Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 3 in Shanghai: "On Politics in China"

One of the great lessons that I have taken away from living and traveling abroad over the years is that the way we in the US see the world is not necessarily how other people see the world. What is important to us is not necessarily important to them. My conversations here in China reveal this fact yet again for me.

I have had four very substantial conversations with four Chinese people about politics in China. The conversations in total stretched to about four hours. They were one-on-one, private and free-flowing. I asked them often if they were comfortable with my questions, and they assured me they were. Each of them spoke excellent English.

I should add that the four people have no connection, don’t know each other and basically all agreed on what is to follow. They are all between the ages of 27 and 39, and are all well-educated.

This is what they said. (No particular order.) THESE ARE NOT MY OPINIONS.

1. Their priority in life is work and to improve themselves financially.

2. Politics is of little concern to them.

3. Tibet is of little or no concern to them. It is an undisputed fact to them that Tibet is part of historical China, and should remain so. Even if there were problems with treatment of Tibetans, that is more or less how it has always been with the 5% minority population. Not necessarily fair, but that’s how it is. (Think American Indians...95% of China is ethnically Han Chinese.)

4. Although there are real problems in China, such as pollution, they are happy with direction of country.

5. They see almost endless possibilities in terms of jobs. (These are university graduates who speak great English, so they have real advantages).

6. They are not interested in establishing multi-party democracy. The Communist Party, though flawed, is moving the country in right direction. Western style democracy may come in 20 to 50 years, but not sooner.

7. Mao is seen as a heroic figure by many but surely not all. He is seen as the father of transformation from semi-feudal old China to a new China, beginning a new chapter in Chinese history. He took giant first steps toward the life of today.

8. Mao is nearly universally condemned for Cultural Revolution, roughly 1966-76, when he died. He caused untold suffering for millions and turned the clock back years. One of them said their uncle was imprisoned for 10 years for being a landowner during that time.

9. Chinese people are very proud of their country and are proud to be Chinese.

10. The Chinese admire the US enormously and see it as a great place to study and visit.

11. They don’t think the US or anyone else has the right to tell them how to run their domestic affairs, especially given the unwarranted harm the West did to China historically. Events like the Boxer Rebellion and Opium Wars, when the West practiced naked and destructive imperialism, shows to them how hypocritical the West can be when they talk Tibet or human rights.

12. The fact that the Chinese government controls ALL of media in China still is not of great concern. All TV available to most Chinese is 100% government controlled. Chinese government has erected the “Great Firewall of China” on the internet as well, that limits access to some things. Chinese media supposedly discusses wide range of issues, but never direct assault on the government. Individual problems or some mistakes by some officials will be broadcasted. Chinese can get CNN, BBC, etc. on the internet. Some Chinese have satellite TV illegally.

13. These folks know that the history that they get in school and in the media about China and past problems is often inaccurate and untrue. Every one of them said to me after our conversations that they would have to read more about certain historical events. They knew very little about the Tiannamen Square massacre in 1989, for example.


Ok Folks, I think that is a wrap from China. I take a plane out tomorrow and will make final comments when I get back. It’s been an inspiring adventure to see this massive country in the throes of such dramatic change. I feel privileged to be here. People have been consistently charming and gracious. Thanks for all the great comments and support. Again, Susan Biggs has done a wonderful job on the blog. Thanks, Susan. And many, many thanks to Karen Gross and Al DeCiccio for making this happen.

Can’t wait to be home. I have missed my family so. Lots of love to you all. See you soon. Cheers, Tom


Al said...

You were lucky to have such willing and open participants in your interviews, Tom. There's an abundance of useful and usable information here.

Safe travels home.--Al

Anonymous said...


Megan said...

Tom, what a successful interview! All of the answers they gave you give us a much better perspective that actually makes a lot of sense when looking at their influences and how it has affected them.
The most intriguing and surprising thing that they stated was in regards to the level of censorship. It's hard to believe that everyone is so conditioned to it, I suppose because I would not want it to be a factor in my life. Maybe because they were conditioned to more harsh government control than what is currently in place.

It's great that you had such a successful journey. I enjoyed all of the posts you've made on the way. It'll be good to see you on campus when you get back!
Safe travels.