A month ago, I chanced upon the conversations coming from an adjacent table concerning the Beijing Olympics and the ongoing economic developments in China. 5 out of 10 persons having their dinner at the table were Westerners. A petite lady with Chinese features told the Westerners confidently that China has come a long way since Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 70s and there are lots of encouraging social developments in Chinese societies since then. She suggested a group trip to China for a holiday. One skeptical and hypocritical Westerner retorted loudly that she will only venture to the country if there are no more human rights violations, religious suppression, corruption and pollution.
I could not help but quietly laughed at the poor lack of knowledge and how misguided are the general Western perceptions about China and its people. Most of them only obtained their information from the narrow lens of the irresponsible Western media and the strong influential opinions of the neo-conservatives in their daily lives, both at the office and at home. China bashing has become a “favorite past-time” among the Western media in order to sell their journals, papers and periodicals to take advantage of the situation when its residents are still trying to grasp a foreign culture in which there are significant differences in language, customs and societal standards. This has somehow led to the birth and development of a western mainstream thinking that everything about China is “bad and evil”. At the extreme end, this continuous reinforced thinking eventually led to the formation of a closed mind on China and its people like the Westerner’s reactions which I have brought up in the above example.
I would say openly that the majority of the Westerners who initially formed a poor mental image of the country were taken aback by the strides of progress in Chinese societies and the modern architectural facade located in the coastal eastern cities, the moment they set foot in China. Most impressive of all from the accounts of their traveling diaries was the extent of the people’s hospitality and the modern facilities quite unlike what their earlier presumptions were. Four US cyclists of the US Olympics contingent had to apologize for wearing masks upon landing at the Chinese capital due largely to their ignorance caused by the many misinformed or exaggerated articles by the media back home. Pollution was another issue which was played up by the press. Is there a perception and reality gap over here? Obviously the answer is yes.
Do the Western people know that the Han Chinese in the rural areas can have a second child if the first is a girl? Do the Westerners also know that the Chinese minorities like the Tibetans and Uighurs are excluded under the one-child policy?
China practices “controlled religious freedom” even though the Communist rulers are atheists. The present Chinese government had significantly loosened its control on religious activities when compared with the situation 30 years ago. The Chinese government has also annually allocated funds to build new churches, temples, mosques and for maintenance of existing structures. Westerners need to know that there are sufficient places of worship for religious followers but due to the inert fear of religion being used politically, the central government want to have a say in the managing of the activities. I do believe if the Tibetans or Muslims are not outwardly political in their motives, there are certainly rooms for more flexibility in the preaching of one’s own belief. One good example is the Hui’s Muslims.
It is also clear that there are still gaps in the standard of religious freedom as interpreted by the West and the Chinese government. Given time when Chinese societies become more mature and knowledgeable with a sizeable middle class, the gaps could be narrowed with the demand for changes coming from its people. The West took more than 500 years to attain the current level of religious acceptance in their societies. Even in the present developed societies in US and Europe, I have heard of complaints from Muslims migrants who felt that their religious rights were being infringed when there are surveillance regulations enacted by the mainly Christian based governments and the presence of selective discriminations in the name of security which they had to endure in their adopted home country.
It is a known fact, that there is economic disparity between the coastal cities and the inner provinces as reflected in the widening income gap between the rich city dwellers and poor rural farmers. Economic reform is a continuous process and we do note some encouraging development inland where the villages are finally able to enjoy part of the success of China’s impressive economic growth over the past 20 years. Growth in the urban centers will take place first and then it will spread gradually to the smaller towns, counties, villages and communes. The literacy rate of China in the rural area is slowly improving and at least, I can boldly proclaim that the crime rate in still relatively low as against its population size of 1.35 billion.
China is known worldwide as a producer of cheap and low quality goods and all that will change in a matter of time if we take the economic model of Japan, South Korea or even Taiwan as a yardstick for the elevation of technological progress and development.
Though China's political system is still largely one-party rule, the economic system is undeniably capitalist with a high degree of government intervention similar to most Asian countries.
China is a huge, mysterious and complex country with a diverse population and it is important not to rely solely from third parties perspective but to view the country personally to gather information necessary to make a sound, fair and reasonable judgment