|How was ____? (fill in the place name). It's the polite question you always get when you return from a vacation
or a business trip to a new place. Your mind is filled with thousands of impressions from your trip. Where do you
start with your answer? Should you try to describe the mountains, the seashore, the forests, architecture? What
about the food or the historic sites? What was the attitude of the natives? How do you answer?
The notes and stories that follow document my impressions during our travels in China. Interested readers can choose the parts that interest them. The notes and stories that follow are, to say the least, eclectic. They are based on facts and observations that intrigued me.
Only those who really want to know "How was China" should read on!
* * * * * * *
We arrived at Beijing International Capital Airport from San Francisco in mid-afternoon, September 23. We had hand carried our bags so we didn't need to go to the baggage claim. We got out of the airport quickly and into a taxi for an easy trip into the hotel. The driver deposited us at the Grand Hotel Beijing an hour later at a fare of 90 yuan or about $12. It was quite a deal. Had we used the private car service offered by the tour agency, the charge would have been $120 or ten times as much. And the cab driver was happy with a 10 yuan tip.
* * *
Automobiles choke Beijing's boulevards. There are 3 million of them registered in Beijing - 1 million more than in New York City. Time magazine reports that Beijing dealers sell 1,000 new cars every day.
Cynics say the rush "hour" is 7:00 am to about 9:00 pm - Time calls Beijing's roads "sclerotic". The city prohibits trucks on the streets in and around the city center until after 11:00 pm.
One positive thing is that drivers do not blow their horns nearly as much as you would expect. This is extraordinary, considering their long delays in grinding through long queues at each city block traffic signal by traffic signal. Does this mean that Chinese drivers are more courteous than drivers on the streets of other crowded countries?
Now I admire courtesy, but courteousness is not why there is less horn honking in Beijing. The reason: there are traffic policemen on foot out in the traffic lanes at every block, managing the flow of traffic. I think the Chinese readily accept government authority in their lives: for better or worse, we Americans tend to resent it. Chinese drivers just behave better because of the presence of authority.
Actually, I did see a couple of incidents of road rage.
* * *
Beijing is building high rise structures and highway infrastructure at a frenzied pace preparing for the arrival in town of the 2008 Summer Olympics. It is said that Beijing employs 18 percent of all the construction cranes operating in China and, in turn, China is using 80 percent of the world's cranes.
Construction is everywhere, including especially the 2008 Olympic compound with its famous "Bird's Nest" venue for track and field competitions. The Bird's Nest is a huge egg crate-like structure, probably equal in area to a half dozen or more American football fields. Adjacent to the Bird's Nest is the aquatic venue for water sport competition. It's a giant bubble wrap structure with bulging plastic panels and rather crumpled shape. The village or living area for the athletes is a rambling high rise housing development consisting of thousands of apartments in dozens of buildings.
Because of the coming Olympics, the government is making over all tourist sites - the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, Bei Hai Park, the Summer Palace, etc. -- with fresh red, blue and gold paint, cleaned roof tiles, flowers, trees and shrubs.
Actually, the sites look too clean and brightly painted. They lack the historic patina and decay you expect to see in such ancient structures.
* * *
We visited the Museum of the Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling (1893-1981), the second wife of Sun Yat-sen. Some Americans may know all about Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching Ling but I suspect most of us don't know much. Dr. Sun (1866-1925) is recognized as the father of modern China.
At the museum, we learned that Sun was a charismatic career revolutionary, credited with ending the feudalist system once and for all. Or so Dr. Sun thought. Unfortunately, the succeeding Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek proved to be rather apathetic about eliminating feudalist tendencies.
Dr. Sun's army had revolted against imperialism in 1911, throwing out the last of the Manchu Qing dynasty that already was on its last legs. Sun became president of the new Republic of China on January 1, 1912 but the country still was in terrible chaos.
Only 44 days later, Sun was quickly taken down by the warlord Yuan Shikai and the country promptly devolved into tribal fiefdoms. Sun exiled himself to Japan in 1913. From Tokyo, he founded something called the Chinese Revolutionary Party on July 18, 1914 and made himself Director General. He dreamed of unifying China under his leadership.
On October 25, 1915, while in exile, Dr. Sun married Soong Ching Ling who was nearly thirty years his junior. Soong Ching Ling, it turns out, was the daughter of one of Sun's wealthy supporters. She studied at Wesleyan University in Macon, Georgia in 1912-1914. Before she ever met him, Ching Ling wrote an enthusiastic thesis at Wesleyan about Sun Yat-sen's heroic rescue of China from more than 2,000 years of feudalism.
Ching Ling was one of the three famous Soong sisters. The eldest sister was Soong Ai Ling who, during the 1930s, was married to China's richest man and finance minister. Soong Mei Ling, the youngest sister, was the most assertive and ambitious of the three and was best known for her marriage to Chiang Kai-shek. When Chiang died in his Taiwan sanctuary in 1975, Mei Ling moved on, settling in the U.S. on Long Island. She died in New York City in 2004 at 105 years old.
The Chinese like to say of the sisters: Ai Ling is the sister who loved money, Mei Ling the sister who loved power, but Ching Ling was the one who loved China.
Sun returned to China after 1915 and jumped back into revolutionary politics. Meanwhile, Mao Zedong and a handful of others founded the Communist Party of China (the CPC) in 1921. Sun, although sympathetic with the communists, never formally aligned himself with them. Instead, he collaborated with Chiang Kai-shek and what looked like a promising Kuomintang (KMT) movement.
For a time, the CPC and KMT seemed to be going in the same direction and Sun tried to foster cooperation between them. The museum has a photo from that era that actually shows Mao Zedong and Chiang - later they were hated enemies -- standing shoulder to shoulder and smiling. Unfortunately, by 1925, the year that Sun Yat-sen died of a stroke, the CPC had already revolted. In the finest communist fashion of that era, the CPC began grandly extolling the leadership and nobility of the Proletariat.
An interesting episode occurred in 1937 when the Soong sisters reunited after years of separation to try to unite the KMT and CPC against the Japanese Imperial Army. Unfortunately, inter-party cooperation between them was dead on arrival.
* * *
I had trouble figuring out Sun Yat-sen's reputation within the contemporary Communist Party. He could be resented for his association with the hated KMT in the 1920s. But I was told he is revered as the founder of the Republic and was active in the KMT before the KMT chose a more partisan direction under Chiang Kai-shek. He must be in good standing because we found a huge portrait of Dr. Sun on display in Tiananmen Square directly on line with and facing Mao's famous portrait hanging on the Ming dynasty gate across from the Square. Birds of a feather!
Also, it turns out that Ching Ling, Dr. Sun's wife, was a big supporter of the CPC, although she was not a member. She was made Vice Chairman of the Peoples' Republic of China at its founding on October 1, 1949. She held a place of honor in the Party and, thanks to the support of Chou En-Lai the Prime Minister, lived comfortably in her sumptuous palace home until her death in 1981. Mr. Chou treated her like she was China's queen. On her deathbed and for the last twelve days of her life, she was named Honorary President of the Republic and, as death approached, was admitted symbolically to the Communist Party.
* * *
I took a guided bicycle tour of central Beijing. My guide said there still are nine million bicycles in Beijing despite the ballooning numbers of private automobiles. So, for a population of 14 million that's about one bike for every one-and-a-half persons. The numbers of bicycles have been falling but my guide speculates they will begin to rise again because of the jam of automobile traffic on Beijing streets.
