The “Rise of China” Takes on New Meaning

1 April 2011, Great Barrington, Massachusetts—As concern about China’s global stature intensifies, a preoccupation with height has surged in the Middle Kingdom. Last month, a wildly popular text message circulated in China, claiming that American dominance on the world stage is the result of the fact that US presidents are consistently taller than their political rivals and other world leaders. Many Chinese are coming to think that global stature requires physical stature and that China should devote itself to height increase just as it devoted itself to athletic performance for the 2008 Olympics. This preoccupation has led to a surge in sales of extra-long green beans, bean curd ribbons, and Pocky snack sticks. Yoga is being rebranded as Chinese, and media directives suggest that Chinese leaders should be photographed in a way that makes them look taller.

The Brookings Institution reports that height discrepancies between world leaders have considerable effect on global geopolitics. Studies cite as examples North Korea’s diminutive leader, Kim Jong Il, whose height is a closely guarded secret, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is 5’2” (158 cm). A 2008 Brookings white paper suggested that it is in the United States’s best interests to promote the careers of tall politicians around the globe, in order to avoid having world leaders with “chips on their shoulder,” to paraphrase the co-authors.

The height of world leaders past and present is the subject of much scrutiny in Beijing.

The next president of China will be Xi Jinping, who is 3 inches (7 cm) taller than current leader Hu Jintao, who is 5’ 8” (173 cm). Hu himself is 2 inches above the average Chinese male height of 5’ 6” (168 cm). (The average male height in the US is 5’9” [175 cm].) China’s Guo Bixiong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (the equivalent of the US Secretary of Defense), is at least a head taller than the US’s Robert Gates. But the prospective US presidential candidates are taller still: Mike Huckabee is 5’11” (180 cm) – gigantic by Chinese standards – Newt Gingrich is an even 6 feet tall (183 cm), Scott Brown is 6’ 2,” (188 cm) and Jeb Bush is 6’ 3”. Tim Gay Sr., although he is a dark horse in the 2012 election (languages: “This is America I know English only”) is a whopping 6’ 7” (201 cm).

 

The National Basketball Association has launched a playground program tied to the new tallness campaign, with the slogan, “Stretch for the Basket and Gain New Heights.”
Children are encouraged to spend time hanging upside down in order to lengthen their spines and reduce any tendency to radical thought.

Current scientific thinking on height improvement is mixed. Surgery is thought by some to offer the best short-term hope, but the risks are also severe. Chinese parents are reluctant to try this on only sons. The use of Human Growth Hormone is another possibility being looked at by the medical establishment. Chinese Internet forums are ablaze with accusations that the nation’s one-child policy will soon be stretched to allow tall parents to have extra children.

China is particularly adept at media directives and has recently begun to suggest that the stature of Chinese pop heroes like Yao Ming should be given more attention, and that Chinese leaders should be photographed in a way that makes them look taller. Chinese leaders are fond of pointing out that Yao Defen, the world’s tallest woman at 7’8” (233 cm), is Chinese. (The world’s tallest man was Chinese until 2007.)  In recent weeks, there have been reports of several cases in China involving height discrimination against people applying for government jobs for foreign posts; the nation clearly wants to present a tall face in its dealings with the world. Thousands of qualified applicants were denied after being deemed to be even a centimeter too short.

 

Sociological research shows that taller men are more attractive to women. Given that there are expected to be over 20 million excess single men in China by 2020 due to the one-child policy, parents see an extra advantage in boosting the height of their sons.
The skills of so-called “noodle artists” are being stretched due to the demand for longer and longer noodles.

Various natural height enhancement strategies are currently being pursued. The Indian practice of yoga is known to stretch the body, and to reduce the natural shrinking that comes as people age. Yoga classes are therefore already being encouraged in China, although the practice is being rebranded as a Chinese invention that was exported to India.

New government regulations include higher chairs to stretch children’s muscles and a requirement that all school supplies must be moved one shelf higher to encourage stretching. All over China there are parks with exercise equipment and it is common to see people, especially children, hanging from bars with weights attached to their feet.

A Big and Tall store recently opened its doors in Beijing’s Wangfujing and business has reportedly been brisk. Sales of extra-long noodles have increased, due to rumors that eating longer noodles will increase your height. A man in a restaurant in Wanxiao, in Shanxi Province, told reporters from China Daily that longer noodles stimulate the water power of the body and thereby encourage growth. “Your stomach understands what longer food means,” he said.

Sales of extra-long green beans, bean curd ribbons, and Pocky snack sticks are seeing double-digit growth and investment advisers are beginning to consider this new social phenomenon.

Time will only tell what lengths (and heights) China will go to next. Click here to read what leading scholars say about this development and its potential for changing the geopolitical landscape.

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