China was not originally on our itinerary. But that great mysterious country continued to beckon. It is becoming, after all, the next world power. Or is it? As it is with countries, there are the people, and there is the leadership. China is in a crisis of identity, having lost much of it's culture with Mao, but seemingly “Western” with the great surge in economy. But if the leadership has anything to say, China will not just be another Westernized country. Same same but different.
There is a fracture in the Great Wall where a blinding light is shining through. This fracture is widening with ideas of human rights, an open future, and a free economy. These are ideas straight from my English student's mouths. With a westernization of China, they felt that China could finally catch up with other countries, be open to new ideas and thoughts, and could learn from others. Their thirst for new ideas was palpable. Brett and I did powerpoint presentations on “Primal Quest Adventure Racing” and “Women in the United States”, respectively. They were glued. They asked questions (which, for them was unusual...in school they are taught to be recipients of information only). After the “women” lecture at dinner, a large group of Chinese women called me over giggling with excitement to sit at their table. They eat up Western ideas. In the classroom and on the street, the Chinese stare in awe at us. As one Chinese man (who lives in California) said to us on a train ride, “I think the Chinese sometimes treat foreigners better than each other.”
Then there was “Chan”,we will call him. We met Chan at a rooftop party in Guilin. He was a thirty-something professional, intelligent, inquisitive, and drunk. We talked about Ghandi and Mother Theresa, whose courage he said “made him cry” when he first read about them. Chan opened up to us in a way we did not expect. What he expressed, through tears, was what we had suspected but hadn't yet witnessed. He said he cried when he heard about Tienan'man Square. He said he is a member of the communist party but only out of fear. He said he feels that he cannot leave China because he doesn't make much money. He doesn't talk to his wife and children about this because he must protect and care for them. And I think he felt trapped between wanting to stand up and fight for freedoms and human rights, and the fear of losing his job, being put in prison, or just “disappearing”.
And there was Ruthie in Yangshuo. She is a thirty-something woman who fell in love with rock-climbing. She opened a climbing business with sponsorship, guides, and equipment against the wishes of her family and of societal expectations of women. Where most young women we met were giggly and demure, Ruthie was strong, assertive and confident.
So where are Hu Jintao (the President) and Wen Jibao (the “people's” Prime Minister) currently leading the country? And, what is communist about an open economy? Since Deng Xiao Ping opened the economy in the reform era starting in 1978, the country as been an autocracy with capitalism. And wants to remain this way. The leadership is testing thousands of experimental ideas all over the country to help create the new China. In essence, what China has done is set an example that capitalism does not neccesarily have to exist in a democratic society. Other countries are taking note, and beginning to emulate. China's goal is to become a great influence in the world, using it's own tactics. To name a few:
SOFT POWER: Gaining influence through media and especially news programs, education, pop culture, and cultural promotion. In essence, an information blitz.
YELLOW RIVER CAPITALISM: A marriage between competition and cooperation. It is the Chinese alternative market which can be used to finance social welfare under a dictatorship. The government intervenes to improve economic dynamism while providing health and education.
WALLED WORLD: Internationally, China is investing like mad in other countries unconditionally, meaning with no regard to human rights issues. This includes Zambia, Maritius, Tanzania, Burma, North Korea, and even Darfur. They are also providing training in counter-insurgency, access to bugging and surveillance equipment, and financial support to these countries.
CENSORSHIP: What China frowns upon the most is grassroots organizing, free speech, and talk of personal freedoms. We have felt it minimally with the limited use of certain internet sites. But on a larger scale, if there was free speech, elections, personal freedoms, what would happen with Falun Gong, Dali Lama and Tibet, the Uigurs in Xinjiang province, and the Korean provinces? Would they all rise up, demand independence, and break from the republic?
On the other hand, it does appear that leadership is trying to improve China. They are beginning to clean up healthcare with a goal of 100% health care coverage for China's 1.2 billion people by 2020...maybe with a dictatorship instead of a two party system of in-fighting this can be accomplished!
The Chinese “green” projects and production of green technology exceeds that of the U.S. More Chinese are learning English, and going into foreign trade occupations. The economy is booming.