The city fathers prohibit conventional gasoline-powered motor bicycles in the inner traffic rings. They permit low powered electric bikes that run a little faster than peddled-powered ones. The bikes have a range of 30 to 35 kilometers and their owners recharge them overnight. Still, because of the traffic, nobody rides faster than ten to twelve miles per hour.
The traffic signals on busy streets have separate green lights for bicycles. I found it is easy to get around on a bike as long as you move at the same speed as the other cyclists. There is terrific satisfaction when, as often happens, you move faster than the automobile traffic.
Most bicycles are really old. In Asian style, they don't have the high horizontal tube so you don't have to kick your leg over the frame to mount up. You just step through the frame. Cyclists do not wear helmets. They are an additional expense and, probably, riders want to be on unobstructed 360-degree alert at all times in the heavy traffic. But without helmets, you can be sure that bicycle crashes cause countless concussions and even deaths that the helmets would prevent. While in Beijing, I saw only two helmeted bicycle riders - my guide and me.
* * *
The government has a long-term contract with the Audi Corporation of Germany to provide prestige cars to high government and military officials. You see many sleek black Audi A8s speeding around Beijing with tinted windows behind which are these mysterious movers and shakers of the government. Recalling Henry Ford's early admonition "You can have any color as long as it is black" - the color of choice is black.
When the police block off two lanes of traffic on busy boulevards, you can expect to see a fleet of police cars leading an entourage of black Audi A8s roaring down the empty lanes to some urgent business of the state. You can also spot spiffy black Audi A6s, probably driven by lesser government officials.
During Mao's reign, the government made a large pretentious vehicle for Mao and other high mucky-mucks, named the "Red Flag". The cars were made by hand, meaning, I suppose, there was no manufacturing assembly facility. My informant said the people secretly ridiculed this poorly made car.
* * *
Oddly, the most common car maker on the streets of Beijing is not Asian. From what I could observe, the most popular manufacturer by far is Volkswagen. You can see many VW models all over Beijing and Shanghai: there's Bora, Jetta, Passatt, Polo and Santana. VW got into China early.
General Motors was the first western auto maker to start serious negotiations with the Chinese government. The negotiations got bogged down over the years when GM could not agree on some technical points. After years of contentiousness, GM and the government finally agreed on a Buick and Chevrolet factory in Pudong. The factory started production in 1992. VW had long before slipped in during 1978 with its own factory for a big head start on the Chinese market.
I heard that, to supply steel for manufacturing VWs, a Chinese entrepreneur bought an idle steel mill in Germany, dismantled it and set it up in China in the 1980s. He invested over $1 billion but finished the steel mill for about sixty cents on the dollar for what it would cost to build it in China from scratch.
Second in popularity among automobile makers is Hyundai. The leading American model seems to be Buick and there are some Fords. Japanese cars like Nissan and Toyota are far from dominant in the market even though Toyota has a sweetheart deal with the government to manufacture cars here. A local gentleman in Xi'an told me that some Chinese feel they would lose face if they are seen driving a Japanese car. Despite this historic enmity toward the Japanese, he admitted that the Japanese make very good automobiles.
You can see a number of home grown Chinese cars that are quite handsome. The generic name for them is "Geery" (pronounced something like "Cheery"). The government produces them for mid-level government workers and, I suppose, sells them at below VW prices to middle income consumers.
* * *
You can't visit China these days without getting a sense of the country's economic self-confidence. The big eastern cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai and Xi'an bristle with new construction: 12-lane freeways, expansive airports, high-speed trains and soaring skyscrapers. The Chinese economy -- the gross domestic product (GDP) -- has grown for about 20 years at a phenomenal average 10% annual rate. This compares with the whole world's growth of about 3% year-to-year.
When will China's economy catch up to the U.S. economy? A simple forecast is that China's GDP will pass the U.S. GDP in the year 2032. China's GDP topped $2.67 trillion in 2006, about 20% the size of the United States' GDP of $13.20 trillion. But just five years earlier in 2001, China's GDP was only 13% the size of the U.S. GDP. The calculation is simple. If you figure that China continues to grow at 10% per year and the U.S. grows at, say, 2.5% per year, China catches up in 26 years, or in 2032.
Still, you can't overlook the per capita income as a better measure of how the average person is faring. In 2006, China's per capita income was $2,000 compared to $44,970 in the U.S. with its smaller population. It will take many more decades for per capita income to catch up with the U.S.
China attracts an enormous inflow of money capital from foreign investors and from its large trade surplus. In addition, foreign capital investment brings in a bundle of cash. Foreign direct investment was $79 billion in 2005 and probably close to $100 billion in 2006. In contrast, India, with almost as much population and also growing fast, attracted only $6.6 billion in foreign direct investment.
By mid-2008, China's foreign exchange reserves will be $1.8 trillion, far more than any other nation ever accumulated. China's current account balance contributes most all of these reserves. The current account balance for 2008 - that is, the balance of trade plus net dividends and interest plus net transfer payments - will exceed $400 billion.
Frankly, the Chinese appear to have redundant capital. Much of it finds its way into physical investment in public assets like highways and airports in the big cities that do not meet rate-of-return tests. It's a phenomenon unmatched in all of the history of emerging economies. The abundance of capital helps China to employ tens of millions of workers who might not otherwise find work.
* * *
Beijing opened its enormous National Opera House in October 2007. One guide claimed it seats 90,000 people. It was a phenomenal project, adding to the already unbelievable series of brand new public works including endless elevated freeways, a fabulous expansive airport, the magnetic levitation train (the "mag-lev"), sprawling green spaces and countless high-rise office buildings, hotels, banks and apartments.
The Opera House looks like the top two-thirds of a glass egg lying on its side. It was under construction for 8 years. No one knows how much the government spent to build it but everyone assumes the cost was enormous. The people call it "an egg laid by our former president".
The designation "Opera House" seems like an expedient title for the place. It's unclear to me whether it is intended for operas at all. I can't imagine a 90,000 seat venue for a nice little opera.
* * *
Actually, there are hundreds of local operas throughout the country. Chinese opera is a lot livelier than its Western counterpart. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy Italian, Russian, French, German, even American opera. But I am one of those who think performances like the Peking Opera are more fun.
Generally, the format includes gorgeously colorful costuming, gaudily-painted faces, those whining sing-song vocalizations, acrobatic actors and the use of the most expressive facial contortions imaginable. The actors' singing is accompanied by several musicians on stringed violin-like instruments, gongs,
drums and a horn called the suona. The opera subject matter usually includes the evil-doing of bad guys countered by the courage, loyalty and wit of good guys.
* * *
When you think about it, Chinese Opera has a lot of similarities to Japanese kabuki. The elaborate costuming, vigorous action and tinny string musical instrumentation are the same. Did kabuki get its inspiration from Chinese Opera?
* * *
The pace of growth in Beijing is mind-boggling. Broad, 12-lane city expressways circumscribe the city in 4 concentric traffic rings radiating further and further out. The ring pattern is nowhere nearly finished: in October 2007 work was going ahead on the 5th, 6th and 7th rings. Real estate prices surge upward as the city spreads, especially for apartments inside the earliest rings.
