is guilty of this, either. Just last week Blizzard Entertainment, a video game company, stirred up quite the controversy by exacting what many found to be an inordinately harsh punishment on a professional video game player from Hong Kong who shouted “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our age” on a post game interview. Many believe their reaction was made in attempts to appease the Chinese censors and they faced considerable backlash from their community as a result.

        Disney (and their many subsidiaries) is another great example of an American company self-censoring for Chinese Market access. A particularly blatant example of this would be just last week when ESPN (owned by Disney) showed a map of China which included Taiwan (which is self-governed and absolutely NOT a part of China, despite CCP claims to the contrary) and their intentionally condemned “9 dashed line” territorial claim South China Sea, which the United States Navy consistently contests with “Freedom of Navigation” exercises through critical areas like the Taiwan Strait.

        There are more examples, but the theme is consistent: American companies bowing to the Chinese Government narrative in order to get market access. It’s disheartening to see especially since many of these companies could afford to take the hit and make a stand for values like freedom, but they choose greed instead. There are counter examples though of companies refusing to censor themselves, South Park studios probably being the most famous.

        * Do you equate what the average citizen does and thinks to what the average Chinese politician does and thinks?

        Of course not. I firmly believe that regardless of where you go in the world, including China, regular people are more or less the same. They want to live well, take care of their families, and participate harmoniously with society. My criticisms are solely against the CCP and it’s oppressive policies, not the Chinese people. I recognize that a lot of Chinese people are fiercely proud and protective of the CCP, and that’s fine, it’s their prerogative, but it’s flat wrong to conflate my criticism of their government, even if they strongly disagree with that criticism, with criticism of the people themselves.

        * Why do you think there are not more riots in the big Chinese cities against the government if you think the government is so oppressive against its people?

        Remember Tiananmen Square? That’s why. Because unlike in a free democracy like America where we have a right to assembly and protest, China affords no such liberties to its citizens. Protesting in China against the CCP is to put your freedom and livlihood in great peril.

        Terror tactics like sudden and unexplained detainment in “black jails” are a common occurrence and useful weapon in silencing potential dissenters through fear. People like human rights lawyers and activists; people simply trying to give a voice to the oppressed, are frequent targets of such tactics.

        Also, just to be clear, I don’t believe China is “so oppressive against its people”. At least not most of them. If you’re a typical mainland Chinese person and you don’t protest against the party, I’m sure you’re fine in China. The censorship might be annoying, but if you’re used to it than it’s probably not a big deal. It’s just the minorities, people like the Uighur Muslims who are forcibly interned for religious beliefs, or the people of Hong Kong who fight for liberties like free speech and due process which people in mainland China have learned to live without, that suffer under the regime. But because the problems of these small minorities don’t affect your typical maindlander, it makes sense they aren’t protesting about it.

        * What is your background and association with Hong Kong and China? It would be helpful to understand where you’re coming from.

        Just a concerned American citizen with an interest in geopolitics, particularly concerning Asia where I’ve traveled extensively and currently live.

        * Would you like to write a guest post about a Hong Kong person‘s perspective if you are indeed from Hong Kong and live in Hong Kong/have experience living through both regimes?

        I have not lived in Hong Kong, but I would be very interested to see such a post from someone who has.

        1. Thanks Joseph. If you have never lived in Hong Kong, have you at least lived in China or visited China and spoken to its citizens to gain their perspective? If not, do you believe this may be one of the reasons why there is so much conflict?

          With so much passion about the topic, what are some specific steps you are taking to help for Hong Kong people?

          There has to be a reason why you are so passionate about this topic. Can you share some incident that happened in your life that made you so? How old are you?


          1. Too bad Sam that you are not answering to Joseph’s objections. I think we are all passionate about this issue, because to have a superpower like China acting like an authoritarian regime is bad news for the rest of the world. When people have to choose between security or freedom they usually choose for the first option, because freedom is not free and it takes courage to advocate for it. This is what we are seeing in China, therefore I am worried that this could be the future of our children, if, as you say, China is going rule the world .

            1. I’m waiting to understand his background further. In the meantime, would you like to share your thoughts about the China Hong Kong situation? It would be much more helpful than commenting after I wrote an entire post on the subject.

              Always try to contribute and provide perspective, instead of just criticize. Otherwise, what’s the point when no action is taken?

            2. What always amazes me is the arrogance from Americans who think they know what they are talking about, interject in other peoples affairs, yet have simply no clue. I bet you don’t even speak the language or have visited China or Hong Kong before.

              America as a world police is a big problem. Yes, there are some good things we police, but there are also a lot of things we should stay out of.

          2. Sam, it feels like you’re trying to pull the conversation away from the issues we are discussing and focus it on me as an individual, which is entirely irrelevant. It feels like Ad Hominem, which is a logical fallacy where one attacks the person making the argument as opposed to the argument itself (often because they are scared to address the actual issues). I’ve done my best to educate myself on this topic and I’ve shared my thoughts, so if you have thoughts of you’re own regarding what I’ve said I’d love to hear them, but I’d appreciate it if you kept my personal identity out of it. If something I said is wrong or misguided, please point it out and we can discuss, but making me justify what I’m saying with some background you deem appropriate is an underhanded tactic intended to distract.

            That being said, I’ll humor you. I’ve been to China recently and spoken to a number citizens there (most of them were lovely people), and I currently live in Taiwan. I want to reiterate that I really don’t see how that matters to what we’re talking about but there you have it.

            As to what I’m doing to support the people of Hong Kong, again, hardly relevant to the issues, but something simple I’m doing (that anyone can do if they want to help in a small way) is boycotting and speaking out against any American company that censors speech in support of Hong Kong. There are full lists available of these companies all over the internet for anyone who is interested to partake.

