China-- Your impressions?

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China-- Your impressions?

Post  Constance on Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:28 pm

What do you think about China? I know it's a huge topic, but what comes to mind when you think of China? What's your first reaction? Have you been to China or would you like to go?

I've been to China three times, each time to adopt a baby girl. My trips were in 1994, 1998, and 2003, almost a ten-year span. In the space of those years, the pace of growth was amazing. New highways spring up from nowhere. In 1994, people streamed by in the streets on bicycles. Now the roads are jammed with cars.

The unfairness of government spending is pitiful.

The growth and wealth of China along the east coast is conspicuous, but the bulk of the population--millions of people--work on the land for their subsistence. There are even places where people do not have heating, indoor plumbing (no toilet), or electricity.

The life of the peasant is painfully hard. In many locations, the corrupt Party cadres level exhorbitant taxes on the peasantry to line their own pockets.

And the visible wealth in the major cities is criminal in contrast to the average urban or rural dweller. In a traffic jam near Guangzhou the highway was filled with Mercedes and BMWs.

I've read a lot about China in the 20th century, pre-Mao, the Mao era, and post-Mao, and the suffering of people into even the 1970s was catastrophic. Millions died during the war with Japan, the civil war, the famine produced by the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.

The practice of foot-binding reached even into the 1940s. Millions of beautiful young girls were deliberately put through excruciating pain to achieve small feet where the feet were deformed beyond belief. Many women with bound feet could hardly stand and walk. Millions of mothers put their daughters through this evil ordeal.

The Party's brutal treatment of people, from Tiananmen Square to the arrest of Ai Weiwei, represents a government that is strongly repressive and blind to individual rights and human right.

Parents will abort babies when ultrasound proves the fetus to be a girl. In some locations the ratio of girls to boys is 100/115. Infant abandonment is a scourge to the nation. Children with handicaps are frequently abandoned. Orphanages can't cope with the amount of handicapped children and babies in its care, and as with many other social welfare needs, the government provides a pittance of relief to needy causes. There is money for highways, but not for orphans.

The majority of cultural artifacts were destroyed by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and teachers were persecuted for having "Western influences."

Maoism brainwashed the population and caused the post-Liberation generation and their children intense suffering. People were sent to jail on the most macabre of pretenses. If you or your father owned a grocery store, you might be sent to 10 years of hard labor because you were perceived as a "capitalist roader."

I can't think of China as one thing. I become enraged at demonstrations of injustice, and as I've outlined, there is plenty of stuff to get mad about in China or in its recent past.

Things have lightened up since the 1980s and the current generation lives a far, far freer life than their parents and grandparents did. But for all of the artists and writers now practicing in China, there is still fear that the Party will repress art that is deemed inappropriate to Party values. People are thrown into prison for writing something unpopular and charges are trumped up. Books are banned. Many writers have left China for the West and published books about China that are banned in China.

There is a bad China and a good China. The good China as I've experienced it is the friendliness of the people. I was very uncomfortable during my three trips to be a Caucasian with Chinese children. A Caucasian with a baby in a Snugli holding hands with two other Chinese children can be perceived as a criticism of China. Yet we were met with nothing but positive reactions wherever we went. And that was true of everyone from bus drivers to restaurant staff to orphanage caregivers and people on the street. If we stood still a crowd would form around us, everyone smiling and showing a thumbs up sign. I can speak a little Chinese and people were thrilled to hear my try out the language. People clammered to speak English with us and take pictures with us. Mothers would tell their children, "Say hello to the foreign Auntie." The people totally won my heart. I've been to a few places around the world, and the Chinese people by far are the most warm and welcoming.