Inside the 3rd ring, for example, decent but, middle of the road, apartments sell for $1,300 per square meter or, roughly, $130 per square foot. A one thousand square foot apartment away from the city center goes for $130,000.
The apartments are not finished out when buyers acquire them. There are no toilets, sinks or other basic equipment. Floors are bare concrete and walls are unpainted. Typically, interior non-load bearing partition walls have to be added. So, all of this has to be completed before the owner can move in, at substantial added cost.
There is now an active mortgage market. Mortgagors must put down a minimum of 20% of the purchase price. Interest rates were 7% in fall 2007. However, concern over too much growth and a growing bubble in real estate prices, has prompted the government to charge a 10% override on the base interest rate. Of course, rates are set by the government, not the market.
* * *
The Chinese eat a lot of chicken. KFC, the American fast food franchise, puts out a lot of chicken. So it's no wonder there are close to 80 KFC restaurants in Beijing. McDonalds has a large number of restaurants too but the Chinese don't dig burgers and fries like they dig chicken - especially extra crispy. The food costs more than regular restaurants for locals. So, unlike America, in China KFC and McDonalds are considered up-scale and a place to go for a night out.
* * *
Mao Zedong still looks down benignly from his oversized portrait on the wall of the Ming dynasty gate at the north end of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. He himself lies in mummified form in a mausoleum a couple hundred meters south in the Square. It is one of China's holy places. Indeed, Mao remains a holy figure to some Chinese. It is not by chance: his regime made a calculated effort to deify him during the last decade of his life.
Mao's great contribution was to hold the rag-tag, under-equipped and undermanned Red Army together during warfare and retreat in the 1930s fighting the Japanese and, at times, Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT) Army. When things got really tough in 1934 and 1935, Mao deftly walked his Red Army away from conflict and embarked on the 5,900 mile "Long March" northwest to safe ground in Ya'nan in Shanxi Province. Soldiers on the Long March endured unbelievable hardships that lasted a full year. It was just one of Mao's incredible feats of wartime leadership.
The Red Army remained in tact through World War II. Then, in the "War of Liberation" of August 1945 -October 1949, the Reds systematically routed the corrupt KMT from mainland China, driving the KMT to its final sanctuary in Taiwan.
The Communist victory ended the feudalist Chinese culture with its decadent abuses such as men of wealth creating stables of concubines, crippling little girls with foot binding that seemed to titillate males, promoting ubiquitous prostitution on a grand scale and subjugating and enslaving the peasantry to the whimsy of landlords. Mao is lionized for defeating the KMT and wiping out these abuses.
* * *
For the sake of his country, Mao should have stopped at the defeat of the KMT and unification of the country. Afterwards, and for the next 27 years, he used fear to control the country, wreaking famine, death, suffering and backwardness until his death in 1976. Mao feared that the increasingly competent leaders of his own Communist Party might overshadow him and he was determined to bring down any party members that had emerged as leaders.
In short, he was haunted by the thought that his absolute command of the country was threatened by Communist Party officials who had gained respect through competent governance. In his megalomania and paranoia, Mao sowed instability by sanctioning the starvation and murder of tens of millions of his countrymen, destroying much of the nation's historic archives and ancient structures, and literally eliminating formal education.
Mao quashed any thought of opposition by stupefying and mesmerizing the Chinese people through fear and outrageous propaganda, turning the people against each other. His "Hundred Flowers" campaign in the 1950s, allegedly to encourage educated Chinese to freely express their opinions, was a subterfuge for identifying, and then taking down intellectuals as well as anyone with independent thoughts.
* * *
Mao's banal and quasi-religious decrees usually made no sense and thoroughly messed with the minds of a citizenry made desperate to please and follow him out of fear. In Wild Swans, Jung Chang describes how people kow-towed to Mao's mindless sloganeering like "Destroy First, and Construction Will Look after Itself" (justifying the Red Guards' reign of destruction and terror) or "The More Books You Read, the More Stupid You Become" (elevating Mao's thoughts above the great philosophers in history whose books he ordered destroyed) or "Capable Women Can Make a Meal without Food" (salve for the deadly Mao-imposed famine of 1956-1958). These foolishnesses were taken as great insights.
In short, the nation's liberator and founder of the Communist Party devolved into a kind of monster. However, some poorly educated older Chinese still fail to connect his messianic dominance of the people to the country's destruction under the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.
Last year, it was decided - I think by the CPC - that Mao's performance was 70% good deeds and 30% "mistakes". The party will not condemn him but, still, it now no longer tries to keep him on a pedestal. Nevertheless, some older citizens still revere him.
On the other hand, the attitude of younger city people towards Mao is best described as indifferent. They listen respectfully when their elders praise Mao for bringing the country out of its 2,000 years of feudal empire but the young people don't much seem to identify with him. In fact, Mao did seem to turn around the decadence and abusiveness increasingly associated with the historical dynasties over the most recent three or four centuries.
My impression was that young Chinese maintained a bemused tolerance for the elders' views. No one mentions that, despite Communism's sacred quest to destroy imperialism, Mao himself was a de facto emperor -- a really cynical one. To the youth, Mao is ancient history. They are more focused on themselves and not on the tragic history or the appalling leadership of their country up to 25 years ago. Educated young people, maybe to their future peril, prefer to avoid politics.
* * *
There are many great museums in China. Their displays all break down into pottery, bronze, painting and calligraphy. I was struck by the beautiful and often large bronze castings from millennia in the past. What amazes is that the Chinese mastered bronze metallurgy so far back in history.
A large bronze cooking vessel I saw in Beijing makes the case. It was dated about 1,600 BC and was the size of a large laundry tub; the walls of the vessel were a good inch and a half of bronze and the exterior and handles were delicately inscribed with animalistic figures.
To cast such a piece, those ancient people mined and brought together the right alloy of copper and tin and maybe some magnesium. They smelted and handled a huge volume of molten metal, created piece molds with delicate inscriptions and cast the mold flawlessly to avoid cavitations. Just imagine - 3,600 years ago!
* * *
The state owns and operates all Chinese television, including fifty or so cable channels. The government will not abide a private media that produces independent views of news events. There is one English-speaking channel that sells advertising to foreign companies operating inside of China.
Our tour guide said many Chinese get programming from other parts of the world illegally by owning their own satellite dishes. Many satellite owners try to disguise their satellite dishes with vegetation or other cover up on their apartment rooftops so the dishes can not be seen from the street.
The content of the English-speaking channel usually features achievements of the Chinese government in a sophisticated and seemingly objective way that mimics slick Western news programming. If you don't think about it, you begin to think of the government as just one more competitor in a balanced commercial market.
The reality is that the government carefully regulates everything and permits foreign businesses to enter only when they can perform goods and services that are not available from Chinese sources and when China has something to learn from the foreign businesses.
The same regulatory and censorship regime exists for the government run English language newspaper, The China Daily. Many articles report China's diplomatic successes and they subtly congratulate the government. The English-speaking channel and newspaper never carry a word of criticism of the government!
* * *
Someone called them "ships of the desert". You can't be in Western China very long before you start to appreciate what camels mean - or at least meant - to the Silk Road culture. They carried caravans across the desert "ocean" between distant "island" oases. When the merchant caravans plugged along at a maximum 20 kilometers per day (actually, per night, to get relief from the heat of the daytime) they might contain as many as 1,000 camels.