            Now that I’ve answered all your questions, I’m curious as to your views on a few matters which wasn’t clear from your post:

            *Where do you stand on the issue of Hong Kong? With the Hong Kong people who want democracy or with the CCP? If you’re not sure, would you mind sharing exactly what it is about this issue that makes you unsure?

            * How about the issue of Taiwan? Do you believe Taiwan is the rightful territory of the CCP or should the people who live there be able to determine for themselves whether they want to be a part of China or not?

            * What are your thoughts on the forced internment and possible organ harvesting of millions of Uighur Muslims by the CCP?

            * You asked me my opinion on two questions: why has the NBA not been more critical of China, and why do more Chinese not protest against their government, which I responded to best I could. Do you agree or disagree with what I said? Why?


            1. Joseph, I don’t think I’m attacking you. I’m just curious to understand where you are coming from.

              Now please re-read your initial comment. It certainly seems like you are attacking me. You used the words “propaganda,” “bullshit,” “propaganda team proud,” and snark by “Fully expecting my comment to be taken down, in the true spirit of censorship and the CCP :)” etc. Is this how you talk to people face to face? Try to be more civil, otherwise life is going to be hard for you.

              Your initial comment and tone fascinates me because normal people don’t communicate with others in this way, which made me curious to understand where you are coming from. Now that you’ve shared that you live in Taiwan, it makes more sense. I assume you are not for the KMT. But your data does say you are commenting from Hong Kong, btw, which makes even more sense.

              I’m for democracy in Hong Kong. I’m also for a peaceful resolution between China and Hong Kong. At some point, the protesting will start to severely negatively impact the HK economy and that’s bad for its citizens. I also don’t want folks confusing the average Chinese citizen with any political malfeasance that might occur. That’s how stereotypes are created.

            2. Fair enough. I definitely was attacking, but I was attacking what you said, not you as a person, an important distinction I believe. But you’re right about the tone being too abrasive, there was no need to abandon courtesy. My apologies.

              On the other hand, even after this discussion in the comments I’ve found your writing on this topic to be uncharacteristically vague and at times misleading, which is both confusing and frustrating.

              I appreciate you clarifying your stance on Hong Kong, but will you answer the rest of the questions I asked, or are you unwilling to? Just as you wanted to get a better understanding of my background, I’m interested in learning more about your views pertaining to the CCP.

              I’ll add one more thing: I fully appreciate and support your desire to distinguish between the CCP and typical Chinese citizens. I agree it’s imperative not to foster stereotypes or resentment towards any peoples due to their nationality or ethnicity. I’m an American, and when I criticize my own government (which I do often) I believe it’s understood I’m not criticizing the American public. The same goes here. Criticism of the CCP does not extend to Chinese citizens in any way. Similarly, just as I don’t take criticism of my government as a personal attack, I would hope Chinese nationals also don’t take criticisms of their government personally, even if they don’t agree with those critiques.

            3. I’m with you on this Joseph. As you said:
              ‘Hong Kong wants democracy, the CCP wants their typical control and censorship. It’s free speech vs censorship, democracy vs authoritarianism dressed up poorly as communism.’ Exactly.
              Pretty concerned that soon, the number 1 economic power in the world will be an authoritarian regime.

          3. Neat you found out that Joseph was actually commenting from Hong Kong.

            It makes perfect sense why he is so angry and belligerent. It’s just better to say and your stance first so people know where you’re coming from.

            Joseph, nobody’s going to take you seriously if you lie about your background. It’s obvious you have and objective and you’re not able to have a normal conversation.

        2. Outstanding reply Joseph. I must disclaim that i’m a Cuban American, blessed to have a long career in the American Hi Tech Engineering industry. So my opinions on this matter are strong. My parents escaped communism when I was a baby.

          Sam’s blog is a business, and if he draws any revenue from China, I can see why he needs to be PC w the Chi-Coms.

          1. Jp – Financial Samurai doesn’t earn any traffic or review from China. Does your company? A lot of high tech companies do. Make sure you review your company’s income statement and leave if so.

            When you worked for Intel “for a looong” time in a previous comment, why did you stay there if a good percentage of its revenue comes from China?

            We know Fidel Castro was hated by many Cubanos who fled due to his regime. Given your intimate experience, why support a similar regime?

            BTW, when I lived in the Spanish House in college, our language house tutor was from Cuba and his father was one of the great independent filmmakers in the country.

    2. What happened to you? I’m also curious what specific trauma you experienced to lose your shit.

      Sam’s article was balanced and insightful. Your reaction makes it seem like the Chinese confiscated your parent’s property and put you in a concentration camp.

  15. I remember reading about Morey’s tweet and wondering if thought about the timing of his comment and whether or not the possibility of blow back even crossed his mind for a second before he tweeted that out to the world.

    I’ve never been to China or Hong Kong so I can’t say I know much about either place, just what I’ve heard from people like yourself or things in the news. I can imagine though how scary it would be to believe that if you got sent off to China you may never make it back to HK.

    Fascinating insights on your travels! What a crazy adventure that must have been. I’d like to visit China sometime. I do wish I went twenty years ago before the pollution got so bad and when I had more energy and time.

  16. I’ve always felt that living somewhere less expensive never works out unless you A) have a totally online business that doesn’t need a physical presence of B) Fixed income

    NYC and San Fran are expensive, but the opportunities outweigh the prices.

    I’ve switched firms 3 times in 7 years, each time for more $$$. If I got stuck in a one-company town, those opportunities don’t exist.

