[pika] All About China

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to study abroad for three weeks in China. As a group, we traveled to Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong to learn about China’s economy and experience life firsthand.  On November 15, China unveiled the country’s new leaders.  I thought that it was now timely to share one important lesson that I learned during my trip:

During our first class in Shanghai, Professor Minyuan taught us that “nothing is as it seems in China.”  On the one hand, China showcases ancient artifacts, a robust culture, breathtaking skyscrapers, and world-class attractions that signal to the world that China is in fact a superpower.  On the other hand, China has incidents of inequality, social unrest, and environmental challenges that threaten to inhibit China’s growth.  During my three weeks in China, I saw very little negative aspects of China out in the open, but by talking to the guest- speakers, the Chinese volunteers, and Professor Minyuan, I was able to paint a more complete picture of China.

First and foremost, I was struck by how proud the Chinese people are of their country.  While many do not agree with every government policy, the people, in general, refuse to focus on the negatives and instead highlight their strong community and the country’s incredible growth.  In just 31 years, China’s government reduced the poverty rate from 65% to 4% and China’s GDP is one of the highest in the world.  One cannot question the fact that the Chinese people are amongst the most hardworking in the world.

While the Chinese people tend to be proud of their country, they often acknowledge that there are problems.  FanFan, our Chinese tour guide, talked about the self-censorship that many Chinese people participate in and the fact that the government controls the media.  Representatives at the US Consulate painted the picture of a government that is unpredictable and often difficult to deal with when it comes to putting on educational events or starting a business in China.  Dr. Shen Dingli, a distinguished Professor at Fudan University, criticized his country’s harassment of Chen, the Chinese dissident, but at the same time, explained that the United States all too often inappropriately gets involved in Chinese affairs.  At times, it was fascinating to read the expressions on the faces of the Chinese volunteers when speakers criticized the country: they often looked surprised and annoyed.

China is currently in a unique position.  Pollution is an extreme problem and it seems that China’s new leaders must take steps to change the country’s industry away from manufacturing and more into services.  I eagerly await to see what China will do in the upcoming years!


One thought to “[pika] All About China”

  1. David, I am grateful for your insight on this. As I read some world current events this morning, I stumbled upon a piece about China. Normally, I would have skipped it, for my interests rarely extend to Asian politics. Your piece, however, prompted me to dive in. It discussed China’s princelings, or the offspring of the Chinese Communist Party elitists, and their current grip on party leadership. It notes that the party has rarely experienced such a dent in its legitimacy due to the issues you mentioned here such as environmental degradation and income equality.

    China, to me, is this enigma that continues to exist and thrive despite its contradicting parts. The Chinese Communist Party remains determined to maintain its grip on social aspects of Chinese life yet embraces a more free market approach than its title would suggest. This seems opposite to the trend that I observe here in the U.S. as society demands more freedom on social issues – abortion, gay marriage – but seems eager to embrace a greater presence in the market by the government.

    Like you, I am intrigued to see what China’s future has in store. Many global onlookers agree that it will continue to ascend, along with the other BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, and India.

    Finally, I believe that you might have just framed how I will perceive China from now on: “nothing is as it seems in China.”

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