In addition to working as pack animals, the camels also served as mounts for the caravans' armed escorts because of their mobility and durability in the desert. You only have to look closely at the camels' big feet and widely splayed toes to understand how they can move so adroitly across the loose sand.
The caravans used two-humped Bactrian camels instead of single-humped Dromedaries. The Bactrians carried more - as much as 400 pounds - and had more stamina. They are said to be able to go for a couple of weeks without drinking water. And, during raging sandstorms, the caravan riders snuggled for survival against the leeward side of their prone camels as the only shelter from sand-choked, deadly gales.
You have to admire camels. Yes, they are ugly and I understand that they spit and fart a lot. But they have an independent nature and seem to know exactly what they are doing. I don't think camels are widely used anymore as work animals. However, because of their new role carrying tourists on ten minute joy rides, camels still have value - maybe even higher value -- to their farmer owners.
* * *
Here's, more or less, how a camel lies down for its rider to mount. First, the camel steps his front feet to the rear about eighteen inches so that, as he kneels onto his front knees, his upper legs are vertical to underpin his bulky chest. After kneeling and with his rear end up high and his chest still suspended over his forelegs, the camel folds his rear legs by bending the upper joint forward and
actually bending the lower joint backward. The animal lowers its rear end to the ground and finally lowers its chest to the ground. The camel is ready for the rider to mount.
* * *
The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Western China accounts for one-sixth of the total land area of China. It is mostly barren desert and mountains so it is lightly populated with somewhere around 20 million people. That leaves the remaining five-sixths of China's land mass for the other 1.3 billion people.
Outside of the major city of Urumqi, the rest of Xinjiang Province's population is 94% Muslim and, aside from the Uygur majority, is made up of small numbers of many ethnic minorities including Russian, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Mongol and Uzbek. But the population of Xinjiang Province is overwhelmingly Uygur. The Uygurs are Turkic and claim they are descended from the Huns and the ancient Hunnic kings of a few centuries before Christ.
China's central government has had a policy of inducing Han Chinese to populate Urumqi, the largest city in Western China, and its surrounds. Urumqi has one and a half million people, 84% of whom are Han Chinese.
* * *
The Southern Mountains lie 50 miles to the south of Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The Mountains are a spur of the Tian Shan (Heavenly) Mountains that stretch to the west a couple of hundred kilometers and form the northern rim of the vast Taklimakan Desert.
The Southerns are formed by row upon row of knife-sharp ridges with steep canyons between them. For eons, erosive rainwater has washed down the mountain sides to create the sharpened ridge tops.
Approaching the mountains we came to a wide grassy valley below pine covered mountain slopes. The valley is White Poplar Gully, one of 11 valleys in the area known as the Southern Pastures. Our valley penetrated deep into the foothills of the mountains. About 30 Kazakh Uygur families live there in their traditional yurts from late spring to early autumn grazing their herds. They remain semi-nomadic.
During the winter months the herding families return to villages in lower realms.
Ethnically, the Kazakh Uygurs are Turkic Muslims. They had been nomadic from the 2nd century BC and integrated with Turkish tribes in the 8th and 9th centuries. They migrated from the Russian steppes to Xinjiang province as newcomers during the 17th century. The Pastures and Kazakh life style look idyllic. Tourists can visit their yurts, drink milk tea and eat from a large table set with Kazakh delicacies. Kazakh horsemen give 10-minute rides to venturesome tourists for 20 or 30 yuan.
* * *
Unfortunately, all is not well and peaceful between the Kazakh Uygurs and the Chinese government. The government prefers that the Kazakhs settle permanently. It is difficult to keep track of nomadic people and the government likes to know where its people are. The simple Kazakh Uygurs have demonstrated and agitated for their rights and the government has put them down sharply. The Chinese government became especially assertive after 9/11 in the name of fighting world terrorism.
Our Han Chinese guide told the government's side of the story. First, the government has settled the Kazakhs in places where they can get access to healthcare and education. Also, the government subsidizes herding as a livelihood by providing the Kazakh herdsmen with their sheep and cattle. When the animals are taken to market for sale, the government divides the profits with the herdsmen.
Second, according to our guide, a mafia type of element comes across the borders of Kazakhstan and Pakistan and infiltrates among the Uygurs. The government has no choice but to try to liquidate this gangster element.
Be that as it may, relations have never been great. The Uygurs made a play for independence during the Japanese War in the early 1940s and there has been violence off and on since the early 1990s.
Who knows what is the true nature of the relationship between the Uygurs and their Han government?
* * *
We had several opportunities to dine in restaurants serving Uyghur food. The cuisine had elements of Turkish as well as more typical Chinese cuisine. Pork is very Chinese but, as Muslims, Uyghurs do not serve pork. A meal in Kashgar featured lamb, beef and chicken on long ka-bob skewers. Other dishes in the same meal were a fresh-water fish in a dark sauce, marinated bean curd, jellied eggs, a sour soup, flat noodles, fried rice, Green Baby Pak Choy and Chinese long beans. We Americans got into the ka-bobs right away. We were more cautious about some of the other dishes. Jellied eggs probably will not appear in the American diet in the foreseeable future.
Uyghur restaurants are colorful and animated. Typically, a group of 5 or 6 musicians play lively traditional Turkic tunes. They play several kinds of long-necked stringed instruments, a horn and some percussion instruments. To the Western ear, the music initially seems a bit screechy and discordant but somehow it harmonizes. You begin to understand that it is the same music that others may have listened to 1,500 years and further ago.
After our first Uyghur restaurant meal, I found the names of several stringed instruments in the excellent Xinjiang Provincial Museum in Urumqi. There's the Tanbur, the Dutar and the Rawap; these have 5, 2 and 4 strings respectively. The Hooshtar is violin-shaped with a small sound box and is played with a bow. It has 4 main strings and 7 strings along side. Other instruments are Uyghur tambourines, a short, wide mouthed brass instrument called the Suona horn and a zither-like stringed instrument that is played lying flat called the Kanun.
The musicians accompany dancers who are often solo men dancers. Male dancing is much like I remembered of Greek dancing. A terrific male dancer can express unmistakably smoldering emotions. Who can ever forget Anthony Quinn's dance at the end of Zorba the Greek?
* * *
At one up-scale Uyghur restaurant a server met us at the entrance with a samovar containing water for washing hands. He ladled the water over our hands and provided a towel for drying. This might seem like a thoughtful courtesy. It is, of course, but also I got the idea that this was not meant to be an option. Turkic peoples - and Muslims in general, for that matter -- are very fussy about cleanliness around their food. They really want your hands to be clean.
I recalled a not-so-upscale Turkish restaurant where I lunched frequently in Baku, Azerbaijan where the proprietor greeted you at the door with a squeeze bottle of antiseptic liquid that he poured onto your open palms. Not an option.
* * *
Everyone has heard about China's one-child policy. It restricts couples to bearing and rearing only one child. The government provides birth control that, as I understood it, usually is the inter-uterine device (IUD). Male vasectomy is another option.
There are exceptions to the one-child rule for farmers and ethnic minorities who, failing to bear a son at first are permitted, consistent with Confucian tradition to try and try again until a son is born. For instance, the Uyghur people of Western China are allowed two children and these two must be spaced at least three years apart.
Most Chinese focus on having a son and the one-child restriction really distorts the gender balance. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute reported there are now 123 Chinese baby boys for every 100 girls. Female fetuses often are aborted or worse. So China is raising tens of millions of unmarriageable young men.
