This has not been a good year for China. The economy suffered a 6.8 percent economic contraction in Q1, followed by a 3.2 percent rebound (anemic by Chinese standards) in Q2. Relations with the United States remain tense and complicated. On top of that, heavy rains have caused massive flooding that has wiped away billions of dollars of value in China, washing up factories, homes and agricultural land in a frothy tide of destruction. This last is important. While China supports over 20 percent of the world’s population, it has a little over 12 percent of its arable land (according to the World Bank). Heavy rains and floods are bad enough; add in an African Swine Fever resurgence in some parts of southern China and the question of food security gains some traction as something to watch. In a confirmation of increasing concern over food, in August President Xi Jinping launched a new initiative “operation empty plates,” targeting wasted food in China.
Food, large populations and good governance are built into China’s history. Indeed, the national story has often been defined by a dynastic cycle in which the old order becomes corrupt, fails to maintain key infrastructure like canals and irrigation, and eventually is unable to keep public order or defend the frontier. The economy eventually fails as does support for the dynasty. Famine, bandits and rebels add to the misery, eroding the old dynasty’s Mandate of Heaven. Out of the chaos a new leader arises, sets the wrongs right and founds the next dynasty. So the cycle goes.
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