Thanks to the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, I recently had the privilege of spending a week in this beautiful and fascinating country with three others from SLLF, and fourteen state legislators from across the US. Now that I have returned home and have had time to get readjusted (sortof) to the twelve-hour time difference, I thought I would offer some observations about China and its people.
- China is a very big country, with a lot of people.
Okay, I know this one is obvious, but it is still worth mentioning. In my eight days in the country, I was in four cities (Beijing, Wuhan, Hangzhou and Shanghai), on two plane trips and a three hour van ride, and we only covered perhaps twenty percent of China’s land mass. In terms of landmass, China is about the same size as the United States. In terms of population, Wuhan and Hangzhou are considered “second tier cities,” with populations of just over ten million and nine million respectively. Beijing and Shanghai have more than 20 million each. To put this in perspective: New York City is over 8 million, and Los Angeles just under 4 million. You could put our largest city into Beijing almost two and half times. In terms of total population, China is four times more populous than the United States!
- Chinese people are very courteous.
Over the past twenty years, I have had the privilege of traveling to almost all of the American states, and to ten different countries across four continents, and I can say without hesitation that I have never been treated better than I have in my trips to China. As visitors, we were treated to the best of everything. Everyone we met could have not been more gracious, from the highest dignitary to the hotel staff to the wait staff. Whenever anyone noticed this country boy struggling mightily with chopsticks, a fork would magically appear. If any of our delegation were having difficulty communicating, there was always a translator nearby ready to assist.
- Chinese leaders are anxious to learn from us (and we from them).
The purpose of this meeting was to open lines of communications between American state legislative leaders and Chinese provincial legislative leaders, and I think we did that quite well. Leaders from each nation listened intently (with the help of simultaneous translation) as their counterparts discussed the various challenges and solutions each faces. Further, all participants asked pointed and thoughtful questions, most scribbling notes as they went. There is much that we can learn from each other, and it seems that we provided a pretty good classroom to initiate that process.
- China remains, in part, a closed society.
I first visited China more than a decade ago, in the Spring of 2007. I noticed then that while the national economy was built around a centralized, government-controlled, communist model, capitalism was alive and well in the streets and in the local markets. I see that even more today. It seems to me that you can buy almost anything from anywhere in the local stores, streets, and markets. However, when it comes to information China remains quite closed, with restrictions on social media that restrict access to Google, Facebook, Instagram, and other such sites. While the younger generation has found ways to access information outside of the country’s borders, much of the country is reliant on government news and information.
- China is moving forward.
China is on the move, and I don’t just mean because of its more than 14,000 miles of high speed rail, reaching into 29 of the nation’s 33 provinces. China is focusing on technologies that will move it into the 21st century and beyond. That includes computerized facial recognition; renewable sources of energy; innovative transportation solutions like autonomous vehicles and drones; and an economy that relies more on electronic transfers and cryptocurrencies. Everybody in China, from its largest city (Shanghai) to its smallest remote village, has high speed access to the Internet and to the social and economic opportunities that provides. China is looking forward and moving forward.
It was a great trip. My thanks to all who made it possible, educational, and unforgettable!
Thomas H. Little, Ph.D.
SLLF Director of Curriculum Development and Research