This creates huge pressures in the marriage market. I remember while working in Cambodia a few years ago, the newspaper reported raids by Chinese from Hunan province to kidnap girls in northern Cambodia. They were transported back to China to provide wives for Chinese men who had been excluded from the marriage market.
Eberstadt says that, at a fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman, China's population will start to decline around 2030 from a peak of more than 1.5 billion. Between now and 2030 there will be a continuous slide in the 15-24 year old age group and, consequently, a decrease in the work force.
During the same time frame there will be an explosion in the 65-plus age range. The growth in this age group and overall aging of China's population will come at a rate never seen before. Nobody knows how China's senior citizens will support themselves. There is no state pension system. Historically, old people could count on a large family structure to care for them. One third of women in their sixties will have no son.
Demographers predict the collapse of the traditional Chinese family into a "4-2-1" generational family - four grandparents, two children and one grandchild. It portends what Eberstadt calls a slow-motion humanitarian disaster. The children "will have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts and no cousins". Their only blood relatives will be their ancestors.
* * *
There is another slant on the preponderance of boys created by the one-child policy. In Shanghai, a tour guide told us, contrary to common belief, there are more girls than boys in the large cities. Supposedly, when the question of marriage arises, it is cheaper to have a girl.
Tradition dictates that the girl's family gives the couple a wedding gift of a household item such as a clothes washer. But the boy's family should provide the couple with housing. This might mean that the husband's family presents a condominium or, more likely, the newly married couple moves in on his family. Besides, whether in China, the U.S. or Timbuktu, raising girls is easier. But then, I will probably get some argument about that.
* * *
Actually, China's one-child policy is being modified as the government slowly realizes the humanitarian chaos this policy portends. A married couple is now permitted two children if each parent is him- and herself an only child. .
In the past - and maybe even today -- the government levied a heavy fine, about 30,000 yuan or $4,000, on couples who had more than one child. I heard a story about a couple who were fined all of their savings for having a second child. Then a third child came along but the couple had no money to pay another fine. The Party Disciplinary Committee followed up by going into their home and removing the clothes washer, television and any tangible assets they could take.
* * *
The ancient people in the vicinity of today's Urumqi were into mummifying their dead. The archeologists claim that the local mummies are contemporary with the mummies of Egypt. The best preserved mummies of Egypt date back to 2,000 - 1,000 BC, according to Janet Wood's History of the Egyptian Mummies. So, to be contemporary with Egypt, human life must have existed in the Urumqi environs many millennia ago.
Unlike the Egyptian mummies, the local ones were not eviscerated, that is, not disemboweled (this may be more than you care to know), but were simply desiccated in the desert sands. In both cultures, the mummies were wrapped in many layers of linen. The mystery of what lie inside the linen so intrigued British amateur archeologists of the Victorian era that they used to call all their friends and throw a mummy unwrapping party.
The Urumqi Provincial Museum has about 100 mummies of local origin. We saw a particularly interesting one, estimated to be about 4,000 years old. He was about 5 feet, 6 inches with light brown hair. Oddly, he had distinctly western
features. He was buried with 3 women and wore a leather chin strap to hold his jaw together. His face had traces of yellow paint and he wore a long cap shaped like a large incisor tooth.
* * *
China no longer calls itself a Communist country. The government seems to prefer the term social capitalism. However, the Communist party still runs the place. The most powerful job in the country still is the CPC Central Committee General Secretary and Chairman of the Communist Party. Likewise, the most powerful political job in the cities, districts and prefectures is chairman of the local committee of the Communist Party.
The CPC was founded on July 1, 1921 at the historic building located at 347 S. Huangpi Road in Shanghai. The location of the historic building today would leave Mao totally flummoxed. It is in a section of what has become the ritzy Xintiandi shopping area with its up-scale restaurants and hoy-te-toi women's clothing boutiques and where you are likely to be charged 35 yuan (nearly five dollars) for a cup of not very good green tea.
* * *
As I write this report, the CPC is holding its 17th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The Congress is held every five years and it sets the nation's social and economic policies - the roadmap -- for the next five years. At the Party's First Congress on July 23-31, 1921, there were 13 delegates out of a total party membership of 50. Three of the delegates were students or teachers from the Hunan First Normal College of which, to be sure, Mao was one of the three.
This year there are 2,217 delegates out of a Party membership of over 73 million members. That means one in every twenty Chinese is a party member.
Delegates are elected by party members in their districts. The CPC has come a long way. It is the largest political party in the world.
At each Congress the leader sets the agenda in inspiring but vague language couched in terms of social harmony, balanced economic growth and political development. Recent Congresses set out goals in terms of creating a market economy (but centrally-directed), facilitating the private sector and fostering robust economic growth.
This year China's president, Hu Jintao, has crafted his goal as adopting a "scientific concept of development", a term to be enshrined in the Constitution during Mr. Hu's remaining five years in power. Chinese are great at sloganeering.
Apparently "scientific concept of development" means addressing the widening wealth gap between haves and have-nots, fighting official corruption and tackling China's severe environmental degradation.
* * *
The goals for this 17th Congress, as well as those of Congresses past, all sound like motherhood and apple pie. But I can't help think that it is exactly how politicians speak everywhere in the world. Our politicians are never short of lofty, vague and euphemistic rhetoric to extol social equality, religious faith, family values and patriotism. Psshheew!
And China, true to at least some of the rhetoric, has delivered blistering growth and huge improvements to its transportation, communications and market infrastructure.
Mr. Hu Jintao holds the country's three principle offices of President, Chief of the Central Military Commission and CPC party General Secretary. This arrangement, in which the leader wears several hats, was established when the previous President, Jiang Zemin, took office in 1993.
Before Mr. Jiang, there had been a bitter post-Mao division among the three offices. This division came to a boiling point in 1989 with a dangerous dustup between the highest leaders over the use of force against the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations.
The President at the time was angrily opposed to the use of force and staged a nasty showdown with Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of the Military Commission. Deng held the day and ordered a brutal military crack down. After the Party infighting over the Tiananmen debacle, the big-wigs decided to conglomerate the three offices under one head.
The Congress also will designate the nine-person membership in the Politburo Standing Committee that will serve over the coming five years. This is a big deal because the next leader (President and CPC General Secretary) probably will come from this membership. Several younger men will replace aging members who are 68 years and older.
Everyone knows that Mr. Jiang, the past President, wants to retain supporters on the Standing Committee while Mr. Hu also wants his guys on the Committee so he can act unopposed during his final five years as president. Who knows who is really going to be in charge?
* * *
China's population at the end of 2006, according to the World Bank, was 1,311,797,692. For contrast, India's was 1,109,811,147. But India is catching up fast.
* * *
Almost every American tour group that visits China gets a cruise on the Yangzi River. Depending on whether the cruise is upstream or downstream, the tour takes 4 or 3 days and nights and either starts or ends with a visit to the Three Gorges Dam. The dam is enormous. It is a mile and a half across, over 600 feet high and has a 377 foot wide concrete base. It creates an upstream reservoir almost 400 miles long and raises the water level behind the dam nearly 600 feet.
The dam's generators will produce 22,500 MW of electricity, enough to power all of Shanghai and its 18 million people. The power plant is the world's second largest hydroelectric plant. There is a five-level double ship lock over one mile in length that raises or lowers ships 370 feet and it takes 3 hours to pass through the lock gates.
