Sunday, June 1, 2008

China -- Overall Impression

So it looks like we are already in our last week of May, just under two months before I return to the U.S. Although my last entry might give the impression that I have disliked China, my true feelings are quite the contrary. It has been a very complicated journey, one filled with excitement and frustration. The frustration comes from the fact that I may never truly understand Chinese people, because of our differing backgrounds in both history and culture. I think Chinese people are some of the most wonderful people in the world; their love and care for one another is, in many ways, unmatched; their understanding of health and life is grounded by a long history that could never be understood by current Western standards.

Even though it’s easy to denounce their methods and practices as “outdated”, or worse, “backward”, the exact opposite is true; Chinese people, on average, live a much healthier lifestyle than most Americans. Sure, their standard of living may not be as enjoyable, but China’s history is much more complex and involved than America’s. Take into account Western imperialism and the destruction that Europe and the U.S. caused for China’s society in the 20th century. Even before that time, try to understand the magnitude of China and its overall geography; for hundreds of years, China constantly faced invasion by the Mongols and other outside groups, vying for China’s power and wealth. It’s much easier when you’re surrounded by ocean, which has given the U.S. great advantage over the years.

Added to that effect is China’s population, which raises many challenges and problems. When you are dealing with 1.33 billion people, things begin to slow down, efficiency is lost, and creating a favorable situation for all is close to impossible. I constantly wrestle with this phenomenon – is it China’s fault for its swelling population? Many have said that during the beginning years of the P.R.C., Mao Ze Dong encouraged all families to have plenty of children; he said that more numbers is equivalent to greater power. Of course, we now know that this isn’t the case. For this reason, China’s population boomed during the 20th century. But, you have to remember Mao Ze Dong’s background and where he came from. He wasn’t a college-educated politician like Barack Obama; nor was he a wealthy family member of the Kennedys. No, he was simply a farmer from China’s countryside who had great ambitions. As a result, many people could relate to him and, for this reason, his power and fame soared.

However, also for this reason, many of the decisions he made as China’s leader are greatly questionable. Interestingly, most of China’s younger generation recognize this and realize that, although Mao should be credited for helping China’s reunification, he should also be blamed for hindering/preventing China’s development in the world. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, under Deng Xiao Ping, that China was once again opened to the world for trade and development. Since this time, China has greatly tried to catch up with the rest of the world, but under a Communist regime. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to this process.

I believe that Communism requires a greater level of control over people’s thinking, because for Communism to work, people must forfeit their power and freedom as individuals; after all, it is more about the group than the individual. Moreover, if the Communist system begins to falter, it is best that the people not recognize (or, at the very least, ponder) this flaw in the system; otherwise they may want to take control into their own hands and produce change. It’s like first giving trust to a friend, but once the friend makes a mistake, you will think twice about trusting this friend again; you might want to even take action into your own hands. With regard to government, it is understood in the West that the government is meant to serve the people, not the other way around. That, should the government begin to make mistakes, it is the freedom and liberty of the people to make necessary changes. I believe most Chinese people would feel the same way about this idea…

However, many Chinese people accept the notion that, for quicker and faster development, Chinese people should be in unison, forego their opinions and beliefs, and allow the government to direct China’s developmental process on its own terms. The “Economist” even credited China’s Communist government for China’s rapid economic development. For example, in our system of government, we have so many congressmen and lawmakers whose opinions are often so conflicting that it is very difficult to pass new legislation. This, of course, is mainly driven by the congressmens’ constituency – people like you and me who have the power to vote a person into office. It is often a game of political balance, whereby the politician has to please both the voters and the lobbyists (aka big business).

So, China has inherited a host of problems – Western imperialism, poor developmental and population mismanagement, political suppression via freedom and education – which China is now trying to overcome. In the face of this, China is making strides in becoming one of the world’s superpowers, and for this, I give China a lot of respect.

What’s more, I know that change can often be slow and arduous, and so I, as well as the rest of the world, should be patient; not only for China, but also for many Western practices to be changed. However, in matters of human rights, violence, freedom and peace, patient will and should wear thin quickly…