    Although, I am intrigued by the growth in China. Can it be like USA in early 1900’s? Then a possible opportunity to strike it rich…

  17. I’m scared to think what a world ruled by China would be like given the current values there. A lot of immorality and disregard for other humans from my perspective after living there for a year. I guess some of that is just the level of competitiveness necessary to survive and improve one’s standard of living.

    It seems like the rich tramples the poor, and the poor just take it. Also, it seems like many young women are expected to be pretty and servile. They willingly play that role of “I’m too delicate and weak to work hard or think for myself” in a manipulative way. On the other hand, a guy’s mateability is largely dependent on his ability to make good money. Basically, a lot of relationships are transactions and not love-based, and with the inevitable infidelity that follows as well as the wide availability of prostitution, I felt that sexual morals were definitely lacking compared to the US. This was in a big city (Shenzhen), but overall not the type of innocent environment where you’d want to raise kids.

    1. the value of woman being delicate and pretty while men makes money is similar to what US was back in 1960s and 1970s?
      China is at least one generation behind US from both the level of overall education and gender equality, however i do see Chinese woman step up more and more as they are gaining their financial independence, if you don’t make money in your house, in general it’s hard for you to have the same voice as your husband, this is same in China and in US.

      1. KK, I guess you either never visited China or hasn’t visited for a long time. I dare to say the percentage of stay home Mom (or dad) in US is way higher than China.

        For good or bad, CCP smashed a lot of traditional Chinese culture/value since it came to power, and nowadays, it is hard to find a working age woman who is not working in China. Yes there must be some gender equality, but I don’t know a good way to measure it.

  18. Awesome post, Sam! I am a fan of your blog and enjoy every bit of it, the advice and your insight is great!

    Sichuan food will definitely make you run off to the toilet if you’re not used to food drenched in peppers! I just love having a nice scorching dish of fish and washing it down with a cold beer!

    Having lived in HK for a bit of time, I always found myself in Shenzhen almost every other weekend and have to say that the change has been unimaginable in just the last 10 years alone.

    China is definitely very capitalistic and only “communist” on paper as they control the flow of information, freedom of speech, etc. But in terms of business/FDI, they’ve had a massive boom these last 3 decades and are far more capitalistic than us here in the states.

    In terms of the major first tier cities in the mainland, I feel that the standard of living and potential lifestyle one can have is much more better than some towns here in the US. The options one has when going out for entertainment, dining, etc. is quite vast. Too bad the USD to RMB conversion isn’t as great as it was back in the early to mid 2000s!

    The pollution is quite bad but I can tolerate it (lungs become accustomed to the terrible air, haha). If I had a choice to live in the mainland, it would probably be either Shanghai or Shenzhen though!

    1. Communist on paper? Like how so? Like if someone pulled a stunt like Kathy Griffin with a prop head of Xi Jinging you think nothing would happen? Nothing happened to her in US because of what’s called the A1. Try that in China and tell me if communist is only on paper.

  19. mysticaltyger

    Crony Capitalism (not the same thing as true, free market capitalism) and Socialism/Communism are being merged so that there is no distinction between the two.

  20. I think when we became part of a global economy, everyone had to evolve including the communist countries. If not, they would have been left behind. Even a Capitalist powerhouse like the U.S. is evolving and changing. We used to outsource everything to lower our costs, but now it makes sense to bring some of it back. When oil was over$100 a barrel, it made sense to do more exploration domestically. Slowly, we are becoming less dependent on Middle East oil. Although every country is evolving, it is more shocking that communist countries are becoming more Capitalistic.

    BTW, I was in Taiwan in August years ago on business and the weather was unbearably hot. I was told to avoid the Far East in the Summer at all costs because of the weather.

  21. Hi Sam I’m a Chinese working in the Bay Area. What an interesting article :-)
    My brother is a businessman in Shenzhen and he once told me there are two main capitalism country in the world: US & China.

  22. Visited China couple times with friends, first trip in the early 90’s and a few more trips afterward, stayed in the big city like Guangzhou, small city like Jiangman, the countryside and travelled to Jilin. We actually go everywhere with the locals, my friends’ relatives, parents friends and their kids. The air in the cities are polluted. In the countryside, it is very nice. Once you get to know them better, what the average chinese want and chasing after is not a lot different than Americans – they want to have a better standard of living, be able to provide for their family, kids, take vacations, buy a place etc…..there is so many people in China, competition is fierce, in order for them to obtain their dreams, they work twice if not more as hard as people in the US. One thing I noticed is that there is optimism and people believe their life will get better as long as they work hard.

    1. I feel a lot of optimism and excitement in the air as well every time I visit.

      But the cab driver’s feedback in this article I found fascinating as it just proved that everything is relative.

  23. Chris the CPA

    China is no longer communist and hasn’t been for many years. They combine totalitarianism and state capitalism -which is basically the same thing as Facism. As long as the state doesn’t harbor military ambitions, the world need not worry. How likely is that? We shall see.

    1. I suppose you could describe the current Chinese regime as facism. There is a very thin difference between facism and communism.

      Regardless, the Chinese government has excessive power over its citizens. You have one political party with a monopoly and there in lies the problem.

      The positive thing is the extreme shift which has occurred over the last 15, 20 years. A rapidly rising Chinese middle class is pushing the government in a more moderate direction. I think you will see some form of democracy in China at some point.

  24. Not well versed with China nor Communism – nevertheless I enjoyed the article and it opened my eyes.

  25. Harsh as it may seem, inequality pushes people to be better. China took away their people’s empowerment to make their lives better…and that’s sad. Just another reason why I love being a capitalist!