We tried to take all this in from atop the Jar Hill Observation deck way above the worksite. Up there, construction activity looked like an ant colony. There is an enormous sign plastered across part of a hill that extols the dam workers to work hard for China. It's in Chinese, of course, and sounds a little hokey but also kind of a nice sentiment.
* * *
The Yangzi River! My mind's eye sees a swirling swift current carving its way riotously across tremendous boulders through narrow canyon walls. Frequent rapids rage while dauntless and stoic river men strain sinewy limbs to pole their sampans against the rushing flow.
Well, look again. Thanks to the Three Gorges Dam, the fierce Yangzi has become a vast placid lake through much of its length. The dam has caused the water level to rise nearly 600 feet. In many places, the narrow canyon walls are drowned and sometimes the water sprawls between distant hill tops at the higher terrain to make the river miles across.
The government points out that the newly tamed river prevents periodic catastrophic drowning of thousands of people during bad flood years. It's a good thing I guess. But what happened to the romance of this venerable Chinese dragon known as the Yangzi River?
* * *
Pollution threatens to overwhelm the Yangzi ecosystem. The people alongside have always used the river as their sewer. But the river was forgiving. Historically, the river purged itself with a current that roared violently for many weeks when the snows of the Tibetan mountains melted and the waters sluiced turbulently down the Yangzi. Today, a population estimated at well over 100 million continues to contribute raw sewage to the Yangzi. Only now there is little movement in what has become a vast inland "freshwater" sea.
* * *
During our sailing on the Yangzi in 2006, a scientific team from France and the U.S. was searching for any remaining Yangzi river dolphin - the grey baiji -- in the hope that the animal could be saved from extinction. It's a big, nearly blind animal that navigates on its built-in sonar. Traffic from a surging number of river vessels, a fish netting industry and pollution has destroyed the baiji's food sources. The baiji was common as recently as the 1970s. The research team finally concluded in December 2006 that, after 20 million years of existence in the river, the baiji was extinct.
A few months later there was a surprise sighting. A baiji lives! But it just defers the inevitable. The baiji is no more.
* * *
I can't get used to how many cities have populations in the multi-millions. I once visited Dalian, a northern city out on the end of a peninsula projecting into the Yellow Sea. From prior descriptions and its incidental location on the map, I figured a few hundred thousand souls. It turns out the population exceeded 5 million.
When we were arriving in Chongqing (previously Chungking) last year our guide told us the population was 32 million! That would make it nearly twice the size of
the world's next largest city. The explanation is that Chongqing city is also basically a whole prefecture. So it counts people from a highly populated prefecture-size area, not a typically citified area
* * *
In Shanghai, nearly everyone visits the Old Street, the adjacent 17th century Yu Yuan Gardens and the surrounding bazaar that includes the famous Huxingting Teahouse (1784). The Gardens are glorious but not many visitors notice the spectacular variety of trees in the Gardens. Here are just some of the trees that grace the Gardens:
Acacia (the bark and resin is used to make incense)
Camphor (aromatic; it spreads like wildfire)
Cedar (the straight, tall fir tree)
Cypress (I think China's "Huangshan Pine" is a cousin)
Ginko biloba (the "fossil" tree: its nuts and leaves are used medicinally and in cooking)
Magnolia (the official flower of Shanghai)
Orange Osmanthus (one famous tree is as old as the Yu Gardens)
Pomegranate (under the pillow on wedding night improves fertility)
* * *
Chinese garden aesthetics, according to our guide, require 4 elements. As I remember them it's water, rocks, buildings and trees. The Yu Yuan Gardens conform beautifully, especially those pock-marked limestone rockeries.
* * *
As long as we are making lists, here are the four ethical virtues of Confucianism: loyalty, piety, chastity and charity. It's interesting that Confucius' life was contemporaneous (I mean he lived at the same time) with the Buddha's (Siddhartha Gautama). Confucius was concerned with how Chinese people should interact to form an ethical society. The Buddha's thing was to internalize enlightenment through meditation.
Confucius' thing was to strengthen society by urging people to bind themselves to others through five familial relationships (another list): parent-child, emperor-subject, brother-brother, husband-wife, and friend-friend. He meant this for the scholar-gentlemen class to govern itself. I believe the ordering is intentional: the first relationship is most important, the second next most important, and so on.
* * *
The misty Huang Mountains (or Yellow Mountains) in Anhui Province look, for all the world, like those tantalizing classical Chinese paintings in black ink, brushed onto white paper. The ancient literati painters of the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties, much as they liked to paint bamboo branches and plum blossoms, really grooved on misty mountains and the mountains' beautiful cypress-like pines.
The Huang Mountains lay an hour's flight directly west of Shanghai. After another hour's drive, a 15 minute cable car ride and a short hike, you are on the top of the mountains. From the tops you can see heavy mist swirling beneath you. The floating mountain tops adjacent to your top are suspended mysteriously above the clouds. The ghostly Huang pines on the mountainsides, with their layered branches, appear through the mist, like apparitions.
Tourists ride a cable car up a few hundred meters and then hike up higher to a few hotels nearer to the top. Porters carry almost everything on bamboo shoulder poles up to the hotels. They carry all the food, laundry, travelers' luggage, machinery and anything else needed to sustain travelers and the hotels.
There must have been hundreds of porters on the mountain. Some of them even work in foursomes to carry disabled travelers up or down the mountain on sedan chairs.
In addition to the basic shoulder pole, porters with the heaviest loads place a second pole over the opposite shoulder. They use it to pry under the loaded pole in order to distribute some of the weight to the second shoulder. Our Chinese guide claimed that some of the porters carried as much as 100 kilograms or
about 220 pounds. I wondered if he meant 100 pounds, not 100 Kilos. We saw some big loads but nothing that approached 100 Kilos.
Here's a puzzle: why all these porters? The cable car could be transporting just about all of the supplies needed during the nighttime hours. It stops carrying passengers in late afternoon and is idle all night.
* * *
There are a lot of make-work jobs in China like the porters' work on the Huang Mountains. Labor is cheap and there is plenty of it. In the cities you can see thousands of street cleaners sweeping with their wide brooms. They are on nearly every block. In the West we clean streets with street sweeping machines. In China, even small department stores and supermarkets have many dozens of clerks. In the United States it is getting hard to find a clerk.
China's farm overpopulation results in the concentrated application of manpower to tiny plots of land. In the West, huge corporate farms are run by machines that do the work over vast acreages, while only a few human beings oversee the machines.
China's labor challenge is to make enough jobs to keep many hundreds of millions working. In the capitalist West, we strive to eliminate jobs by replacing low skill workers with capital.
It is not that China doesn't use capital. Elsewhere in these notes I report China's success in attracting foreign capital and in deploying the money capital she earns through international trade. But in creating capital projects like highways, high-rise apartments, airports and vast planted green spaces, China uses vast quantities of labor.
So is China a nation of socialist capitalism? Is it a closet Western-style capitalist nation? The historian Philip Huang calls the Chinese economic process "involution" - where rapid commercialization of China is possible without resorting to capitalist principles. And, Huang would add, it does not liberate the Chinese people from their lives of bare subsistence.
