The Middle Empire
October 2009

A historic turning point in world economics occurred this summer. In 2009 and for the first time ever since the industrial revolution, western production represents less than half of the world’s economy. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), a British consulting firm specialized in economic forecasting, this turn of events is occurring six years sooner than initially expected. And this is just the beginning. Emerging countries will continue their advance.

China is basically leading the way. Although slowed down by the current recession, the Chinese economy is recovering quickly, driven by heavy domestic demand. China has even bumped Japan from second place as a world economic power. The Chinese people want to consume. And their government is encouraging them with generous grants. According to an article in The Economist, car sales in China have risen by 70% over the summer compared with last year while home sales rose by 80%! The market for household appliances should be next marker: it is estimated that at least half of all Chinese households do not own any appliances. This bodes well for future sales!

China gives the impression of being a bottomless pit of consumption. Apart from a few big cities, this huge expanse of country needs to be built from the ground up, and this is particularly true for rural areas. The infamous “Great Leap Forward”, an economic policy characterized by, among others, forced collectivization of the peasantry (erroneously described as cooperatives), led the Middle Empire into an unparalleled famine between 1958 and 1962. Some 15 to 30 million Chinese died of hunger during those years. Even today there remain glaring inequalities between rural and urban communities. 

To ensure a positive next “Great Leap Forward”, it will have to take place within a perspective of sustainable development. The environment and communities will systematically have to be taken into account. Politically speaking, things seem to be progressing slowly. China instituted a renewable energy law that took effect in 2006. It advocated an ambitious plan intended to alter the country’s heavy reliance on coal. This is just a first step: the massive purchase of cars will not go unnoticed as it affects air quality, which is already terrible. More should be done. 

In keeping with politics, China’s law on cooperatives underwent an in-depth revision in 2007. The new law now allows rural communities, impoverished as a whole, to access the market economy by giving them a chance to gain a voluntary, independent and democratic entrepreneurial tool. This represents an exciting step forward. In this respect, as it relates to agricultural cooperation, the people from the province of Yunnan chose La Coop network as their model. That’s something we should be proud of. The Chinese believe that the structure and governance espoused by La Coop network will allow them to reach their development goals. Looking back to the general meeting of February 2009, that’s why La Coop fédérée’s executive signed a statement of agreement with Chinese representatives, which, followed by a few visits here and there, have since set the foundation for a new cooperative relationship between Québec and China.

Chinese society, which is not as egocentric as our own, could very well become fertile grounds for large-scale cooperative development. In fact, a cooperative, the product of a social economy, is sometimes compared to a “middle ground” providing another alternative somewhere between private capitalist enterprise and not-for-profit community organization. Which makes for an interesting association: has the Middle Empire finally found a … middle ground? 


Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Fax: 514 850-2567


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