A Different View on China

A close friend of mine is spending a year traveling around with world with his wife and 11 year old daughter.  They are in China right now and he’s been sending me missives from the front lines of his trip.  Most of what I read these days about China is either highly political, technology-oriented, or about the venture capital industry’s fascination with China.  My friend’s emails have been decidedly different (while he’s a successful technology entrepreneur, his trip is about a personal adventure that his family has embarked upon.)  I confirmed with him that I could blog some of his rants – enjoy.

China is wild – definitely glad I came so I never have to come back.

It is so polluted in the air that I feel like I’m sucking on an exhaust pipe while in a middle of a sand storm. Beijing gets these sand storms off the gobi since all the forests have been cut down and everything is covered in a layer of dust that just won’t go away – add in coal burning power plants, no emissions on cars and 15 million people and you simply can’t breathe.  So after 4 days in the capital we went to Xi’an (the ancient capital now 5.4 million people) and it’s just the same – you can’t tell if it’s day or night – it’s almost comical, but sad.

Prices are at both extremes – for western brand stuff in legitimate stores its 40% more than the states – everywhere else it’s cheaper (and there is no shame in selling whatever brand will make them money).  I think communism works well for the Chinese – there are so many people if they had too much freedom I’m sure there would be greater civil unrest.

Internet access has been fine – Skyping everyone without problems and it’s cheap.  Every now and then I can’t get a Yahoo new article on China to load – but if I’m persistent I can get it.  The English China Press newspaper is like reading Soviet era propaganda – it’s just funny their view on world events.

People aren’t as friendly as in other countries we visited – lots of shoving and pushing – not many smiles – everywhere you go it’s packed with people.  Most tourists are Chinese – funny I would have never guessed.  China produces 20% of the worlds cigarettes and consumes 30% – they probably just don’t care with all the other stuff in the air.

We all have sore throats and are dying for some fresh air and blue skies.  The sites are amazing – actually all the tourist locations we’ve visited so far are very clean and well run.  we saw one old lady have all her trinkets taken away from her by a soldier after she sold us a kite in front of a historic statue (she almost cried – I think the kite we bought cost us 75 cents – about 3 dollars of goods was taken from her – I wanted to go up and give her some cash but the guard was watching).  Most people fall into the category of have nots but talking to one of our guides at the Imperial Palace in Beijing – he said that young people will take an entire month’s salary just to buy the new Motorola Razr phone or Nike shoes.

Hey 1.3 billion people can do a lot of stuff – but you’ve got to take care of 1.3 billion people and that’s not gonna be easy – I don’t think China has it in the bag to dominate the global economy in 50 years – plus they might have a peasant revolt in the meantime…

  • Glad your friend was at least able to enjoy both the “Internet” and the “clean and well run” tourist attractions.

    It’s not uncommon for foreigners to visit China–sometimes for months–and never see the country as it really is. To get the bigger picture you 1) need to get off the beaten path between the tourist staples of Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, etc; and 2) have some understanding of Chinese modern history to put what you are taking in into a larger context.

    Doing the above frames today’s China as one the most fascinating places in the world.

    China is testing limits in so many different ways:
    -Demographics (size, one child policy, gender gaps)
    -Tremendous economic growth (sociological impacts , regional class divisions)
    -Free markets without freedom
    -Access to information (Internet access/gdp percapita)
    -Natural resources (use and conservation)

    The list could go on. To see these dynamics occurring “live” both amazes and bewilders.

    Your friend is right, “China is wild”. Here’s hoping he finds more to appreciate before he gets to his next tourist destination.

  • Beijing is changing in remarkable ways, you can feel it while you are there. It’s amazing to feel capitalism clashing with the red state.

    But yes, it is the most polluted place I have ever been in the world. I pretty much felt sick whenever riding in a cab or just being outside. That said, they are cleaning up the city immensely for the olympics. I wonder how the atheletes will fare in this environment.

  • I agree with your friend’s assessment regarding the Chinese government’s need to figure out what to do with its 800 million rural citizens who have not yet really joined in the boom. But, I am curious how it is that he formulated that view. From visiting the tourist cities he mentions? From going out into the rural areas? From the Chinese press in English?

    China Law

  • Madhu

    Thats why India will rock the world!:)

  • I like the entry and agree with most comments, except “I think communism works well for the Chinese.” China is not communist in name or practice.

  • I think my previous comments are confusing. I was referring to the fact that the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) labels the economic system “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the form is a free market with some socialistic controls.

  • Travelling Mack

    All – very interesting thoughts.

    Im heading there for work in the coming weeks… hence just finished reading a fascinating account of the life and times of doing business in China…

    Mr. China, by Tim Clissold

    Worth a read for another varied perspective.

  • AP

    Just one comment, could someone have visited the US during the 1930s and have guessed that the US would dominate the world economy in 50 years?

  • Nameless

    “Just one comment, could someone have visited the US during the 1930s and have guessed that the US would dominate the world economy in 50 years?”

    Most people probably would have guessed the US or Germany. France was on the wane since Germany became a national state and cracks were beginning to appear in the British Empire.

  • Janette

    This article has been translated into Chinese here:

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