Behold the “Middle Kingdom.” Zhongguou, more commonly known by its English name of China, is an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with in the world. And now that I’ve had a few weeks to digest my second visit to the world’s most populous nation, I’m ready to write Part II of my wrap-up.
In Part I, I discussed the true warmth of the Chinese people along with some of their ticks. Well this time around I had the opportunity to have a few of the questions that had haunted me all through China answered, including the rather unthinkable…what did the average Chinese person think about their government.
I should preface by saying that my interactions were specifically with the younger, sibling-less generation (thanks to China’s famed “one child policy”). I was only able to discuss with folks who spoke English, meaning they had more interactions with foreigners than the average Chinese and therefore likely had more negative views of the government.
But what I discovered is that, unsurprisingly, all is not happy in the world’s most populous nation. Take for instance, the ever expanding city life, where rural Chinese flock to seek wealth. As my CouchSurfing host in Shanghai explained, many there work for a mere 2,500 RMB or US$367 per month, a small pittance, especially in a city as expensive as Shanghai. (And as a few recent well publicized factory strikes/suicides suggest, many workers elsewhere make even less.)
That same CouchSurfer’s Chinese roommate was a married man from Guangzhou. He held a skilled position with a well known US-based bank in Shanghai, but his wife still resided in Guangzhou. Apparently this is not an unusual situation for many Chinese families, who are split up as one partner goes away to seek their fortune as the others stay behind.
I also had the true honor of having lunch with a native Shanghainese CouchSurfer. When asked about her childhood, she shared that she had in fact been born in the northern portion of the country, where her parents had been sent as laborers, stripped of their “aristocratic” careers in the city in the waning years of the Cultural Revolution. Though she admitted that Mao’s policies were fairly disastrous, as her parents’ experience speaks to, she had no explanation for why he was still idolized.
Given that this was my first real conversation with a Chinese native (as opposed to a Hong Kong native…not the same thing), my mind was filled with questions. How did young folks in her generation feel about the Chinese government (definitely a taboo subject of discussion in China)? They grow weary, she explained, particularly in the great extent the government goes to with internet censorship. She indicated that the recent fallout between the government and Google did not go unnoticed and despite the censors’ best attempts, many tech savvy young folks still use the “forbidden” Facebook.
It was fascinating and enlightening. Leave it to my last full day in China to get insight into the mind of a Chinese native near my age.
But despite these issues, China is still a truly wonderful place to visit filled with incredibly warm people (many of whom don’t speak a word of English!). Out of all the counties visited alone on my trip, this was by far my favorite. Travel isn’t “easy” here like it is in Southeast Asia, mainly due to the intense language barrier, but that’s exactly why I love it! Of course, that language barrier can be immensely difficult…the single hardest thing I had to do was buy a refill card for my prepaid SIM card!
During my collective two months in China, I experienced all ends of China’s spectrum, from ultra-modern cities like Shanghai to about as rural as one can get (like the villages at the “Dragon’s Backbone” Rice Terraces or getting stuck in the snow on an unpaved mountain road!). Like any country, rural and urban lives differ immensely and I’m glad I focused on the countryside. After all, if someone just visited New York and Chicago, they wouldn’t really have gotten a feel for what the vast majority of the U.S. is like!
So farewell for now China! You’re such a huge and diverse country that I know I’ll be back some day to further explore your amazing backwaters! And when that time comes, I’ll be ready to rediscover you, as you’re changing so fast that you’ll be a totally different place by then!