  26. Funny, I’ve been having very similar thoughts since moving to Beijing a few months ago. I live in an area called ZhongGuanCun, also known as the Silicon Valley equivalent. Not only have I been shocked by the amount of wealth I’ve seen so far (who doesn’t have an Audi or BMW around here? AND, I’m sure it was paid for in cash), but I can’t believe what a limited understanding I had of the Chinese wealth and development that had occurred. Sure, I always knew they saved 50%…and strive to do the same myself…but I never thought they had this much wealth. Oh, and the airports and public transportation system, I sort of think they put NYC to shame, with everything being so clean, timely, and fast. Don’t even get me started on how nice shopping is in Wangfujing. Do you have Chinese citizenship, Sam?

    1. I don’t Irene. I’m American.

      What brings you to Beijing? I used to study at Bei Shi Da on san huan lu. I remember riding my bike through the hu tongs to the Forbidden City and eating yang rou chur and Yan Jing Pi Jiu at night. It was a magical time, 1997!

      1. a work assignment in the software industry brought me to beijing. 1997 sounds like it was a magical time!

  27. Midwestern POV

    Hi Sam. I love your articles but sometimes the jibes towards middle America get a little old. I’ve lived on both coasts in very trendy areas. While I had a great time there as a single person (like you), it’s definitely not the right fit for my family. Many of my college friends from Stanford stayed in the Bay Area. At a recent reunion, after the initial ribbing about my midwestern life, most acknowledged that life isn’t so easy even on 300-400K. Say you and your spouse are both physicians with 3 children in SF making 400K/year. Good luck having a nice house, sending them to good public schools, have a reasonable commute, take nice vacations, save for retirement, save for college, manage your daily living expenses, and pay your Fed/State taxes. Yes, there are internet millionaires/billionaires (I know some of them) but they are definitely the outliers.

    I’ll still read your articles but when you constantly berate those of us who have found amazing opportunities outside SF and NYC, I’ll laugh at your misguided musings. Why can I say that confidently? Because we are debt free (including house), multiple 7 figures in assets, high paying jobs, kids in amazing private schools, great group of friends, great country club, short commute, and we travel the world with our family (India, Greece, England, France, Costa Rica, Italy, Peru, etc.) What would our life be like in Palo Alto …. a shell of my present existence. No thank you.

    As for China, I’ve never been there but I’ll report back when we get around to vacationing there!


    1. Oh come on now, what’s a little poking once every couple of years! I thought the analogy was quite pertinent since Chongqing is in the middle of China (see map).

      Those of us on the West Coast need to occasionally jab at the Midwest because we are jealous of such low cost living you guys have!

    2. $400k salary gets you a pretty great life even in SF. Only a fool would not be able to make that type of coin work pretty well. You are exaggerating quite a bit. Yes, I have lived in the Midwest too and some of the stereotypes from the Coasts are a little extreme. There just isn’t much innovation or a global focus in the Midwest, so there aren’t as many opportunities for people to make $400k. Even the most innovative cars in the US aren’t made or designed in the Midwest anymore.

      1. Midwestern POV

        Dear Matt,

        I respectfully disagree that I am “exaggerating quite a bit.” My wife and I could move tomorrow to Palo Alto or San Francisco and make >$500K. (We are fortunate to be physician sub-specialists in highly sought after fields.) That being said, if you look at the criteria I mentioned before in my post, we definitely could not lead the same life I do now in either of those places due to more expensive cost of living. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have a nice life … of course we would. It would involve much smaller home, public schools, no country club, no expensive vacations because we would have to save a larger portion of our income for retirement, investing, and college savings. It’s just math … we would simply have much less discretionary income due to the cost of living. Also, as you know, there is a huge cost in NOT having money invested for decades because it is being deployed to pay for one’s house, taxes, etc. The bottom line is we just wouldn’t have the financial freedom that we enjoy now.

        I love visiting NYC and SF. They are both great places and I have many dear friends who live their. For our situation, it doesn’t make sense financially.


        1. Before coming to California, all I knew about America was living in Virginia and NYC for 10 years for HS, college, and work. Then I visited California one summer and fell in love. I had no idea such a great place in the States existed. I’m sure once many folks from the East Coast and Midwest come visit, many will want to relocate. Might as well live as great a life as possible. I say most, but not all of course. And I have lived everywhere around the world. It’s pretty good out here.

        2. All I am saying is that you can live quite nicely even in the Bay Area on $400k. You said, life isn’t so easy on $300-$400k. Yes, you can have a nice house in a nice neighborhood with good schools, with a reasonable commute and take nice international vacations. I know, because my brother, who is a doctor and his wife, who is a nurse, do exactly that with about $300k in salary with 2 kids in Marin County.

          Sure, you can get more for your money in the Midwest, so you might have a 5,000 SF house on an acre instead of a 2,500 SF house on a 1/4 acre and you might drive your car for 7-8 years instead of 2-3. That is a choice. However, neither situation is hard or a struggle for anyone

          Your situation is somewhat unique, because you can make your same salary in most parts of the country, but for many tech workers their companies and jobs do not exist in the middle of the country. They need to be where the innovation is and that certainly is not the Midwest (or at least about 99% of it), which I can attest to as a former resident.

            1. Midwestern POV

              I’d like to retract “life is not so easy” and insert “life is not as easy.” As I mentioned, one can definitely live a comfortable life on 300-400K in the Bay Area with 3-4 kids. I simply won’t give up the decreased financial stress for a supposed ideal geography … to each their own. (I’m relatively risk averse and I value having a big war chest.) You will simply have to accept some lifestyle changes and have less savings if you wish to stay in the Bay Area (dollar for dollar) compared to other nice places to live. (For example, our savings rate is close to 40% gross income.) I agree that our portable financial situation is unique and not applicable to other fields.