Still, you have to wonder if the United States might be better off creating make-work jobs for its underclass of poorly educated, and sometimes socially alienated, workers. We don't seem able to match the profile of these workers to the types of jobs we want to create. Remember Marx believed that capital, by displacing labor, would collapse eventually under its own weight. I don't think so. But we could get more real and try to animate those at the bottom of our labor ladder with jobs.
* * *
It is nice to get to know a strange city through the eyes of natives. While looking for the renowned shopping section on East Nanjing Road in Shanghai, I encountered three Chinese girls dressed in old blue jeans and casual shirts. They stopped me to ask where I came from and how did I like China.
The girls wanted to practice their English and took courage from each other to push the conversation. They too were visiting in Shanghai and had just graduated from university in their home town of Tianjin, just east of Beijing. They said their trip to Shanghai was a dream of a lifetime and a graduation present to themselves.
It was late afternoon so the girls were heading back to their room across the river in Pudong for the night. On learning about my search for the shopping district they offered to guide me. Our walk turned into a pleasant exchange in which I learned a little about their lives and they exercised their English.
We decided to find a tea shop for a friendly cup of tea. The girls guided me into a small covered shopping concourse and up an escalator to a semi-barren escalade with a few scraggly shops. We walked into a shop with a name something like Emperor's Tea where we were met by a hostess who, after some negotiations I didn't understand, ushered us into a private room.
The hostess, in a traditional long red Chinese silk dress, spread tiny tea cups to each of us and began brewing a small pot of Oolong. She had a pitch about how the emperor's concubines were trained in tea serving, why tea is poured from several feet above the cup, how you swirl your finger around the cup's rim before drinking and other tales that fit the occasion. We swallowed the little mouthful of tea she had pored. She quickly fused a jasmine green tea and elegantly poured another mouthful in each cup from a beautiful cast iron pot. Then, almost simultaneously, she began preparing a third tea for us to sample. After this one, there were five more teas lined up
It began to feel unnatural. I just wanted a friendly cup of tea and a little conversation. So I announced that the jasmine was the last cup, thank you, it is time to leave. The bill told me my instincts were correct -- $48 for two swallows of tea apiece.
On the street again, the girls pointed out my gaudily neon-lighted shopping center up the street, brighter than the noonday sun, and we parted. Now, understand that I am inclined to trust easily but I started to wonder. Were these young women really practicing English on me? How did these tourists from Tianjin know their way into an obscure shopping mall's half-deserted second level? Were they agents of the Emperor's Teas and was I scammed? Was I commercially "shanghaied", so to speak?
I will never know.
* * *
Nanjing Road developed as Shanghai's prime shopping street as Shanghai grew into a major city starting around the end of the 19th century. The city had about one million people in 1900. Overseas Chinese got Nanjing Road going when their big department stores from Hong Kong set up shops on Nanjing. They included stores with names like the Wing On Company and the Sincere Company (I don't know if there was a Mr. Sincere or if the name reflected a decent attitude toward the company's customers). I suppose these companies could see there were going to be big things coming to Shanghai.
* * *
Here's one of those inscrutable Chinese quotations: "It doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice."
You can't be with a Chinese guide for more than a few hours without having this quoted. It is attributed to Deng Xiaoping, the great leader of the 1970s and 1980s. Admittedly, I am a little slow but I never catch exactly what he meant.
My guess is that he believed there is more than one route to economic prosperity. You should not get doctrinaire about how only one economic system is pure and perfect (like Marxism). So (I am guessing here), communism can be modified with a degree of capitalism to "catch the most mice".
Mr. Deng was the great reformer who took China out of the morass of the Cultural Revolution. He observed that China might have a choice: it could
continue to be poor under socialism or rich under capitalism. He is the leader who was most responsible for legitimizing a market economy with capitalist tendencies.
* * *
Shanghai, with over 18 million people (some estimates are more than 20 million), is one of the world's most densely populated cities. Shanghai has more than 4,000 high rise buildings, each greater than 32 stories. In the fall of 2007, across the Huangpu River in Pudong there were 300 high rises under construction.
The 88-story JinMao skyscraper Observatory in Pudong gives you a great perspective. Looking across the river to Shanghai city you see a huge forest of high rises that sprout randomly like massive pines as far as the eye can see. Most of the ones you see are apartments for literally millions of Chinese families, all compressed together in the city.
Interspersed are giant towers, many of them housing the prime international hotels (the top half of the JinMao building is occupied by the Grand Hyatt), as well as international banks and corporations.
Apartment buildings with less than six stories do not have elevators. Only when the building is six stories or more do you get elevators. Tenants must pay more for buildings with elevators. I remembered that in Vladivostok, Russia the elevators actually don't begin until the third or fourth floor in some of the older, over 5-story, high rise apartments.
In other words, if you want to use the elevator you will have to walk up to the 3rd or 4th floor. It has to be tough on older people with failing legs or respiratory
ailments. I imagine there are many older citizens that do not leave their apartments for months at a time.
* * *
We use the expression "to be shanghaied". It means to be kidnapped in some stealthy manner for forced service to the kidnapper. I think it stems from the middle nineteenth century when American ship owners were making their fortunes by capturing Chinese coolies and spiriting them away to America to work on our great transcontinental railroads.
In Stephen E. Ambrose's book, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863 -1869, the author describes how Chinese were "imported" from cities like Shanghai to work on building the Central Pacific railroad across the American West. At first the bosses thought the slightly built Chinese were too fragile or weak for this kind of work.
They changed their minds after the coolies first day on the job. Upon seeing how disciplined, sober and steady the coolies were, the bosses wanted to get as many Chinese as they could. The coolies easily outworked their burly but, clearly less sober, Irish counterparts.
* * *
One survey reported that, presently, there are 3.75 million construction workers in Shanghai, virtually all of them from the countryside. They live in minimal subsistence situations and return to their home villages once a year with their savings. Unskilled construction workers make 750 - 1,000 yuan ($100 - $133) per month and the employer provides dormitory accommodations. Skilled construction workers make 1,500 - 2,500 yuan ($200 - $330) per month plus accommodation.
Wages in garment factories average about 700 yuan per month or just under $100. Young girls from rural areas come into the factories for sewing jobs at the bottom of the pay scale. These jobs pay 300 yuan or about $40 per month plus meals and accommodation.
You hear of sewing factories in the provinces that work the girls 14 hours a day and house them in dilapidated cells that pass for living quarters. They have to buy their daily necessities from the factory which keeps them indebted and indentured. After a while, they have no way out.
The Gap retail chain recently faced charges that the firm relies on factories like this and pays no heed to human rights. Labor for sewing a Gap blouse that retails for 40 or 50 dollars, for example, is 20 to 30 cents.
Bank workers and mobile phone workers get the gravy jobs. The state run monopolies like the banks and China Mobile or China Telecom, pay about 7,000 yuan monthly or nearly $1,000 for technical entry jobs. You must have good connections to get these jobs. I've got to believe that arbitrarily disproportionate pay of this sort creates great social fissures.
* * *
The JinMao Tower in Pudong with its 88th floor observatory, is the fourth tallest skyscraper in the world at 1,379 feet. It's a great piece of architecture that resembles a giant pagoda in tiers that step back every 10 or 12 stories. The architect is Chicago's venerable firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. But, the JinMao won't be the fourth tallest much longer.
