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CHINA AIRBORNE by James Fallows


Aviation and the Future of China


Pub Date: May 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-375-42211-9
Publisher: Pantheon

In this natural follow-up to Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China (2008), Atlantic correspondent Fallows analyzes the problems and promises of China’s economic development through an examination of the efforts to create a world-class aerospace industry.

With its unprecedented manufacturing prowess, China has become a world economic power. But how real and sustainable is the development? The test, writes the author, is how well China succeeds in its current effort to build an aerospace industry, to which the Chinese government has pledged $230 billion. “If China can succeed fully in aerospace,” writes Fallows, “then in principle there is very little it cannot do.” However, this is no easy task. It is one thing to assemble iPhones, quite another to build an industry of the complexity of aerospace. Fallows ably guides readers through this complexity: developing internationally recognized standards of safety and inspection, ensuring adequate air space above China for a busy airline industry, developing and manufacturing airplanes, and their millions of components, that can compete with established manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus. In this effort, Fallows sees both the broad positive and negative features of Chinese society. While China’s economy at its best is marked by an anarchic spontaneity of entrepreneurial energy, this energy is often checked by a state apparatus obsessed with monitoring and controlling it. If the government will not allow open Internet access, it cannot easily open up the skies to commercial flights. The Chinese military owns the country’s airspace, with only a few narrow corridors open for commercial flights into China’s major cities. With precise yet accessible language, Fallows discusses a variety of contradictions in China, revealing much more about it than its prospects as an aerospace power.

An enjoyable, important update on an enigmatic economic giant.