Merrill ’09 Studies China’s Economy During Year Away From PA

While his classmates of 2008 were spending their final year at Andover enjoying Senior Tea and chasing each other with spoons, Jake Merill ’09 delayed his graduation date to spend his fourth year of high school across the Atlantic in China. Last year, Merill and three other students participated in the School Year Abroad (SYA) program in China. Merill focused his final month on a group research project studying the shift in China’s economy from communism to capitalism and presented his findings to the other SYA participants. “We spoke to the head of the Economic Department at Beijing University, who agreed with the idea that China has a capitalist economy,” said Merrill, who also had the opportunity to talk to professors at the Beijing School of Economics. Merrill said of his research, “We did find out that [the economy] was more capitalist and free market than we had anticipated. Actually, the people pushing for this the hardest are government officials. Especially in Beijing, there is a trend moving towards capitalism.” However, Merrill said that some people in China believed that the capitalist shifts taking place in China were part of the progression of communism. “According to that theory, there should be a growth in capitalism, [followed by] a rebellion, which leads to socialism and then to communism again,” said Merrill. “The wealthy people and the people in power obviously don’t want that progression.” Merrill discovered that this capitalist trend began taking shape years ago, when China’s Central Committee and government “decided to give people economic freedom and see how that goes,” said Merrill. He continued, “They are thinking about democracy somewhere down the line, but want to keep that off as long as possible.” Outside of his work, Merrill began to understand the social disparities between urban and rural China during three trips to China’s countryside. “After living in Beijing for most of the year, it was a pretty big shock going to the countryside. In the U.S., we hear a lot of generalizations about how Chinese people live, but these [perceptions] are about the people in the city,” said Merrill. He continued, “I did not anticipate what I saw there—these kids in the countryside are farmers and not the ones who work to get into Beijing University. Even looking at the prosperous people in the country, there’s still a pretty large gap between these people and people in the city.” Merrill also found a noticeable social gap in the cities themselves. He said, “There were more black Audi A6’s on the streets than in the U.S., and at the same time, people were in the streets begging. It can be pretty harsh.” Since traveling to China, Merrill has continued his interest in China’s current events and the Chinese economy. “I have been keeping my eye on China and on the news here to see if there has been any recent change. The push for more political freedom could take a while,” he said. “I would like to explore Chinese economic interest in Africa at some point, which I’ve learned about in my econ course this year and has been in the news a lot,” he continued.