The Shanghai Financial Center, a neighbor to JinMao in Pudong, is under construction and will become the tallest skyscraper in the world a few months from now when it tops out at 1,509 feet and 101 stories. The Financial Center is just a shaft of reflective glass and it has an ugly square footprint that, beginning half way up, tapers into a rectangle at the top.
Even this skyscraper is being passed by as the world's tallest. The Burj Dubai building in Dubai, UAR initially will rise to at least 1,885 feet. In a later second stage, the Burj is scheduled to rise to 2,625 feet and more than 160 stories!
* * *
Shanghai's traffic is formidable but not nearly as bad as Beijing's. Shanghai has 2,000,000 automobiles registered for its population of 18 million, while Beijing has 3,000,000 automobiles for its 14 million people. Shanghai's city government deters operating an automobile in the inner city by exacting a license fee of 49,600 yuan - nearly $7,000. As they say, it keeps the riff-raff motorists out.
Also, Shanghai restricts motorbikes from the inner rings. If you have never seen the "moto" traffic in Hanoi, Viet Nam or Phnom Penh, Cambodia you haven't witnessed true chaos. The motos line up at Hanoi city traffic signals fifty deep and thirty across. When the light turns green the roar is like a hundred Indy 500s.
* * *
How will China deal with the gap between the rural poor and the prosperous citizens of the big eastern cities? It's the hottest question on the agenda for China's leaders. And the Central Government is in trouble.
The gap is widening rapidly and provokes a level of social instability that is outright dangerous for the government. Anger over the uneven distribution of the country's riches is breeding violent civil disturbances. The Christian Monitor recently reported 50,000 to 60,000 such disturbances in a single year, usually in rural areas.
The poor rural Chinese are angrily aware that they have been by-passed by the success of eastern boom cities. You might say that before the boom, when everyone shared the misery of poverty, they didn't know they were poor.
It's like the 1930s Great Depression years in the U.S. when my parents were young. Almost everyone was financially distressed and, as long as nearly everyone was in it together, there was not much envy and greater solidarity in the population. As the wealth gap grows it increases resentment and the demands for improvement in the quality of life.
Our tour guide estimated that 20% of the country is developed and 80% lags way behind. I'm not sure if these percentages apply to land area or to percentages of the population. The Economist magazine estimates that 60% of the country's 1.3 billion people live in rural areas, most of them in deep poverty. The Central government spends lavishly on infrastructure in the large cities and military but the percentage of its budget that it spends on agriculture and rural welfare becomes smaller every year.
* * *
The Economist reports there have been improvements in rural education and healthcare but not enough. Recent improvements exempt rural kids from paying for the compulsory nine years of school -- the State will support nine years of their education.
Starting at age 6, students are required to have 6 years of elementary and 3 years of junior "college", sort of a middle school. They still have to pay for books. As for insurance, the government has plans to help rural areas by setting up a medical insurance system.
But, impoverished rural Chinese still avoid hospitals. They still will have to pay a half or more share of hospitalization costs that the paltry proposed government health insurance will not cover. Most rural folks simply cannot afford to commit their families to a lifetime of debt for the privilege of entering a hospital.
Unfortunately, their choice may be a shortened life.
In truth, these education and health improvements for the rural areas are cosmetic. The percentage of the government's spending on what the central government calls "the socialist countryside" has steadily declined for years and stands now at less than 10% of all government spending. The gravy goes to the cities.
It makes it seem that President Hu's "scientific concept of development", newly enshrined in the constitution to express the concern that inequality threatens China's social fabric, is hypocrisy. It bodes ill for the future of economic policy in China.
* * *
What's in a place name in China? Sometimes it's a glorious image, sometimes plebeian. The Beijing Grand Hotel is on Chang 'An Street. Translated, it's the "Avenue of Everlasting Peace". Tiananmen Square is "the Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace". Very uplifting! The Sheraton Urumqi Hotel is on Youhao Beilu street. - translated: "Friendship Road". The name dates from the 1950s when the street was so named to recognize solidarity with the Soviet Union during that era. But Friendship Road did not satisfy the Red Guard of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, so the street became -believe it or not -- "Anti-Revisionism Road".
This strange name had a purpose in the 1960s. It was a slam on the Soviet Union. The Uygur minority people of Urumqi and Xinjiang Province have ancient northern and even Russian roots. It was the Cultural Revolution's reminder to them that the alleged "revisionism" of Soviet-style communism under Nikita Khrushchev made the Soviets enemies of China's government. China's "pure" Marxist principals of communism were in competition with Khrushchev's "impure" version.
In Beijing, the Red Guards renamed the street on which the British embassy is situated to "Anti-Imperialism Road". Uplifting? It was to the Red Guards. In her book Wild Swans, Jung Chang, reports that in Chengdu the Red Guard rendered street names like "Revolution", "The East is Red" and "The Whiff of Gunpowder".
* * *
The Communist Chinese flag flies everywhere. It first flew on October 1, 1949, the founding day of the People's Republic of China, over Tiananmen Square. The flag has a red field and five yellow five-pointed stars in the upper left corner. The red stands for revolution.
A guide explained the five stars. The left-most star is bigger than the others and represents - you guessed it - the Communist Party (CPC). The other four, smaller, stars are for China's people: these are 1) workers, 2) farmers, 3) students and 4) soldiers. Question: where is the star for China's new businessmen?
* * *
Chinese justice can be quixotic. The Shanghai Daily newspaper (city government controlled of course) reported a fascinating court case that reveals China's modern take on Confucius.
It seems two young men in a Shanghai suburb ran a scam over a period of time to extort money from motor bikers. One man would throw himself into the path of a motor biker, get brushed by the moto, collapse to the pavement and feign bodily injury from the collision. Next, the second young man approached to play the objective witness and to claim that the motor biker had been negligent. Finally, the biker, fearing that his "reckless" driving would attract the police, agrees to pay a sum to compensate the "injured" pedestrian.
By sheer coincidence, the two ran the scam for a second time on one of their earlier victims who, this time, promptly called the police. The young men confessed their crime to the judge who convicted them on two charges. Naturally, the first conviction was fraud. But the second conviction -- and the point of the story -- was the crime of causing the victim to lose faith in his fellow citizens.
I thought the social values expressed by the court seemed naïve and out of date but, nonetheless, charming.
* * *
To Chinese, this important year should bring good fortune. It's the year of the pig. In the Chinese 12-year zodiac rotation it comes only once in 12 years. More significantly, it is the year of the golden pig which occurs only once in every 60 years. Couples who schedule their marriage during this year should be blessed in their marriage by good fortune.
Even more important, married couples should plan for the birth of their child during the year of the golden pig. Good fortune will surely smile on such a child.
As a consequence, we hear that hospitals are overly packed with prospective mothers awaiting delivery. Some must wait on gurneys parked in maternity ward corridors.
* * * * * * *
China amazes with its energy and its ancientness. Elements remain that are not so good. There's the stifling poverty that still dominates the countryside. There remains a big brother posture by government where citizens have little protection of their individual liberties in the law.
Alexis de Touqueville said "America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." China in the 21st century is making progress on being great because its people are good. I'm not sure I could have said this during the Mao period - or in the Kuomintang or dynastic periods.
But if you judge another country you should have to make judgment about your own country. I wish that America could still be called great without qualification. America's people are good too. But, in recent years, I am disappointed that America has not been so good.