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After: The China I return to will be completely different

By 15 July 2009 No Comment

You can hardly go a day without reading a publication or watching a news program that mentions China. The country is rapidly becoming part of the global economy and, because of this, American media coverage not infrequently suggests that China could be a major threat to the power of the United States.

I was excited to travel to China and see for myself just how Westernized and wealthy the country is becoming. It would be inaccurate to paint a picture of China in its entirety from only visiting the touristy Bund in Shanghai, a place lined with American chain stores and impressive skyscrapers. Yet all too often this might be the only context some tourists develop on China. I’m grateful that I got to experience some of the country’s thriving cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, and also to visit rural villages that did not have electricity installed until very recently.

After visiting Nuanxuan, a farm village about three hours west of Beijing, I couldn’t help but think that China has a long way to go in developing the countryside. When we first arrived a large group of women were washing their clothes in a reservoir. Elderly men wheelbarrowed bricks past buildings that had been around for hundreds of years. From an American’s modernized point of view, China may not seem like it’s anywhere near being as prosperous as the U.S., but it’s all about the perspective you take.

Although there may still be limitations on speech and censorship, China has come a long way in recent decades. An editor at the Shanghai Daily told us that 30 years ago there were only 200 newspapers in China while today there are 2,000. Generalizing from the many, varied conversations I had with Chinese people throughout our journey, there is an overall sense of happiness and pride in the rapid progress their country has seen over their lifetimes. Even though the progress may be more rapid in the big cities, changes are still finding their way into the countryside, where modern luxuries such as television are becoming more and more available and new paved highways provide a pathway to opportunities in the city.

Many Chinese believe they have attained a level of change higher than they ever expected, so while limitations on speech or the existence of government corruption may still be problematic, they simultaneously realize how far their country has come in such little time.

I am looking forward to returning to China whether it is in the next year or the next ten years. I am certain it will look and feel completely different from what I saw this past summer.

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