Thursday, November 15, 2012

China Communicates - Part III

The  thoughts and memories keep coming.  They are evolving and lasting.  If you are an American, a trip to China does that to you.  Listening and observing, one is able to learn so much. This is my final installment in a series of observations based on what I felt, as the result of who we interacted with and what I heard, saw and read during a recent trip to China.

·         Traditionally, people felt sorry for families that had only daughters and no sons; many gave up their daughters for adoption.  Fortunately that attitude is changing.

·         One woman who was in her mid-40s told us the story of her parents, who never met until the day they married; then her father left for the army right after the wedding, and her mother did not hear from the father for over two years. She said this was typical among many families and was reflective of the esteem for men and the lack of such for women. The husband was the boss.

·         Girls are working harder than boys and doing better than boys in universities these days. Thus, they have less time to look for husbands.  So they are looking for external symbols of success before they go out with men, namely, the three “C”s: cars, condos and cash.

·         Three entities helped in the financial development of Hong Kong:  HSBC, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank.

·         Five hundred new cars are registered daily in Xian, a city of 33 million people, where the amazing terracotta soldiers were discovered. The city lives in a dark pollution cloud that is among the worst smog I have ever seen. There are varying degrees of smog in most other cities we visited, causing a haze as you peer into the distance---and spoiling most such photographs.

·         Cars are status symbols, and the Chinese put a disproportionate amount of money into them.

·         Huge, sophisticated, modern apartment buildings are springing up all over China … buildings that would not be out of place in New York or Dubai.  But if you look more closely at the window, you will often see laundry strung up to dry. The power infrastructure isn’t currently in place to handle electric dryers.  It is this clash between the old and the new that one notices in many areas of Chinese life.

·         A recent lead headline in the International Herald Tribune read:  “Educated Chinese MoveAbroad in Record Numbers.”  The latest statistics from 2010 show that over 500,000 Chinese emigrated to western countries that year — 87,000 came to the United States, and many went to Canada.  Those emigrating cite overwork (12- to 17-hour work days), government instability and corruption and that, too often, getting ahead means knowing someone high up in government rather than succeeding on your own ability.

China is the world’s second-largest economy, and it is apparent from all we saw. Millions of its people have been lifted out of poverty, according to a recent article in TheNew York Times but despite thousands of new businesses in China, the economy is increasingly dominated by large corporations — many of them state-run — and widespread corruption  has significantly eroded trust in all levels of government, increasing the gap between rich and poor and fostering social and political unrest.  While capitalism is responsible for much of the growth, can it sustain under the current system?

Sadly, there’s no indication from Communist party leaders about pursuing necessary reforms … especially changing “the party’s suffocating control of the political system, the courts, the news media, the military and civic life," according to the Times. This may be the biggest and most important challenge China faces:  taking its position in a world where self-determination is becoming the norm.

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