            2. Midwestern POV

              Great question …. I’m not sure. We actually want to downsize when the kids are out of the house. I wouldn’t change the present, but I don’t want to cling to a big house and ritzy lifestyle forever … that gets boring too! There is a time and place for everything in life. When we are empty nesters, we would like to volunteer (local free clinics and medical missions abroad) and travel for more extensive periods of time. We still want to live here as we’ve built a life in our city.

              If I go part-time at age 50 and work a couple of days a week (about 5 years from now), I would not need to touch my investments for 12-15 years. (Neither would I need to fund them either!) Also, the house, the kids college educations (even 4 Harvard tuitions), and our smaller new retirement home (same city) would all be paid off at that point.

              I guess that’s my idea retirement for now. We could stop working at age 59 1/2 or continue on till 62. At that point, using conservative numbers, we should have >$6million plus social security.

              Sorry if my posts are off topic from your article. My major point is that where one chooses (or is able) to live seriously impacts their financial life. For me, having the ability to have all my financial house in order at a relatively young age is priceless. The lack of financial stress really affords me the ability to live life more on my own terms, rather than being held hostage to financial obligations.

              I also recognize I am an outlier as most physicians are terrible with their finances. I also feel badly for the new doctors coming out … $700K in student debt is becoming the norm …. just ask the White Coat Investor! That’s a big hole to dig out of no matter what your specialty is. My wife and I graduated at just the right time and got lucky. Also, I took a calculated risk to start my own practice: no risk, no reward.

              1. $700K in student debt? Is that possible? Obama is going to forgive after 10 years right?

                Thoughts on dying with less than $5 million to avoid the estate tax?

                Do you feel $6 million+ will be enough, too little, or too much at age ~62? What do you plan to do with it?

            3. Midwestern POV

              If you train for 5+ years after medical school, you can easily have 700K in student debt; others have written about it. The sad thing is that they aren’t even living large with student loans! I just met two resident physicians (married during medical school) who have over $1million in student debt combined. Remember, the interest rates are high for student loans, interest in not deductible, and this debt cannot be forgiven even with bankruptcy. I seriously doubt the government is going to pay off this debt without the medical student providing military service, etc. Doctors make less in saturated markets like LA, NYC, SF too.

              The estate tax for married couples is about $10million. We definitely won’t come close.

              As for whether $6+ million plus social security will be enough at retirement, I’d say definitely. Short of having a serious gambling problem or drug addiction, I really don’t know what we would do with about $250K/year (using 4% safe withdrawal rate plus SS) as retirees when we have no debt and low overhead.

              We will donate to charity, provide for our children’s home down payments, and leave money to pay for our grandchildren’s education. (This refers to your prior article.)

              Maybe I’m a little too conservative financially, but I’d rather err on the side of having too much than too little. You never knows what life throws at you! Besides, it’s not exactly like we are not enjoying life and splurging now.

    3. I agree, the midwest is actually quite nice, but the poking goes both ways. People in the midwest make fun of California and NYC folks fairly often too. The coastal areas have much more non white population, so for an ethnic minority person in America like Sam, it’s probably a much easier place to live. As for majority of white people who poke fun at the midwest, my personal observation is that a lot of it boils down to religion which manifests in feeling of superiority by the coastal people. There are many agnostic and atheist people in the coastal metropolitan areas who tend to look down at the religious midwest and the southern people for that reason alone. When someone is independently wealthy, where one lives doesn’t matter all that much though. Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett, Jerry Jones, the WalMart heirs, all live in non coastal areas and probably have great lives.

      1. I don’t believe the Midwest is really all that religious. The Southern states tend to be.

        Midwestern cities (especially surrounding the Great Lakes) tend to have fairly diverse populations/life styles and agnostics/atheists are very common.

        It’s been my observation that coastal folks tend to be confused as to where the Midwest actually is. Hint: Oklahoma is not the Midwest. And neither is Kentucky.

      2. Midwestern POV

        My point exactly. Most people can have a great life in many different places as long as your relative expectations are not too high ie. expecting a large single family house in midtown Manhattan … at least for us mortal!

    4. Living in the Midwest- I couldn’t agree more! I would not want to raise kids in California based on the materialism, etc. Great reply!

      1. I do wonder about the diversity of the Midwest though. Because I grew up overseas and attended international schools, it might not be as enjoyable for minorities to live in the Midwest. I assume all of America will become very diverse, eventually. But it starts from the coasts and works its way in and we are not there yet.

        Have you guys ever lived overseas?

  28. Rob in Munich

    Morning Sam your post made my day today, was kind of blue, too much time on political blogs and news sites so a good laugh was well worth it,

    As others have noted China has grown faster than India for the simple reason India is a democracy and you have the old not in my back yard kind of thinking which slows progress, China has none of those constraints which in the short term is good for growth. Long term who knows.

    Did you have problems with internet there – great firewall of china?

    1. You can’t connect to FB or Twitter in China. I’m sure other sites too. The news is controlled too.

      Glad you liked it. You should share your stories about Munich one day. I hear that city is rocking with growth!

  29. Sam,

    My family has experienced both communism and Nazism. Neither is good. Better to avoid living in these states.

    The Chinese have certainly succeeded in creating a blended capitalist/communist state, but I don’t know. The people are wonderful. The government is terrible.

    I do think the rapidly growing Chinese middle class will continue to moderate the government over time. That would be the best outcome in this situation.

    1. I learned that the founders of BMW had heavy Nazi ties. I did some research, and they employed 50,000 slave laborers during wartime. I don’t think I can buy another BMW again, especially since the heir is worth $15 billion and NOT donating that money back to the families they took advantage of.

