What does the real China look like today?


By ranwang

Although the world is getting more and more economically and financially integrated, ideological conflicts seem to take wind more than ever. In recent years, as China is experiencing rapid economic growth and has become the largest emerging market in the world, China-phobia has spread around the Western world and to its allies in Asia.

As a Chinese student studying in the United States, I think it is necessary to point out that one has no right to judge a country’s culture, history and political environment unless he or she has lived in that country, seeing, hearing and feeling the actual things happening there.

Nowadays, facts are frequently distorted by the media, which operates under the heavy influence of political ideology, in both democracies and non-democracies. In order to achieve real worldwide peace, political parties have to abandon their prejudiced first impressions of each other and learn how to tolerate difference.

In the 2014 Map of Freedom released by U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, which conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights, China and North Korea fall into the same category and receive similar scores in terms of political environment.

At Union, I once heard an American student say, “I don’t want to go to China because it’s a communist country and it’s not safe.” When I read people’s comments under China-related articles on major media websites, I often see non-Chinese people comparing China to North Korea.

These biases are the result of the lack of people’s personal experience with today’s China. As Union is accepting more and more Chinese students, I want to present the campus with what China really looks like nowadays, in order to reduce cultural barriers and promote mutual understanding between Chinese and American students.

The Western world often accuses China of repressing religious freedom, but according to my 18 years of life experience in China, the accusation does not present the general picture.

Our constitution clearly states that citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. All the high school students in China are required to learn the importance of religious freedom in their political science courses.

In my city, different religious organizations coexist harmoniously. We have Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples and Christian churches. Minorities, most of whom are Muslims, settle down in my city and spread their cultures and histories, making delicious food with ethnic characteristics.

When I was a high school student, my friends and I often spent time together in a beef noodle restaurant run by a Muslim family.

An amiable old lady living downstairs in my apartment building was a Christian, and she often showed me books and posters she got from churches. I used to visit famous Buddhist temples in my city with my friends, burning incense in front of statues of Buddha to pray for health and good luck.

In China, people have the right to believe in any religion, and, more importantly, they also have the right to choose not to believe in any religion. This is somewhat different from other parts of the world. While many Western countries protect the rights of religious people, they sometimes overlook the rights of non-religious people.

Not being forced to believe in any religion should also be included as a crucial part of religious freedom, and the Chinese Constitution explicitly mentions this.

Although the Tibet issue is controversial, I feel that sometimes it is used deliberately by some extreme media to agitate the tide of anti-Chinese sentiments. It lets people with little knowledge of China believe that the “communist atheist” country is against all kinds of religions as a whole, which is definitely not true.

Then, is China “a place as frightening as North Korea,” as portrayed by some media? Well, if that were true, I wouldn’t be able to attend Union and write this article. Today’s China is more like a country with a thriving market economy and its own unique and strong authoritarian government.

With the rise of the middle class, the development of civic life in China is catching up with that of the first world.

The various types of institutions and organizations that the United States has can also be found in China. We have think tanks; NGOs with different functions; websites (such as Weibo.com) that supervise the government’s work and expose government officials’ wrongdoings; self-governing bodies in cities, such as neighborhood committees dealing with residents’ issues and conflicts; and village-based elections, among others.

In many educational institutions, such as large research universities, students form different organizations, participate in volunteer services (some universities make community service a requirement) and hold discussion panels to seek solutions to various social problems.

As people’s material needs are gradually satisfied as a result of economic development, citizens in China, especially young people, have begun to develop awareness of political rights and the demand of needs with higher value.

Another sickle to break the shackle of people’s conventional views about China centers around how China is treating private property these days. Many foreigners believe that private property is not protected in China. Some even think that all the Chinese people still work and live in communes without personal life and property, just like those periods during the Great Leap Forward in 1958.

These views are not accurate. In 1993, the government started to work on a property law in response to the rapid development of a market economy. After almost 14 years, the Property Law of the People’s Republic of China was passed in 2007 and became a landmark of China’s legal system. It firmly states that individual property is protected by law and shall not be infringed upon by any entities or individuals.

Although the implementation of this law has various loopholes and the law itself is not 100 percent perfect, its symbolic meaning is significant considering the innate character of China’s political system.

I will only cover these topics in this article, but I will talk about other areas of China in greater detail in the future.

The fall of Berlin Wall astounded the whole world at what the Soviet Union really looked like.

I do not wish to see a Cold-War type of ideological conflict happen again in the 21st century, especially with such advanced technology.  All we need is a little bit of mutual understanding, some facts and tolerance for cultural, historical and political differences.



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