Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Our traveling correspondant...

This from our long lost blogging partner Bledsoe:

China was a bit stressful. We were watched the whole time we were there. Our e-mails and probably phone calls were monitored in the hotels. I had several of them kicked back, and they would not go out. I assume that they monitor for certain words (one person said that in one of his kicked back ones, when he removed the word, "China," it went out). We canceled using a conference room at the Shanghai, and Xian hotels because of observation. Ray who is, I suppose the most traveled man I know, said several times with laughter, "paranoia is unbecoming to a great nation." But this is very old. This is exactly why 700 years ago, they put up the Great Wall. It will take time. They are caught between now needing more openness, which indeed the World Trade Organization is demanding, and a very long, long tradition of distrusting all foreigners, and of patriarchal control of the local population.
There is not "one China." There is one uniform law that comes out of Beijing, but the interpretation and application of the law are amazingly various. This is still much more of an aristocratic nation than a democratic one in many ways. The officials really are the law, so no matter how contorted a reading or application may be, that is the law. China has unquestionably moved from being a totalitarian government to an authoritarian one, with considerable freedom laced with paranoia and observation when deemed necessary. As long as the "underground church" remains in fairly small groups (less than 30), the police tend to leave them alone and are more often than not, even friendly. We heard of one case where the police very much wanted a particular church to register. They knew they were doing a good work, because "the crime rate had dropped," and they would very much like to not have any official duty of observe if they were registered! I.e., they wanted to leave them alone.
Shanghai felt like Manhattan downtown, except much brighter than Times Square. It was like a Christmas tree, a phantasmagoria of lights and color. The entire city of skyscrapers on one side of the river has gone up in about 10 years. Ray said at one point, there were 21,000 building projects all at once in the city. The sense that one has of China everywhere is one of optimism and power. This is a people clearly on their way to becoming the world's greatest nation in this century.
We were in the nation during the contention with Japan over changing the textbooks. We heard from several Chinese during that time, and the national memory of rape and pillage is very deep.
Hong Kong was not amongst the three cities we visited. We visited Beijing (the political capital, and it felt like being in Dallas or Houston), Xian ( a virtual museum, the end of the Silk Road, and still has the city wall in tact), and Shanghai (the great commercial center). Hong Kong is still the commercial center, and we heard a lot about it while here. It is a fascinating study. When it was returned to China by the British in 1997, there was great fear of what would happen. A lot of people migrated elsewhere to observe. Really, almost nothing happened. The commercial empire of the city was built and disciplined by the British, and is something of a fine clock or sensitive bird for delicacy. Beijing immediately tried tinkering, and almost instantly, billions of pounds, dollars, and yen fled to other markets around the world. China learned very fast that She must keep hands off. It was a great and almost instant lesson the limits of control.
This is the lesson China will have a long time learning. Last year, Peter Drucker wrote a series of bomb shell articles saying that he thinks in the end, India will best China as the world's greatest economic power. This is because there is more liberty in India, and education is valued more highly, and they have a far better educational system. Indeed, at this point, India's greatest import to the US are PhDs. The still considerable control hampers Shanghai in its competition with Hong Kong.


  1. Just a note to let the author know I read this interesting post. One ominous thing I keep reading about China is the lack of females for the young males and what that might mean in various ways socially in bad behaviour... Implications militarily too. But those types of things are notoriously difficult to predict, I think...