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Issue of April 16, 2014
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Challenging and charging China


Community conversations


October 10, 2012 | 10:12 AM

Wow, have I had my eyes opened. I just spent three weeks in China.

Sure, I realized before my trip that many Indiana jobs had been outsourced to China because of its low labor costs. I was aware of the manufacture of products there rather than the United States every time I put on clothes or tracked the origin of household items I used. But I was not aware of the actual hustle and bustle of both government and average citizens that accompanied this production surge.

It is easy here in the States to subconsciously visualize a country far away as being old-fashioned and undeveloped. After all, it is the mysterious ancient culture with its old buildings and practices that intrigue us when we think of other nations. But, we do so at our own peril.

China is not only the largest source of many of our manufactured goods, it presents a large market for our products. Consumerism has hit China with a bang, and its millions of eager citizens want the conveniences we have. In fact, China is the world's leading consumer of televisions, cell phones and refrigerators. With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, that is a lot of products. One guide we had told us every day she eats food grown in the United States: tomatoes, lettuce, celery, etc.

Now, I know that traveling in China and Tibet for three weeks does not make me an expert. But I do have some observations that have changed my thinking about the area, its people and its institutions.

The people are basically very similar to us. They want to be able to have enough to eat, have a safe place to live, have a job that will support them, to be healthy, to be wanted and respected by others and to be peaceful and inspired about life.

China is in the midst of a huge change, and it radiates energy and dedication.

China has a rich history that, in many ways, is unlike that of the United States and has given it subtle differences in thinking and acting that must be understood and appreciated.

Its enormous population is a driving force in much that happens there. We visited a city with a population of 35 million people. We live in a state with a total of 6 million.

There is a great difference between the lifestyles in the country and the urban areas of China. There is also a great difference in how different areas of the country are governed. There is a great difference in today's young people and their parents who lived through the social political movement under Communist leader Mao Zedong.

We are all connected by technology and human nature.

In trying to explain the rapid changes in China, our guide told the following story. When what is now the older generation started out their adult lives, they thought they had arrived when they got a bicycle, a radio and a gas stove. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, young couples yearned for a bicycle, a sewing machine and a wristwatch. More recently, the three biggies to have were a television, a refrigerator and a washing machine. Today's young people want a cell phone, a car, a condo and cash.

China is not only large, it has 56 different ethnic groups and a variety of governance systems. Taxes vary, human rights policies differ, services provided are unequal and freedom of speech is determined by where you live. The government presents itself as socialistic but has a central control much as communism does.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned and applied from the happenings in China during the remaining political campaigns here in the United States. The need to build consensus on developing policies, particularly in Congress, is paramount. People have to work together to form majority support, or the alternative is a dictatorial system which we do not want. What impressed me in China is the huge and complex infrastructure systems: bridges, roads, buildings, etc. It takes a lot of "doing it together" to accomplish this in a democracy. The Three Gorges Dam is a project of gigantic proportion that will provide flood control and a large power source. Can we cooperate with each other to produce such results in our desired form of a representative democracy?

We have about a month in this political campaign to take responsibility by researching the issues and questioning the candidates. The world is not a set of isolated governmental entities. Nor is it a place where there is just one way to think or act. Conditions and people are complicated. We must work together to get things done. There are plenty of issues that call for cooperation and even compromise.

We, as John Muir said so long ago, "all live in a house of one room." With all of our differences and similarities as human beings, we must figure out how to work peacefully and productively together. Let's give it all we have to make sure we build a strong democracy with hope and opportunity for all.

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