May 14th 2020SINCE ANCIENT times, Chinese poets have revered the purple-flowering paotong as something rare: a tree in which a phoenix will land. Mu
SINCE ANCIENT times, Chinese poets have revered the purple-flowering paotong as something rare: a tree in which a phoenix will land. Musicians cherish lutes made from its wood. The fast-growing plant, often used in sandy areas prone to soil erosion, even has a place in the Communist Party’s iconography. It is the subject of a rare poem by President Xi Jinping, who wrote of watering a paotong with his tears, shed in memory of a Mao-era official who battled cancer to supervise mass-planting of the tree.
Chaguan, a flintier-hearted sort, would like to propose the paotong (Paulownia elongata to botanists) as a metaphor for something less romantic: a distinctive Chinese business model that rarely makes international headlines, but which has helped to power the country’s rise. Governments everywhere are debating the future of globalisation in general, and dependence on China in particular. Politicians and CEOs fret about supply chains that cross oceans in search of value, but that now look vulnerable to trade barriers thrown up by pandemics or ideological disputes.
In Washington, China hawks talk of “decoupling”, unveiling plans that would see medicines, microchips and other sensitive products made in America again. In Japan the government has earmarked $2bn to help firms move high-value production back home from China. Meanwhile, Chinese officials seem bent on…