China is big.
The population is staggering with a billion and a half people. It’s a matter of getting perspective. Our home state of Oregon only has about 1.5 million people. By comparison Hong Kong has 7 million. Westerners hear mainly about the Chinese cities of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, but Guangzhou, the first mainland city we visited two hours north of Hong Kong is a westernized city of commerce with nearly 7 million people…it’s province of Guangdong having 46 million. Kunming, which reminds us of Denver Colorado…a mile high, cold but sunny…has nearly 4 million people but its located in rural province of Yunnan that has nearly 44 million people.
Guilin has nearly 1.4 million people…it�s province of Guangxi having nearly 75 million. Yangshuo, an hour south of Guilin, felt like a small village in comparison with the bigger cities but the guidebook shows it with a population of 300,000…bigger than our home town of Salem, Oregon.
Chengdu has over 11 million people but it’s province, Sichuan, has 109 million. Chongqing, the city where we started our Chang Jiang (Yangze) River trip, is a sophisticated lively city that reminds us of San Francisco with 5.8 million people…it�s province having 32.5 million. You get the idea–lots of Chinese folks—and lots more on the way even with their one child policy. Ultimately a formidable group.
How is China Doing?
As near as we can tell, China’s cities and it�s citizens are doing well. The significant story is in the poorer rural areas where only 10% of China’s land mass is capable of agriculture…encouraging genetic engineering of food to force an increase in production and where unemployment and disastisfaction is high…and where China’s leadership will continue to be challenged by demonstrations that are never reported in the Chinese or Western press.
The arguments against the Yangze River dam pale in comparison to the country’s need for electricity…and in comparison to the economic power China will become because of it. Mao Tse Tung decreed nine categories of enemy: landlords, rich peasants, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements, rightists, traitors, foreign agents, capitalist-roaders and…The Stinking Ninth…intellectuals. The motto then was “Serve The People.” “To Be Rich Is Glorious” is the motto used now by a new practical generation…the first to grow up with no spirituality, no Confucius and no interest in politics…unhampered by religion and it’s dogmas-Taoism, Buddhism and even Christianity-unhampered by emperors, by chairmen, by gods.
China’s youth wants democracy and freedom. But the Chinese “never know when to stop,” says Paul Theroux who recounted his trip through China by train in the 80′s in his “Riding The Iron Rooster.” Where will the brakes come from when China is headed toward excess…in a China already plagued by corruption?
When I asked one of the teenagers in Ruili if he could go to Hong Kong if he wanted to answered “No Money…No Happy!” Another, Paul, a teenager who plays the guitar in his rock band, when asked what he thought about Hong Kong, answered: “Paradise!” You Western capitalist running dogs…look out for the younger generation in Communist China…the generation that is so excited that they are finally free to work hard…free to put money in their pocket…already making materialism in the West look ascetic.
I would love to have a conversation with Ma Jian, the poet, painter and writer who, being harassed by communist cadres, left Beijing in the early 80′s and traveled through China for three years. In his book “Red Dust” Ma foreshadowed the thinking of the next generation when he recounted his thoughts after getting lost and nearly dying in a desert: Walking through the wilds freed me from “worries and fears, but this is not real freedom. You need money to be free.”
When, after a student demonstration in the 80′s in Guangzhou, Paul Theroux asked Andrew, a university student, if he expected to become a capitalist-roader, Andrew answered “I think we have a lot to learn. We want to use the good features of capitalism but not the bad ones.” “Is that possible? Paul asked. “We can try” Andrew answered. Maybe it is only fair that now China gets it’s turn to try…