David Fuller Holt in China
Our ACYPL delegation spent approximately 10 days in mainland China and then five days in Taiwan. That itinerary presents many contrasts.
In China, the Communist elevation of the collective over the individual is pervasive. It explains tolerance for authoritarianism and other policies that are offensive to Western cultures.
However, systems and political philosophies can’t completely erase human nature. At the same time as I walked streets free of political expression, I saw young couples in love, old men enjoying KFC, and teenagers wearing lens-less glasses like their idols in the NBA.
The everyday humanity of the Chinese people is something I am glad I got to see, and it is why person-to-person diplomatic exchanges are important.
Economically, China is growing rapidly. In places like Ningbo, a coastal port city we visited, it is as if cities have been built overnight. Beijing, thousands of years old, has evolved in modern times to resemble a city in the American southwest. There are 10-story office buildings as far as the eye can see, ringed by commuter highways full of familiar auto brands.
At the same time, visitors are often reminded that China has a ways to go in reaching the first world. Intellectual property theft is rampant. Common amenities are often lacking. And in Beijing specifically, the air pollution defies description.
Crossing the strait to Taiwan, we perhaps get a glimpse of China’s future. Taiwan is populated by Chinese and its government traces to the conclusion of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Since that time, Taiwan and mainland China have been in a stalemate over its political status, and though America and most countries do not diplomatically recognize Taiwan, America maintains strong economic ties.
Taiwan, an island of only 23 million (Beijing alone has almost that many people) is fully developed and Westernized, complete with a functioning democracy. It is proof that Chinese people can execute democracy and attain first world status.
Though still strained, relations between the mainland and the island are better than they have ever been, and travel between the two is now available and encouraged.
Young mainlanders, coming of age in a semi-capitalist economy and exposed as never before to Westerners and Taiwanese, will hopefully bring about political progress that rivals China’s economic changes.
For myself, having now had this intensive experience through ACYPL, the evolution of the world’s most populous nation and its island neighbor will be fascinating to watch.