Editor’s Note: There has been much talk about China since President Trump took office. But here at Liberty Nation, we believe there has been much more in the way of heat than light. Thus, we proudly present this multi-part series by Managing Editor Mark Angelides, examining political life inside the Middle Kingdom and how its long cultural history and recent political upheaval will impact the United States. Mr. Angelides lived and worked in China for over a decade, speaks Mandarin, and offers unique insight into how Eastern global developments will impact political decisions in the United States.
In part one we examined what regular Chinese people think of Donald Trump. In the second part, we looked at the history and political relations between the two nations. In this third part, we will examine the present day relationship and what makes the two nations closer allies than you might suppose.
Whilst many tend to see China and America as very different countries, there are, in fact, a wealth of similarities that the nations share both politically and culturally. It has long been a media habit of defining cultures by their differences, which in effect, seeks to keep an “us & them” mentality alive, yet this is not the reality.
The problems faced by modern Americans are shockingly familiar to the modern Chinese: worries over immigration, “state’s rights,” education costs, government interference.; these are all issues that are discussed in restaurants, dumpling bars, and karaoke bars across the Middle Kingdom.
People flooding across the southern border, taking jobs for less money than the industry standard, leading to a reduction in wages for the regular folk. This is a problem faced by Chinese citizens in the Guangxi and Yunnan provinces. Migrant workers from Vietnam, moving north for better salaries than those available in their own country, are driving down the wage prospects of younger Chinese who are having to migrate further north to find work.
There is also illegal migration from other parts of the world that are causing consternation for the people and regional government. Since Beijing began fostering closer ties with African nations through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, hundreds of thousands of people from African nations have moved to larger industrial capitals such as Guangzhou. While many are legitimate business people looking to trade with a huge economy, some are not.
China, like America, has a strict visa policy that they enforce to the best of their abilities, but this doesn’t mean the number of illegal aliens isn’t rising year on year. In fact, there are people crossing the borders illegally at all four compass points, some for short-term work, others for permanent residence. In a nation that suffers levels of overpopulation like no other, Chinese people are deeply worried about the stress put on roads, local hospitals, and even rental prices, as the sheer number of people keeps increasing.
The Chinese educational system has long been lauded as academically rigorous, producing students with superb math skills. Unfortunately, this is about as far as it goes. Regular public schools are overcrowded to the point of bursting with class numbers of over 70 children. This is not so much a problem for parents with wealth who can afford to use guanxi (traditionally relationships, more often a straight bribe) to get a place in schools that pride themselves on having less than 50 students per class, but for the vast majority, poor education is a trap difficult to escape.
Overall, children who graduate are not well-rounded in terms of skills. They are uniquely suited to passing tests but are too overly specialized to be of use in the industrial job market. To better “round out” their children, more and more parents are choosing an overseas education that will provide them with qualifications, life experience, and the all-important English language skills.
America is a key destination for undergrads and postgrads. Last year, the number of Chinese students studying in American institutions crested 350,000; among them were many of the ruling Communist Party leader’s children. As in America, education costs money, the better education you want, the more money you have to spend. It is an unfortunate aspect of Chinese education that degrees from different universities are not worth the same; all too often, it will be the name of the college that secures the job, rather than the results obtained.
It is only in recent years that it has been considered “safe” to discuss politics. After many years of oppression and secret police forces, it was considered taboo, or even dangerous, to discuss politics. Even now, foreigners requiring visas to work are informed in their applications that they are not to discuss politics and to respect local customs. But the change has arrived, and it has created a monumental shift in public attitude.
Not only are Chinese people obsessed with the politics of their own nation, they have a healthy interest in international politics and are keen to demonstrate their knowledge of foreign leaders and current events. The idea of freedom is captivating to the older generation. While the young take it for granted, in tea houses across the country, the elderly marvel at what their fellow citizens are now able to do.
Protest has become part of the cultural scene. Just last year, in both mainland China and Hong Kong, demonstrators staged sit-ins to voice their anger at the lack of government transparency and choice. What may surprise many in the West, especially those whose lasting image of China is the tragedy in Tiananmen Square, is that the police and military directed traffic around the protestors and ensured that they were not harassed.
Chinese and Americans have walked very different paths but seem to be heading in the same direction. For people on both sides of the world, the key drivers are family, jobs, security, and hope for the future. Hope that one day, the government will have little to do with their lives and that they will be able to go about their business free from interference and free from control.