Days before I left to go to China a liberal friend of mine said he was interested to see if my political views might change upon being in China. His angle was, “yeah, they’re communist, but look at their impressive education and transportation projects. We could learn from them.”
The New York Times was/is fond of saying the same things, touting initiatives the country efficiently institutes that it considers “forward thinking”. China should be imitated.
Then there were the detractors.
Other folks told me to watch out because the government could, and does, arrest and imprison people for small, unpredictable reasons. “Don’t do or say anything they might not like,” they’d tell me. A friend of mine who taught in China spoke with displeasure about her experience, her mail being opened and People magazines confiscated.
(America is funny because the views on China are so polarizing—sometimes both ends being held by the same person!)
Not settled into any “pro” or “anti” camp, I went with an open mind. And I found that the pro-Chinese sentiment was right. But so was the anti.
They were both truthful in that their considerations were valid. It’s just that people choose to pick the areas of concern that happen to catch their eye.
I did find myself going back and forth while in China. My first month there I was impressed with a pro-China vibe. I was surprised to see people seeming so peaceful and content. I always felt safe in the city. I never saw a car getting pulled over by zealous police. I immediately saw signs of freedom not present back in America: kids regularly out by themselves having fun in the streets, no one giving a guy a hard time for lighting up a cigarette in public, drinking a beer on the sidewalk wasn’t against the law.
I saw a country of people living their lives as they saw fit. Meanwhile, I’d read headlines from American news about the U.S. getting on China’s case about human rights, environment, economic reasons. And the crazy part was that the U.S. just had the oil spill, had the banks all fail in ’08, and was/is guilty of its own human rights issues.
I couldn’t blame China for what they’ve come to believe over the years: that they’re always being targeted and picked on by the West.
Then a few months went by.
My blog was censored. I went to perform a transaction at the bank, and it took all day and cost me unanticipated fees. My mail was opened, and I couldn’t send things home that I wanted.
I saw a people complicit with government policy. I saw an unkempt population who thoughtlessly threw plastic, styrofoam, and glass into the ocean creating floating rows of litter. I encountered a protest and was pushed away by police and plain-clothed men. These examples, of course, spurred on some dislike.
Now I’m back, and when people ask me about my feeling towards China I don’t give the good or the bad, indicating placement on the anti/pro-China continuum; I have to give them both.
I like to say that I was impressed with China. The good parts were impressed upon me; the bad parts were as well. The truth was deepened.
In a controversial land like China, people look for the drama of “terrible” or “great”, but traveling and living there wasn’t about defining a position. It was about getting to know China, and my world, better.
There’s a pull to taking a side on a topic and falling down into the depths of an allegiance (at least I’m susceptible to this.) One has to take a side on social issues, I suppose, but before you do, take as long as you can to hold out and see all the truth. Or take a side (commitment and sticktuitiveness are honorable, and there’s a time and place to make a stand), but don’t forget that there’s merit to the other side. The expense of missing out on a hemisphere of truth can be very costly.
In the experiences and issues that make up our lives, don’t let your made-up mind prevent you from seeing all that is there.
to new plateaus,