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China; an expat's summary.

Popularity 7Viewed 8853 times 2014-3-5 01:25 |System category:Life| culture, development, economy, growth, problems

To many foreigners who have never visited China, this enormous country is still a mysterious fantasy land…. Or a harsh and intolerant place. Books and internet articles written about China that I read before coming here either excited or warned me.  It only took a few short weeks living in central China for me to realise that these comments are both extreme and ridiculous.  I find the comments here, made by other foreign readers about how they find China, far more accurate.  My own observations and experiences are just that….. with no criticism intended. If I see something “wrong” I just have to remind myself how far the people here have come in just the last 50 years and that they are, as I said in a previous article, like children who are learning and developing all the time.  The people of China have quickly built an enormous industrial base and their leaders have driven the economy to create a very rich and powerful country. Now it appears that Premier Xi is developing policies that will push China further…. recognising  problems that need resolving and  using the wealth of  production to further the service industries and the domestic market. The prestige of the country is being raised by its involvement in Africa, in participating in World peace-keeping and its space programme.

I shall reinforce or add to comments already made.

I recall an important politician saying that China’s downfall will be corruption.  I have found that money is most important to people in China. Whether poor or rich, people here seem forced or  greedy enough to  expect “extra payments” to  fulfil their duties. The giving of gifts  in business seems almost a part of Chinese culture. In the news, I note the efforts to reduce corruption at all levels and to make decision making more honest and transparent. Such policies may improve the trust that people here should have in one-another.  I also read an article about the attitude of Chinese people to rules, laws and tests. It talked of the “cleverness” of cheating and ignoring rules without being caught. Punishment is for being caught, not for breaking the law. I don’t believe these issues can be explained away by saying they are a part of Chinese culture.

Industrial  growth  creates wonderful advantages. In China I see a growing Middle class of people with enough money to spend on improving their lives, opening businesses, travelling etc. I see incredible improvements to transport. Everywhere buildings are going up and the environment improved.   A friend said, “China seems an enormous building site. China will be wonderful when it is finished! “   And the advantages of a roadside market economy…. And banks that are open for the customer’s convenience and not their own.  The problems created by growth are well known from Western experience. Pollution, rising house prices, the migration of rural communities to the cities and the frantic speed of development at the expense of safety….. these are not  only Chinese phenomenons but seen in all developing countries (and some developed ones too!) 

There are many people in the west who think of Chinese transport in the same way they see that of India or middle eastern countries; dirty old buses and trains filled and covered with poor people carrying their chickens and vegetables to market. This was what I expected when I booked a ticket from Hong Kong to Guang Zhou many years ago. Yet here were fast modern twin deck trains with waitress service and TV films…. All seats numbered… fast and efficient and clean. Buses that came every few minutes costing  1 yuan for as far as you like!  It is the growth of prosperity and a middle class that causes problems…. The car has become a status symbol. Congestion and pollution. Roads are dangerous places. (see my articles on traffic in China).

Medical insurance for foreigners is a disgraceful joke. Often provided by companies who base costs on expensive American treatment, and in the knowledge that foreign workers in China are often required to have insurance, they charge premiums accordingly. Again reports in the West of Chinese medical treatment indicate that treatment here is sub-standard and dirty. I live in a very Chinese city, far away from Westernised ones. Yet I see clean hospitals and clinics everywhere…. Many new and well equipped.  No appointment is necessary. No waiting for days and weeks for treatment. Ok, if you are ill you have to wait in the hospital for several hours… but then it is all done, medicine or treatment is prescribed and the cost is (by Western standards) very reasonable.  I understand that all treatment needs paying for though, even if you are very poor….. which is a concern. How do the poorest people in China get treatment?  (The peasant farmer, street cleaner  and the factory worker).   Furthermore, the prosperity of China creates problems in the changes to diet and eating habits. Diabetes, over-weight……  Consider the results in America, of over-eating and eating unhealthy fast food.

In the west the idea of a one child policy seems to many an infringement of a basic liberty, yet China is faced with feeding and caring for an enormous population. I know this policy has caused upset and also has resulted in a lack of care for the elderly by the family. Likewise policies and practices in education have developed in response to the numbers of students. Parents want their best for their child, but are sometimes/often are misguided in their ideas about how children learn. They demand rote learning and long hours of study, high results in tests and no activity that wastes time. (see my article on  education in China).  Punishment is considered better than reward, and obedience preferred to the use of initiative.

Yet, despite the huge population, the unfairness of the education system and the overloaded work ethic, I find China to be the safest country I have lived in. Where else can a young girl walk home late at night without fear of problems? And with no cameras to keep watch over people’s movements.  There are always some bad people in every community though, and I have read stories of Chinese people dishonestly acting out injuries and blame to get compensation. Blame and compensation culture is apparently much worse in America.

So, what do I agree is worst here? Lack of respect for each-other in queueing, unhygienic and smelly toilets, spitting, smoking in public places especially in restaurants ……. But most of all the lack of trust and initiative in the workplace and an education system that does not seem to understand how children learn.

What is best here... the strength and friendship of the people, the countries rapid growth and a government that seems aware and concerned about its people and the problems that growth causes.

“China will be a wonderful place when it is finished!”

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (7 comments)

Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-5 04:26
Very nicely written! I would paraphrase one comment about the punishment is only for getting caught. Although an atheist country officially, if more read the bible they would like Westerners' addition of the 11th commandment : thou shall not get caught.  It fits here quite well.  It makes issues like smoking bans, driving while talking on cellphones in hand, lack of helmets on motorbikes etc  very hard to address.
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-3-5 06:28
A comment on corruption. It is not purely caused by Chinese political system. Corruption is a big problem in China. It is caused by every level of officials trying to monetize their power. My business activities span several countries including democracies such as Philippine, Thailand, and etc. I see far more brazen efforts to monetize their power in those countries. Unlike Chinese, they only have four years, they are under time constraints. But why in most developed nations including HK, you do not see such magnitude of decaying? I find the pay that politician receives in developed areas are significantly higher. That pay can put them comfortably in middle and upper classes. They will cherish their life styles more, instead stake their good life and career for some extra gain. Therefore, paying a good salary openly is the most effective way to uproot corruption culture. It is a social premium well worth paying.
Reply Report TedM 2014-3-6 01:59
Thanks for your responses. I understand and agree.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-3-6 19:52
I agree with Bill. If you are smart enough to get into power as a politician, you are smart enough to do other things. If the formal pay of an official is low, where does the money, their talents can earn, come from? It can usually only be from other monetary benefits of office - corruption is the most obvious one. I am not saying it is right that they be corrupt, but it is understandable.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-3-6 21:21
Gives me a good idea of China and seems quite balanced and honest!
Reply Report teachingchinese 2014-3-7 12:14
This is the most objective and comprehensive comments about china , compared with what i have seen before. Thanks and welcome !
Reply Report SEARU 2014-3-26 17:15
Your  words   are  colourful , your    thought  has  much  depth   ,  you  tell me  what  are  right  and  what  need  improvement   .   We   believe  that    further  reforming  would  make  china  more  beautiful   in  the future !

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