The Humiliation And Rise Of Detroit

The city that ‘put the world on wheels’. The Arsenal of Democracy. The Motor City. All these have been used to describe Detroit. Now it has the dubious distinction of being the largest Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing for a city in U.S. history.
Our once proud Detroit – again humiliated in the eyes of the country and the world.
Detroit might learn some lessons from China about turning adversity into strength. China, too, suffered – through a century of humiliation, but is now rising to unprecedented heights of historical and economic prominence today.
Chinese scholar, Wei Yuan (1794 – 1857) attempted to combine traditional scholarly knowledge with practical experience in finding workable solutions to problems of his day. In his book, Records of the Conquest, Wei wrote, “Humiliation stimulates effort; when a country (city) is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused” or “To feel shame is to approach courage.”
With insight and leadership, China could well play a role in revitalizing this once iconic American city. It is worth noting that China, in returning to its historical position of strength, has had the world’s largest economy 18 of the past 20 centuries.
The China-United States Exchange Foundation, a non-government and non-profit organization based in Hong Kong, seeks to foster and strengthen the relationship between China and the United States. Under the leadership of Tung CheeHwa, Vice Chairman of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and founder and Chairman of the Foundation, they recently released a report, “U.S.-China Economic Relations in the next Ten Years.”
I consider it mandatory reading for government and business leaders interested in re-building Detroit.
The report concludes that Beijing and Washington share the desire to “establish a pattern of secure, high-quality sustainable growth and employment for their people.”
It could be argued that in the early days of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and China, the China bridge was more a one – way span in China’s favor as the U.S. sought to invest in that country. The same cannot be said today. Chinese investment in the U.S. is at an all-time high. According to the Heritage Foundation, total Chinese investment in the U.S. since 2005 stands at $54 billion, and is expected to grow significantly over the next decade. According to the Asia Society, the Chinese will be seeking overseas investment opportunities from between $1-2 trillion dollars over the next decade. Detroit, Michigan, and the U.S. need to be aggressive about securing a chunk of Chinese investment.
Michigan’s Governor Snyder has set the table for attracting foreign direct investment that creates both wealth and jobs here at home.
Michigan’s business community now includes more than 50 major Chinese companies that have invested more than $1 billion in our state and growing” said Michael A. Finney, President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
As our new immigrant and business friendly Governor Rick Snyder (who has twice traveled to China with a third trip planned) likes to say: “Michigan is open for business.” Investment in Detroit should be a priority for the Governor’s up-coming fall trip to China.
Snyder is seeking foreign direct investment in our state. He wants to export our agricultural products, technology know-how, and other goods and services around the globe. Snyder understands that Michigan is two beautiful peninsulas – not an island – in our global, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the world effortlessly.
As the “U.S.-China Economic relations in the Next Ten Years” report spells out, over the course of the next decade this important economic relationship has the potential to create enormous economic opportunities and millions of jobs, as well as public good globally.
Chinese Consul General Zhao Weiping, based in Chicago recently said, “Michigan has many ingredients: Economic, social, cultural and educational that make it attractive to Chinese investors and, I suspect as the relationship matures, the investments and job creation will only continue to grow.”
John McElory, a global auto expert and president of Blue Sky Productions ( understands Detroit is a fountain of opportunity for Chinese investors: “The Chinese are coming to Michigan because when they look around they don’t see shuttered factories, they see nothing but opportunity.”
Detroit can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its bankrupt humiliation. Just as the Chinese sought knowledge and investment from the West, Detroit may look to the East to rise again.
Detroit and Michigan leaders should tap China’s continued rise, economic clout, and excess capital – seeking a place for that country’s investment as yet another tool in its efforts to revitalize a once-great city.
It is wise to remember: “To feel shame is to approach courage.”
Tom Watkins, a former Michigan state superintendent if schools has a life-long interest in China sparked by a great fourth grade teacher. He has worked for more than three decades building cultural, educational and economic ties between our two countries,
He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. Reach him at: or follow him on twitter @tdwatkins88.


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