Douglas Young, professor of political science and history at the University of North Georgia, recently visited China with Xiaoyan Yang, associate director of the intensive English program, and Dr. Bob Michael, dean of the College of Education, who are part of UNG's ongoing faculty exchange with Liaocheng University. Young speaks about the trip and shares cultural differences between China and America.
How has China evolved through globalization?
Perhaps no nation has navigated such massive change in so short a time as China has since the late 1970s. My most recent trip there reconfirmed what an endlessly fascinating blend of opposites the country encompasses: East meets West, ancient meets modern, Third World meets First World, and political communism meets economic capitalism. Yet China has skillfully integrated these contradictions to create its most successful society in 5,000 years.
A major lesson of my travels is that a nation's government is not synonymous with its people, especially when the regime is unelected. Rather than criticize our differences, we should be grateful for China's great leaps forward in freedom, Westernization, and prosperity during the post-Mao/1976 era. History reveals that the more we engage the Chinese through trade, investment, education, and travel, the freer and more developed they become.
|After seeing Young take a photo of a Xining housing protest, Chinese police
officers told him to put away his camera.
How has censorship affected your understanding of China?
In three trips to China since 2008, I have yet to see a Western news magazine or newspaper, and the only non-state-controlled TV news networks at hotels have been BBC and CNN. However, I also see many signs of recent Chinese liberalization. On hotel computers, while I was denied access to Facebook and even an obscure libertarian website, but I accessed almost every conservative, anti-communist website I wanted.
China is not politically free. At the national history and art museums, there is a clear Marxist narrative with no mention of the Maoist (1949-76) Era's repression, mass famine, and violent 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Even the painting of China's first astronaut is dominated by an outsized President Hu Jintao in the center. There are state propaganda posters and they are not always subtle. One in a Beijing restaurant shows a government fist smashing any impurities in food. But there were far fewer propaganda posters than just before the 2008 Olympics.
|During Young's 2008 visit to China, there were police
vans across from Beijing's Wangfujing Catholic Church.
On this visit, faithful prayed inside and Young also saw
Muslims and Buddhists worship openly.
Based on your observations, how is the Chinese culture different from that of America?
My strongest impression is how friendly the Chinese are. They have such an innocent charm and are always helpful. A Xining airport worker even let me use her personal cell phone to call long distance, and waitresses would offer foreigners a fork (in place of chopsticks). They are also appreciative when a Westerner tries to speak Chinese; almost every time I greeted a stranger in Chinese, he would grin and eagerly reply. They are a remarkably unpretentious people. A friend refers to workers at his office as "brothers," and female friends hold hands. There is enormous reverence for the old. In parks, the elderly sing, play instruments, dance, and exercise together, and there are bus seats reserved for senior citizens, who ride for free.