As reported in the BBC News, five people have been arrested in China after a teenager there sold his kidney for $3,000, enough to purchase an iPad and iPhone. The teenage boy, a youth from the Hunan province of southern China, was reported to the authorities by his mother, who noticed the new electronics. When she asked where he got the money for them, he said he had sold his kidney. The teenager is now reportedly in renal failure, in a Hunan hospital. The group that has been detained, which includes the surgeon that performed the operation, earned an estimated $35,000 for the kidney, according to state-run Xin-Hua News.
The popularity of iPads and iPods in China have leveraged the price of them above the reach of most urban workers. As such they’ve turned into a major status symbol, particularly among the youth of urban areas. This leads to increasingly extreme acts in order to procure them (think the shootings for Nike Air Jordan tennis shoes in the U.S.). At the same time, there is a critical organ shortage in China, 150 times the need of what is actually being provided within that country. Though 1.5 million are in need of an organ transplant of one type or another, yet only about 10,000 procedures are performed annually. China has worked to alleviate this extreme shortage of viable organs by harvesting them from executed prisoners. However, the country ahs recently announced that this practice will end within the next five years.
This single incident is evidence of a growing confluence of challenges within China; those inherent within a country of nearly 2 billion people and those that are a result of a gradually capitalizing economy with a staggering potential middle class. As more Chinese see the fruits of a burgeoning middle class, they will strive for the same social status, the same trappings of that status (like iPads and iPods), and the same medical benefits (such as organ transplants). As the U.S. looks to China as its primary competition on the global stage, we should understand that China has its own very real challenges, very real obstacles to competition. How that nation responds to those challenges will decide their place in a globally competitive market.