But with all my negative feelings for China, I still raise my daughters to be proud of China and being Chinese. The major way I do this is by going to Chinese school every Saturday from 9:00-12:00. Everyone is Chinese and my daughters have Chinese-American friends.They take an hour of calligraphy every week, and my middle daughter takes guzheng lessons. The guzheng is a chinese harp. Like many Chinese schools in the US, the school was founded by Taiwanese Chinese. We learn the traditional characters still used in Taiwan. Like everything else, Mao reformed the language, simplifying many beautiful charactres, butchering the written language, actually. We get Chinese homework every day. So Chineseness is part of our day every day. Chinese school helps to form pride in their birth country and culture in a big way.We are also very active in an organization called Familes with Children from China where other adoptive familes get together for Chinese New Year. We put on an ambitious Chinese Culture Day every year. My daughters have many friends through this group--girls who have the same history that they do.

It's hard to know what to tell my daughters about how they came to be abandoned. Many adoptive parents tell their children someting to the effect of "Your birth parents loved you very much and created an adoption plan for you so that you would be adopted by loving parents." I would never tell my daughters this because I don't think their birth parents loved them. As girls they were a problem and I think they hardened their hearts and left each one in a public place like a train station; that's where one of my daughters was found. I still don't know what to tell my daughters. Up till now I've told them that it's a mystery why they were abandonned, but that the nannies in the orphanage loved them very much, which is very true. As it is, all three of the girls don't care about their origins.

The girls read a lot of books about the five centuries of Chinese culture, the novels of Amy Tan, and other books I find about life in China or the lives of Chinese immigrants or Chinese-Americans.

Here's a picture of the guzheng and a picture of someone playing it:







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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Constance on Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:54 pm

Blue Moon, tell us where you've been in China and how you liked it!

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 11, 2011 4:59 pm

Thanks for that interesting post Constance. It's nearly 2 am and I have to go to work at 8...I'll just post a quick response and follow up later.
China...I was fortunate enough to get a job on a 5,000 ton ship being built there, so my perspective is from a shipyard on the bank of the Yangtse River, just across the bridge from Nanjing (in 1999).
It was la life-changing experience and I came home obsessed with China's history, especially the period encompassing the Opium Wars, The Taiping Rebellion, and the Boxer uprising.
The shipyard gave us a private audience with the Nanjing Opera to celebrate the completion of the boat...there is an instrument called the erhu...it's almost impossible to hear it without being moved to tears. Must sleep now.
Can't think. Sleep

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Constance on Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:11 pm

[quote="blue moon"]It was la life-changing experience and I came home obsessed with China's history, especially the period encompassing the Opium Wars, The Taiping Rebellion, and the Boxer uprising.

I just finished two books that encompassed those events. Empress Orchid and The Last Empress, both by Anchee Min.



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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:19 pm

...ah, so it must have been you who posted the dowager empress Cixi in the history thread! I wanted to post the leader of the Taiping's but I couldn't find an image without his name in the properties box...and I thought it was too obscure...so I posted Sun Yat Sen instead.

I'm looking forward to continuing this when I'm conscious.

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  pinhedz on Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:22 pm

Randy Newman pretends he doesn't get it,
but he does get it--tradition, family, profit:


"Very far away in a foreign land
Live the yellow woman and the yellow man
He's been around for many-a-year
They say they were there before we were here"

"Eatin' rice all day
While the children play
You see he believes
In the family ... Just like you and me"

"Oh, yellow man, oh, yellow man
We understand, you know we understand
He keeps his money tight in his hand
With his yellow woman he's a yellow man
Got to have a yellow woman
When you're a yellow man"

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Guest on Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:32 am

The River-merchant's Wife: by Li Po (701-762)

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?


At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.


You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

trans. by Ezra Pound, 1915, from the notes of Ernest Fenollosa

The River Merchants Wife. Painting by Mary Wallace.


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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Constance on Tue Apr 12, 2011 3:47 pm

Another depressing thing about modern China is its controlled birth policy. Starting in 1979, most couples are allowed only one child. Traditional values dictate that families have sons, which, as I wrote above, has resulted in untold numbers of aborted girl fetuses. In the early fervour of planned births, a cadre at peoples' work units kept track of each woman's menstrual period. Couples were informed as to when they had permission to try for a pregnancy. You could only get pregnant when the Party allowed. After the one child was born, women were harrassed into getting sterilized. Women with one child who missed menstrual cycles were forced into taking a pregnancy test and forced to have an abortion if she were pregnant. The totalitarian system has even interferred with people's reproductive rights.

