by Max Brantley
Care for some reading?
Try Orville Schell's piece in The Atlantic on Walmart in China, both grappling with issues of environmental stewardship. Walmart is pressing its Chinese suppliers to comply and the consequences are huge.
Can Walmart change China, a country resistant to many other outside forces? Schell thinks they have more similarities than you might think at first.
Both are animated by a mythologized grand progenitor. Sam Walton’s smiling visage (beneath a shovel-billed company cap) today hangs prominently in Walmart stores, much as Mao Zedong’s iconic image still hangs in Tiananmen Square and adorns China’s increasingly powerful currency. Even today, these founders’ successors rule supreme—as Walmart’s CEO and as the Chinese Communist Party’s secretary general.
Each is not only unelected, but also anointed with quasi-cultish Big Leader status to reign over a fundamentally authoritarian organization held together by an elaborate belief system or ideology bordering on the religious. And each presides over an enormous and complex apparat staffed by a professionalized core of operatives—namely, Party leaders and cadres in China, and senior executives and mid-level managers at Walmart.
Each of these leviathan organizations seeks to influence the outside world through the media, advertising, and PR while at the same time maintaining the kultur among its own minions, through written propaganda, motivational campaigns, and sometimes coercive measures aimed at bringing refractory “comrades” or “associates” back into line. In fact, each system employs a significant amount of monitoring, even outright electronic surveillance, to make sure that employees and citizens and customers alike stay within the boundaries of “correct” behavior.
And finally, each professes a proud populism, always proclaiming a responsibility to better service. China’s leadership, with its socialist roots, has long stressed “serving the people,” while Walmart, with its capitalist roots, emphasizes “service to the customer.” In fact, Walmart stores in China prominently display personnel charts that are inverted pyramids, with the customers and lowest workers situated on the top tier and the managers on the bottom.