Globalization is a term used to explain the enhanced connectivity between nations, institutions, corporations, culture and people. It assumes a borderless world whereby ideas, finances, goods and services move freely across perceived boundaries that include borders, languages, governments and time. Some circles suggest we are in a second wave of globalization following the industrial revolution that emanated from England in the 18th century (Lewellen, 2002). The current wave of globalization has been prompted by the growth in communications, particularly in relation to advancements in, and widespread use of networked technologies.
Modernization can be interpreted as a western conception of industrialization. In a traditional sense this has been the process by which societies have moved from agrarian to industrial societies. Products of modernization have been urbanization, with the movement of employment from farms to factories, the establishment of institutions such as a free press, an independent judiciary and fair and open elections. Although there are non-Western interpretations of modernization – if not alternative models – among the aspects listed, economic productivity is a constant across all societies that have or are in the process of modernizing. Globalization is a reflection of modernization. Countries that have strong infrastructure, open borders and a literate population are generally benefactors of globalization. Such countries are also on a more stable path to modernization that countries that benefit less from globalization.
With this as a backdrop this essay serves to identify two separate examples of native non-Western cultures that have been impacted by globalization.
China’s Cultural Revolution ended with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. After ten years of isolation from the world, China reversed course. Under the new leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China embarked on a modernization project that would lift millions of people out of poverty and create a manufacturing industry that would move millions of jobs and factories to the Far East. Under the banner of creating a Socialist-Market Economy, Deng aimed to advance the industries of agriculture, science and technology, industry and national defense. In this sense, China was determined to hold onto its Communist roots and simultaneously engage with the global economy, irrespective of political ideology.
China sought technical expertise abroad and relied heavily on the United Nations and the World Bank. Financial assistance was poured into higher education and other forms of training. It purchased high tech machinery from Japan and the West and aimed to focus on export-led growth. The coastal areas of China were the immediate beneficiaries to these new developments. The area around the Pearl River Delta, located in the southern province of Guangdong (or Canton), became the location of hundreds of factories. Cheap labour enticed corporations from abroad to move manufacturing to China. As a result, the cost of goods dropped to the extent that China’s biggest export had become “deflation.” China has now become the world’s second largest economy, supplanting Japan’s place behind the US only a few years ago.
In this sense the impact of globalization and modernization have been complementary. China’s decision to modernize was enabled by foreign investment and technical expertise. Having built up its infrastructure, China was able to engage with the emerging global economy. Its choice of economic activity has been manufacturing, which has drawn millions of Chinese from the countryside to the cities where factories are located.
Deng’s decision to transform the country was clearly intentional and the results have been generally positive. Although there has been some revolt in China through a desire for greater individual liberties, income and lifespan have increased as a result of China’s engagement with globalization.
Not too far away China’s neighbour witnessed with envy the rapid changes occurring north of its borders. From independence in 1947, India had made little progress in its own development. Although a functioning democracy, India was marred by endemic poverty, low levels of literacy and a stagnant economy. Rejecting an outward look to engage with the global economy, India instead sought self-sufficiency through import substitution. With government heavy handedness, industry did not thrive and the extensive bureaucracy came to be known as the license raj, a pejorative that was borrowed from the time of the British raj, or rule, over India since the 18th century. By 1991 however, India chose to embark on a similar path to China. Although its move was also driven by economic viability, India chose to focus on services rather than manufacturing. Having a population widely functional in English, India sought to capitalize on its language abilities to open its economy.
India quickly built up strong industries in computer applications and telecommunications. It became common through the early 2000s to call a credit card or phone company and find oneself speaking with a representative in India (Friedman, 2005). Like China, India was alluring to foreign companies for low cost labour. Rather than having a strong infrastructure and ample raw materials, as was the case in China, India had a large population of English speakers who could communicate with customers abroad. Like China, India witnessed an economic transformation that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
Although India has opened its economy to foreign investment, it has not flung its doors wide open. There is resistance to allowing large foreign corporations, such as Wal-mart, to set up shop in the country. Fearing a backlash amongst millions of voters, politicians are reluctant to upend local shop owners, and the myriad industries that emanate from these businesses in favour of more efficient, if not economical, multinational corporations. In addition to the threat to local shop owners, there is fear that multinational corporations will also dilute cultural traditions within the country.
Like China, India sought direct exposure to the global economy with the intent of augmenting the country’s economic output. Yet an unintentional consequence has been a backlash from Indians in regards to how far the country should embrace the forces of globalization. Although there is perceived economic benefit, this may compromise other societal factors, such as the concept of small shops which are locally owned and operated. Unlike China, India is less insulated from the language of the global economy, which is English. As much as India has benefited from its colonial heritage, it remains suspect of engaging too much with the global economy, particularly if it is not on its own terms.
Whereas modernization is a goal sought by most nations in the world, the verdict on globalization is less clear. The economic benefits of globalization are not necessarily universal and the world is still coming to grips with the implications of a global society. Knowing or seeing what happens outside of one’s own borders has, or may have, positive and negative consequences. The gap between the rich and the poor, or rich nations and poor nations, is a concern that is receiving greater awareness. As such, it is important to critically analyze the merits and the shortcomings of globalization. The world is not as flat as some proponents claim.
Friedman, T. (2005). The world is flat. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Lewellen, T. C. (2002). The anthropology of globalization: Cultural anthropology enters the 21st
century. Westport: Bergin & Garvey.