      1. Do you buy any Made in China products in America? China continues to occupy and destroys Tibet’s culture while demanding Japan apology for its atrocities during WWII, go figure. Nazi’s aren’t any better or worse than China, America, or any other stronger nation who took advantage of weaker neighbors. I say go ahead and buy that BMW if you like their products and not let geopolitical issues creep into your product purchases.

      2. Well….. Just about all the German corporations had slave labor during World War II. There was a labor shortage; they did extreme things.
        None of it good. You flew on a jet airplane to China….German World War II technology.

        NASA – Space program. Apollo missions – German technology/scientists/engineers.

        The U.S. had slaves. We had a civil war. Abe Lincoln won. I’m not sure if history is a good reason to reject the products.

        I’m just saying that countries with these type of governments are best avoided.

  30. Oh Sam, the detailed communist stories I could tell you second hand from my boss who lived in Vietnam until his mid twenties. His father was one of the top businessmen in Vietnam with a wide range of industries from lumber to movie theaters to Honda motorcycle sales. Let’s just say, extremely wealthy! Then the communists came in, changed the monetary system (so now your cash is worthless), told you how much profit you were allowed to make, who you could associate with, and reviewed every movie before it was shown in your theater.

    Seeing no real future, my boss got his wife and infant daughter on a small boat and slipped out of the country in the middle of the night. After a lengthy process, life started all over for him in the US…minus the wealth of his father who stayed behind to work for the communists until his death. The whole story is the kind you read about in books.

    It certainly made me appreciate the US much more.

    Note: While Vietnam has more capitalist traits today, like China it is still run as a communist state.

  31. Interesting article Sam. I have visited China (Beijing) once. It was a great experience – I was on business so a bit different than going on personal time. As you and others have noted, the pollution and lack of overall standards controls ( food, building, etc.) is a bit scary. I am not sure I would consider living in China in the future but you never know.

    You asked the question: “Why do you think communist China has grown more quickly than democratic India over the past couple of decades?”. While I have been to China but not India, I perceive that one core reason that China has grown is that China gets the fact that you need a good infrastructure in order to effectively grow the economy. Absent a quality & controlled infrastructure, they will get no where. For example, I have read/heard stories about how some of the US airports look 3rd world compared to the 21st century airports that China is building. Again, some of the standards (ie. building standards so that we don’t see buildings – as I have seen stories – just falling over after they are built in 5 days) are a bit scary but they understand that they need to build a core infrastructure. It doesn’t appear that India has figured this out and there is so much lethargy in getting stuff done in India, it causes huge issues in growing their economy. When the Communist China government decides that they need to get something done, building infrastructure or otherwise, there is little that causes delay – this can be a curse and a blessing!

    1. Infrastructure is definitely important, and India is severely lagging. People are getting extremely rich in India too, but not at a similar pace. And the poverty in India is much more ubiquitous than China. So China has more wealthy people, less impoverished people, and a stronger middle class w/ Communism.

  32. Done by Forty

    So much good stuff here, Sam, from a convergent view of differing economic systems, to liquid pooh stories, and, best of all, a bit on the psychology of the common man in China. In the end, we don’t just want to get ahead…we want to get ahead of our neighbors. Comparative wealth matters more than absolute wealth. We really are happier when we’re better off than the guy next door.

    While that’s true, the problem is that it’s a zero sum game. (Or worse, depending on demographics…one big winner on a block might be making all the neighbors feel like a loser.)

  33. Jay @ ThinkingWealthy

    I’ve heard recent horror stories from people who have traveled there which makes me uneasy still given that I can’t speak the language. Had a friend of a friend get mugged, driven around, emptied his bank account at various ATMs, and then abandoned in rural China.


  34. A lot of people get upset at China because of their lack of regulation on pollution, but they’re argument is that the U.S. didn’t have regulations either when we were developing and we did a lot of messed up things to the environment as well. Some of my Chinese friends say, “when we’re done developing, we’ll put regulations. Just like you guys did.” Can’t really argue with that too much.

    1. Smart. Can’t really argue with that logic either!

      The pollution is HORRENDOUS. Seriously, even if you are a billionaire in China, the population doesn’t treat you any better.

    2. Yeah, if we don’t completely ruin our planet in the meantime that will be great. Sorry, but China doesn’t have hundreds of years to figure out how to keep pollution under control like the U.S. and other countries did during their industrial revolutions. The hour is late.

  35. Predictions about China or any other countries are fun to make, but a lot of China’s future world dominance is fear mongering by the Western media in my view. In late 80s and early 90s, Americans thought Japan would take over the world too. I haven’t been to China, so can’t comment directly about quality of life there, but since wealthy Chinese like to buy properties in America, send their children to be educated here, it seems they want to hedge against the Chinese system in some way. Also far more Chinese immigrate to U.S. than the other way around, so I would still believe even most Chinese believe life in U.S. would be better.

    In any case, the global economy isn’t a zero sum game, so if China continues to do well, then the entire world will benefit from it. Only the misinformed or super nationalists believe in order for China to do well, it has to come at the expense of U.S.

    1. Hope this post didn’t come across as fear mongering. The discovery is that Chinese people and American people are very much interested in the same: getting wealthy and leading less stressful, happier lives. And in my eyes, having been to China many times, the Chinese are WAY MORE hungry than Americans in building wealth b/c they SEE the potential from other countries.

