Reflections on China

With a mere 12 days in country, there’s admitedly little to reflect on that wouldn’t be shallow or naive. But here’s my collection of random, semi-intelligible thoughts.

People were gracious and welcoming, as you might expect. The food was hands down a highlight of the trip. Turns out that pointing randomly at Chinese characters on a menu gets you a pretty excellent meal, after you get your food restriction sign language down. “No pork” was interesting to mime, however unsuccessful. (Note to Communist Party: teach tourist industry charades.)

One surprise: my Chinese counterparts at Fudan University, senior members of the intelligentsia, and for the most part educated abroad, had a much higher regard for the status quo and lower regard for democracy than I expected. Most were critical of the Party, thought things could be run differently in a thousand ways, but regarded multi-party politics anywhere from a low priority to a downright terrible idea at this time in Chinese history.

Lively debates were had. The most common rationale: China was too big, too diverse; party competition would be destabilizing at this point in Chinese history, and democracy was better postponed to the next generation or two.

They may be right, but I received few satisfactory answers why the same is not true for India, Indonesia, or Brazil–big diverse countries themselves. That’s not to say such arguments can’t be made, but the idea did not seem to have occurred.

I wonder how much the Party’s media control feeds this attitude, even among elites. The propaganda in the English language press is cruder than that the Chinese-language one, or so I’m told. This is good to hear: the China Daily’s propaganda was as clumsy as it was infuriating (“Ethnic minorities celebrate Han Chinese curriculum in schools” was one egregious example).

Twitter, Facebook and (to my surprise) all of Blogger are blocked. So are favorite blogs, like Marginal Revolution. This mass censorship I find doubly infuriating. It occurs, had I not moved my blog to a private server last month, I could neither have read nor written in my own blog this trip.

I shouldn’t dwell on the negative–in general I was overwhelmed with the wonder that is the Chinese economy (and, I can’t help but repeat) the cuisine. Also, I’d hate to get censored in its first few weeks of inception.

Perhaps in my favor (O Communist Party overlords), I love most of all my antique mechanical Mao-era alarm clock. It even has a little fist that pumps back and forth with the ticking of the second hand.

My main concern: I only plan for carry-on luggage. US airport security is just going to love a ticking communist alarm clock in my bag.

If you never hear from me again, please send flowers to your local immigration detention center…