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Guest on Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:55 am

Constance wrote:What do you think about China? I know it's a huge topic, but what comes to mind when you think of China? What's your first reaction? Have you been to China or would you like to go?

First impressions:

I liked the serious approach to food and the absolute absence of waste.
There's a marvellous lack of stupid rules...the type that are 'for our own good', as if we weren't blessed with common sense or the ability to learn from our mistakes. Many of the procedures one must adopt to comply with the rigid dictates of Workplace Health and Safety and such are ludicrous and counter-productive...but we are so used to them now they are the norm. I liked the normlessness of China.
On first impression.


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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  eddie on Sun May 15, 2011 5:16 pm

On China by Henry Kissinger – review

Henry Kissinger offers an erudite and elegant insight into the new world superpower

Rana Mitter The Observer, Sunday 15 May 2011


Shanghai, February 1972: President Richard Nixon, centre, dines with Premier Chou En-lai (left) and Shanghai party leader Chang Chun-chiao at the end of his historic visit to China. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

The Chinese vice-premier, Wang Qishan, raised eyebrows on his visit to Washington last week when he announced that Americans were a very "simple people". He may well have had Hillary Clinton in his sights, after a prominent interview in which she criticised China for its recent crackdown on dissidents. One Chinese commentator came up with a tortured explanation as to why this Sino-US spat was actually a good thing: when nations know each other better, he suggested, they feel less need to be polite and can say what they really think.


On China by Henry Kissinger

Well, perhaps. But if there is one narrative that marks the global society of the early 21st century, then it is the increasing unwillingness of Washington and Beijing to understand each other's viewpoints. Although millions of westerners visit China each year, the history and motivations of the regime in Beijing and the 1.3 billion people that it rules remain a source of deep mystery to the west in a way that is not true for India, the other Asian giant. Bestselling books tend to fuel the disorientation rather than reduce it, whether they are airport-style business manuals on how not to lose your shirt or analyses that predict either imminent global takeover by the Middle Kingdom or its sudden implosion.

This makes former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger's On China an unusual and valuable book. Of all the westerners who shaped the post-second world war world – and there is little doubt that he did – he is one of the very few who made the American relationship with China the key axis for his world view. This is all the more remarkable since Kissinger's realpolitik also profoundly shaped American relations with Europe, the Middle East, and south-east Asia. Yet at four decades' distance, it is the approach to China in 1971 and 1972 that stands out as the historically crucial moment.

Historians would now argue that the Nixon visit to China in 1972 did not come out of the blue. During the 1960s, both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations discussed a warming of relations with China, but were frustrated by Chinese hostility, culminating in the cultural revolution, when it was hard to find anyone to pick up the phone in Beijing. Yet the decision of a Republican administration to reach out to an ideologically radical and xenophobic communist regime in the midst of a vicious land war in Asia still seems a bold one and, unlike many policy decisions of the cold war, one that has stood the test of time.

The book is really two distinct narratives built into one. The first is a long-range sweep through Chinese history, from the very earliest days to the present. For the most part, this is elite history, where statesmen do deals with other statesmen. Yet there are human touches that reveal something of the writer. One of the commonest comparisons to Kissinger is the 19th-century statesman Metternich, the pin-up for pragmatic diplomacy. Here, Kissinger implies an interesting alternative comparison with his pen-portrait of Li Hongzhang, the Chinese foreign minister of the late 19th century. Li had to make various compromises on Chinese sovereignty, including cession of railway rights to Russia, which led to his being reviled by his contemporaries. A century later, Li's reputation is still controversial in China, but he is widely regarded as an original thinker who played a difficult hand with skill. The parallel does not need to be laboured. And one imagines it gave Kissinger some pleasure to cite a figure few have heard of in the west, but who is known to every educated Chinese person.

