Rummaging through my old notes I discovered a slew of facts for the China-watcher. Once I asked my 12 year old students what their dream in life was and almost all the boys and many of the girls said, “To go to America.” In the USA if you asked that not one in 10,000 teens would answer “To go to China.”
We have done a stellar job of selling ourselves. Americans when asked to describe this nation say, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or “land of the free and home of the brave” or “all men are created equal.” As good fortune would have it, we actually live that way which a trip to any part of the world will verify.
Chinese people, when asked about their nation say, “we have a 4,000 uninterrupted history” or the dogma taught to modern children “we will take over the world.” Americans speak in the present tense but in China ancestor worship may be largely gone, but focus on the past is not.We are “now” people and the rest of the world knows it. Apparently this hope-filled notion of America is more deeply rooted than the fear of us as an economic and military enemy, also taught to the young.
The starkest contrast is information, esp. political. We have humongous piles of it, 24/7 TV news, online blogs by the billions, much of it worthless, like being baptized in Michael Jackson coverage so it can be hard to shake off the excess. In China – zip!
You can’t demand high performance education from cradle to high school and then expect an educated upper class to sit back and swallow words and deeds without question. The Internet has made that impossible. While the poor complain about corruption the educated protest the censors. I subscribe to ChinaDigitalTimes. If you ever want to know what Official China is not saying that is the place to go.
Blaming America has somewhat cooled in China; perhaps it generated too much positive curiosity. The Chinese may be cut off but they are not gullible. “How,” they ask “can a mere 330 million people dominate the world when we have five times that many of the hardest working souls on earth?” What is America doing right?
Failed political systems must blame others because they have run out of excuses or valid reasons – Iran, North Korea, and Chavez. Demagogues will always be out there and eventually they fail. Excuses begin to look silly; the dog can eat just so much homework.
Finally, because the two political systems are so completely opposite, the Chinese misread almost everything that our government does. For example, they believed that George Bush wanted to deliberately impoverish Chinese workers by refusing to import cyanide-laced toothpaste and the toys using lead paint.
They think we have only one election for President, completely ignorant of the myriads of other items and persons on the ballot, assuming our President like their Communist bosses makes demands which are carried out by obedient servants. They have no understanding or experience in our political system, the huge quantities of money it takes for campaigns – (what is a campaign?) – or the calming effect that knowing a bad politician can be removed in 2, 4 or 6 years has on a patient electorate. If you don’t like the guy, he will eventually leave!!
The Chinese have no such assurances. They are stuck with these guys. Our new President Obama caused them panic. My good friend in Shanghai asked after the election, “We don’t know how to handle President Obama?” My reply was “You handle him just exactly the same way you handled Clinton or Bush.” That kind of response makes no sense to them.
They personalize everything. We are a government of laws not men (so far) and expect to stay that way. They live in an unstable political world. In a one-party nation, the Chinese have no such hope. Either they work with the powers that be, or they work around them. That is the purpose of corruption, a way to succeed in spite of politics. When the personalities change so does the government and who knows what will happen then?
My friends and I routinely heard our Chinese coworkers and friends say how happy we were – all that hope was showing through.