      1. I agree completely that both Chinese and Americans and everyone else also want to lead happier, wealthier, and less stressful lives. Since you’ve been to China, I’m sure you know much more than me, but I think if someone is very wealthy(above $20 mil networth) , it really doesn’t matter where they live. They can live very well in most places as long as their personal safety isn’t threatened due to political instability. However, for most middle class and below, I would bet that U.S. and most of Western Europe is much better place to live than China. Also, I tend to believe that Chinese are WAY MORE hungry in achieving “success” compared to their U.S. and European counterparts because they have to be due to their immense population who are mostly poor. There’s just too much cheap labor migrants from the countryside in China, so the average person has to become super motivated or just get crushed in an extremely competitive society.

    2. I could be wrong, but from what I understand, Chinese people have their children in America because it’s cheaper to have a second child in the US than it is to in a Chinese hospital.

      1. No, the child in born in the US to obtain US citizenship. Can easily come back for college or to live here in the future.

  36. Sam, another timely and interesting article for me to read. A couple of notes though…first off I am no sure about the textile industry, but the auto industry is booming in Michigan not dying. Funny how people outside of Michigan or the Midwest perceive things…volumes are at their highest ever factories running 24/7, new programs kicking off one after another. Honestly it has never been better…I think you’d be shocked at the number of auto industry multi-millionaires in these low cost states like Michigan. If you’ve never traveled here I’d suggest it is worth a visit. It would be interesting to see if you still believe that life in San Fran is “outrageously better” after checking things out…I’d be happy to be your tour guide! Nobody in the auto industry has actually lived or worked in Detroit since the 60’s. I’m busting your balls a bit, because I really like San Fran area as well, but the Midwest is not quite the boring hell on earth people on the coasts make it out to be.

    On another note, I’m actually considering doing a start-up in the Shanghai similar to my auto based business here in Michigan…planning a visit this fall to start the leg-work and see if it is a worth while venture. The real question for me is not if it can be successful, more of do I really want to live there for 3 years or more as I get it rolling. Do you have family in the city you visited…just curious because Shanghai is about as westernized as New York city these days with all the ex-pats living there.

    1. I’m sure there are a lot of auto industry multi-millionaires. How can there not be with such MASSIVE government bailouts and support? :) $10 billion for GM, and a $1.2 billion hit for Chrysler ain’t chump change. That’s mega change!

      I will take you up on being my tour guide next time I’m in Michigan, just not between Nov-April. I’m just playing with y’all in the MidWest. How else can I help justify the outrageous taxes here in CA?

      Shanghai is great! But, expensive and polluted. Just not as bad as Beijing.

      1. LOL, I hear you Sam, but non of the multi-millionaires work at the companies that were bailed out…they are all the small and medium size business owners who are fiscally responsible and manage their businesses like it is their own money instead of like how the government does. Somehow I’ve been able to squeeze out a 7 figure income in this dying industry for the last 10+ years. I totally agree they should have let the auto companies and banks fend for themselves. My companies actually prospered during the Armageddon in the auto industry because there was a flight to quality suppliers and the riff raff ended up going out of business, we were disciplined while most were not.

        Funny about the whole bailouts…everybody’s darling Tesla wouldn’t even exist right now if it were not for the government trying to pick winners and losers and granting them a half a billion loan…oh and then subsidizing their sales by having all of us pay a $7,500 tax credit on $80k cars that have no economic reason for existing.

        Definitely DO NOT come to Michigan until summer time…Nov~April is when we are all traveling to tropical locations anyways! I don’t know how you guys do it out their in Cali paying so much in State Income tax, but I can imagine it does make people really question why they are working so hard just to pay so much to Uncle Sam only to see it mis-managed. I love the stories out in Cali about bankrupt cities that are paying pensions of $400k/year to people who worked for 20 years…that would drive me nuts!

        1. Bankrupt cities paying $200,000 – $400,000 a year is a way of life in CA. That’s why we ROCK and why we thank the rest of the nation for bailing us out in the future. It’s the American way.

          Go Tesla! Stock is on fire, and the subsidies are awesome. Government makes certain people wealthy. Be on the right side of the fence.

          1. I couldn’t agree more, ineptitude is definitely very fashionable in industry and politics. I’m definitely learning though to fight stupid with stupid and end up on the right side of the fence!

        2. Tesla paid back their federal loan. The feds will never actually get those billions back that went to bail out Chrysler and GM. It is gone forever, although you can make an argument that it was worth it economically.

          On the 7,500 tax credit, I agree it should go away, but I also think our gas taxes are far too low for the huge amount of damage buying foreign oil does to our economy and what burning huge amounts of gasoline does to our environment. We subsidize SUV and gas guzzlers made by Detroit through our foreign policy and military budgets. Even then, the Highway Fund is bankrupt.

          Battery technology is evolving so who knows what happens in 5 years.

      2. Sam,

        “Yah all” is Southern not Midwestern. The Midwest basically consists of the northern states which surround the Great Lakes.

        These are traditionally very liberal states. Milwaukee actually had a socialist mayor for years.

  37. i have been to china before, hong kong to be exact. i have also been to new york, los angeles, and chicago. here are my impression, america by far is the leas desireable country to live in compared to china. here are the reasons why:

    1. violence. there are part of new york, chicago and los angeles that look like a third world countries if not worse. i am talking about burn out building, car tires burning in the middle of the streets.
    2. gang violence in america is far worse than china. santa ana located in orange county california where the average home prices are the highest in the usa. yet downtown santa ana is infested with mexican gangs. even fbi and cia officers are afraid to walk in downtown santa ana after dark.
    3. gun violence in america is far worse in america than china. using santa ana as an example there is 1 murder a week in this city of about 200,000. i know of cities in “third world” country like vietnam that has a population close to a million and yet they have 1 murder per month.

    if you read american history in the 18th and 19th century, pollution in chicago and new york at that time were the same as what china is going through right now.

    american as a whole are brainwashed far more than they know when it come to country like china. the chinese generally do not trust anything they read in the newspaper.