The historical merges into the personal in the early 1970s, when Kissinger, as national security adviser, becomes a central figure in the narrative during the secret approach to Mao's China. Inevitably, the sections many will turn to first are those where Kissinger reveals the details of his conversations with top Chinese leaders from Mao to Jiang Zemin. The contours of the story are familiar, but the judgments on figures who have passed into history still have freshness because they come from the last surviving top-level figure who was at the 1971 meeting. "Mao dominated any gathering, [premier] Zhou [Enlai] suffused it," he notes. "Mao was sardonic; Zhou penetrating." He also gives us details of the one occasion when he (and possibly any westerner) saw the unflappable Zhou Enlai lose his temper: when Kissinger suggested that Chinese Marxism had adapted the tenets of traditional Confucianism. Zhou may have been particularly incensed since the insight was in many ways quite accurate.

One aspect of Chinese politics that Kissinger stresses is the tendency of leaders to make statements and let listeners draw their own inferences and that is a technique that he employs throughout the book. He notes that some observers consider Mao's cruelty a price worth paying for the restoration of China as a major power, whereas others believe that his crimes outweigh his contribution.

But Kissinger's view is discernible only where he hints that a "recent biography" of Mao (presumably Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao: The Unknown Story) is interesting but "one-sided." After all, it is a Chinese tradition that senior mandarins make their views known by praise or condemnation of a piece of literature; it was a favourite tactic of Mao's.

Nixon's role also comes in for scrutiny by his former secretary of state. Despite his fondness for "vagueness and ambiguity", among the 10 presidents whom Kissinger has known, Nixon "had a unique grasp of long-term international trends". It is hard not to see there yet another subtle criticism of more recent administrations which have failed to consider the impact of their policies in the longer term, particularly in the Middle East.

The final part of the book has a distinctly elegiac feel, as if Kissinger is worried that the rise of a new assertive nationalism in China along with "yellow peril" populist rhetoric in the US may undo the work that came from that secret visit to Beijing in 1971. His prescription – that the west should hold to its own values on questions of human rights while seeking to understand the historical context in which China has come to prominence – is sensible. But policymakers in Washington and Beijing seem less enthusiastic about nuance than their predecessors. The hints and aphorisms batted between Zhou and Kissinger have given way to a more zero-sum rhetoric.

Henry Kissinger will always remain a controversial historical figure. But this elegantly written and erudite book reminds us that on one of the biggest questions of the post-second world war world his judgment was right, and showed a long-term vision that few politicians of any country could match today. Unless, of course, Hillary Clinton is even now on a secret mission to Tehran.

Rana Mitter is professor of the history and politics of modern China, University of Oxford

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Old Mack on Sun May 15, 2011 10:01 pm

I'd love to go to China on a long vacation.

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Old Mack on Sun May 15, 2011 10:01 pm

I'd love to go to China on a long vacation.

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  tigerlily on Sun May 15, 2011 10:34 pm

A woman I work with has 4 adopted Chinese daughters. She is, and always has been, a single mom. The girls are now 16, 14, 12, and 8. They are all going to China this summer to visit the daughters' birth towns.

I don't think there is anything like Chinese School around here, this is a pretty small town. I do know that earlier this year when the family visited Chinatown in Chicago the girls were pretty excited to be just another face in the crowd.

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  pinhedz on Sun May 15, 2011 11:02 pm

Randy Newman used to introduce this song saying "This is a sort of a pinhead's view of China."

http://www.muzu.tv/mybeatclub/randy-newman-yellow-man-music-video/201431


Last edited by pinhedz on Mon May 16, 2011 3:04 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: China-- Your impressions?

Post  Yakima Canutt on Mon May 16, 2011 2:39 am

Contemporary China I would give 2 out of 5 stars. But considering the long, proud history, I will bump up the overall China rating to 3 out of 5 stars.


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