    1. Interesting perspective. The violence does seem to be quite a bit more in the US. But maybe it’s b/c the media loves violence, and China’s media is government controlled, so we don’t really know what’s up.

      Hong Kong really isn’t considered China. Go check out Chongqing, Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu, Harbin, Guangzhou. That is China!

    2. Not that I necessarily disagree, but, why do you think Americans are brainwashed? And by who/what?

      1. You truly think CNN, ABC, NBC, etc are truly un-biased? If so, you are already brain washed to a certain degree. Somehow I found BBC to be more trust worthy than American media.

        When talking about China, all western media are unanimously extremely biased. Unfortunately, you can hardly trust the news source from China either. To truly understand the reality, you have to go there, and live there, use your own judgement.

  38. I do work with a Chinese man/company who now lives in New York. He left because the communist rule was unbearable. Years ago and still now- the government continues to control how the people think, live, etc. They force people into labor camps to produce goods for US for pennies- he left China to have a better life and to have more control over his beliefs, etc. I don’t care how fast a country is growing…if they mistreat their people, what good is it?

  39. I’m sorry but your description of China sounds like hell on earth. I have never had the desire to visit let alone live there. And the pictures of the smog in China that I see on the internet are disturbing. I think your decision to go to NYC was the better choice.

  40. Hi Sam,

    Nice article and welcome to Asia.

    Having been to Wuxi (2 hours West of Shanghai) and Dongguan many times, I may think about working in China for a short time if there was a lucrative opportunity, and I am talking a $1M per year. The pollution and lack of food security makes the location a hardship. Of course it depends where in China the post is, I believe some cities are nicer than others. Bringing my wife and baby to live in Wuxi seems a pretty tough decision to make.

    There are so many people I know who work Monday – Friday in China and return to Thailand on the weekend. I guess I’ve been lucky to live and work here all these years.


  41. Hi Sam,

    I really enjoyed this article! You should write more in a similar vein.

    Right now China does seem pretty invincible and their ‘great experiment’ seems like it will go on forever. But China is still run by aging communists and at some point the experiment will probably fail.

    Their centralized government continues to operate under the premise that it can manipulate banking and bank inflation to orchestrate their economy, but the Chinese economy will eventually experience a major recession. Many of their bubbles will pop – especially the real estate bubble – and huge losses will be extracted from those who invested big time in the boom part of the cycle. When bubbles are pumped up with central bank fiat money, they eventually pop.

    Up to now, the gigantic advantage that China has held is in large part due to its massive availability of low-cost manual labor. But that advantage is quickly fading (automation, robots) and the labor share of China’s economy will continually decline as the work chases the cheap labor less and less.

    What happens then? Can they make this transition without civil unrest?

    1. Thanks Chaz. But it cost me about $10,000 to write this article (expensive to get there and live) and then the travel time, writing time, etc. Hence, once a year is probably more likely!

      Civil unrest will happen when there aren’t enough jobs to pay migrant workers, and when the rich get even more rich and in everybody’s faces.

      I think we’ll need another generation to see huge cultural change.

  42. The fact that China has few regulations on pollution scares me. We all live on this one planet, after all, so their decisions will ultimately hurt the entire planet.

    Sam, I LOVE hot and spicy food and have a stomach of steel. I would love to try their cuisine.

    1. Jay @ ThinkingWealthy

      Wouldn’t you argue that when we (the US) were in the same development stage that we didn’t care about pollution either? Grow, grow, grow! Think back to the stories from the Industrial Revolution. Just a thought.


      1. No, I wouldn’t really argue that. We (including China) know a lot more about our impact on the environment in 2014 than we did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ignorance is not a valid excuse in this case, and I hope you’re not implying that businesses in China somehow have no clue what they are doing.

        1. Jay @ ThinkingWealthy

          No, of course not. My argument is that it’s not important (to them) at their current development stage. Their goal is grow, grow, grow. But now I think they’ve hit the point where it’s starting to matter (to them) with cities shrouded in pollution.

          It’s economic theory related to Kuznet’s curve – you grow w/o concern for the environment until you reach a certain income/GDP point.

          1. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that China won’t have several centuries to figure it out. They are devastating not only their own environment in the process, but all of ours since pollution is easily carried with wind and sea. Centuries ago, we did not have access to the kind of technology and data that we have now, which is why we polluted with wild abandon. China cannot say the same and I believe their actions are irresponsible and incredibly short-sighted in light of that. Who will care how great and HUGE their economy is once we no longer have a habitable planet to live on?

            1. Jay @ ThinkingWealthy

              I’m not making the argument saying that it’s right, merely pointing out the theory behind it, which makes sense from an economics standpoint. Like I said, I think they’ve hit (or are very close) to the inflection point on the curve where they’ll start switching gears.


    2. Tbh, if you look at per capita pollution, the US pollutes a lot more per person than China. Xi Ji Ping has at least acknowledged climate change as an issue and signed onto the the Paris Accord. Trump has not and will not do anything, despite the statistics.

      Average US carbon foot print is at 14.95 metric tons compared to China at 6.57 metric tons.

      Not saying that China is doing a great job or that they don’t need to do more. But none of the developed countries, who, as you say, have all this information on their hands, are doing much better. Right up there with the US on highest pollution per capita is Canada. Japan, Germany, the UK are all on the list.

      Americans have been horrific on climate change historically and that has not changed. To actually achieve the reductions in CO2 levels, it would take a substantial cut in standard and quality of life – no more gas guzzling cars, convenience of plastic bags, crazy consumption of all sorts of items etc. Try selling that in a political campaign.

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