I have been in China for the past month on a visit with some of my students and doing some teaching in a summer school. I could speak in cliches about my time there "It was a good experience" "I learned a lot" and all of them would be true, but I will try to give some superficial insight without being too cliched.
There is more freedom than I had expected, you can travel without restriction, you can discuss politics, talk about Tibet - they always add the word province after Tibet when referring to it. You can openly discuss relations with Japan and be critical of government policy. I think where political freedom might end is if you try to organise and build a following. There is not however the freedom to access the whole of the internet. Facebook and You Tube are blocked, but there are Chinese equivalents of these, Youku the video sharing website is particularly usful for teaching. Twitter is blocked but there is some talk of a Chinese equivalent and I think that will become popular soon. This blog is also blocked which was a bit frustrating. Chinese students seem to accept this censorship and make use of the Chinese versions of social networking sites.
Chinese television is worth a look. There are loads of talent shows aping the X-Factor. There is a channel dedicated to showing off Chinese military prowess; just non stop drill squares with rousing music. There is even an English news channel. The news consisted of mainly business; America's debt was high on the agenda with the reporters emphasising the billions worth of US debt owed to China. There was also news of the riots with terrifying pictures of burning buildings. I had to look twice thinking it must be another Middle East uprising before realising that I was looking at pictures from home. The riots were portrayed as "look what happens if you allow peaceful protests to get out of hand" which fits Chinas policy of tightly controlling protests and may not have been totally inaccurate; I dont know I wasn't here, but I missed Twitter that week.
Education is also interesting. According to one friend I made "The Dalai Lama is a slave owner and he wants to take over Tibet province so he can have more slaves" There is also an objection on the level that any position that is passed on is undemocratic or unearned. I can see his position in that I think that their government controls education and the media he may think the same about ours.
Everyone wants to have their own business. Talk to young people and businessman is like the astronaut, train driver or footballer of Chinese culture. I don't know who is going to work for all of these people who all want to be their own boss. As a biology teacher I was also dismayed that almost all students have dropped biology in favour of physics and maths. I don’t know where the next generation of doctors, medical professionals, agricultural and environmental scientists are going to come from.
China and India and often mentioned in the same breath in geography and economics lessons. They are very different. In China there are armies of people employed to sweep the streets, roads and motorways, mainly on nightshift. Most places look polished. Although both have huge populations China seems busy but perhaps less chaotic. English is more widely spoken in India but one thing they have in common but which seems even more stark in China is the massive inequality between rich and poor. There are so many rich people and rich companies who are not heavily taxed by the state. This does not seem very left wing at all; the argument is that at this stage in China's development wealth can not be shared and somehow in the future everyone will benefit. The poor may be waiting a very long time.
The history of China is fascinating. The old city walls of Xi'an with its 5000 year old bell and drum towers is truly spectacular, the Great Wall is great but you can't really see it from space. And the terracotta army, also near Xi'an is monumental. What is also interesting is the fate of the farmer who discovered the intact life-size figures whose faces are all different. He dug a few up and informed the governemnt; his land is now one of the most popular historical sites in China and the Government get £12 for everyone who visits. The farmer sells signed copies of his book and he gets to meet the great and good most recently Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. The farmer's son was given a taxi drivers licence to make up for the fact that he would not take on the family farm. I couldn't help thinking that he must have wished that his dad hadn't dug so deep that day.
There is so much I could add but I won't. The education system in China is of some interest and the sense of appreciation for the opportunities provided to the young by the work of their parents is heartfelt. I enjoyed my time in China but I can't help thinking that I didn't even scratch the surface of this most complex of places.
When we think of China we think of Tienanmen Square. I wasn't expecting the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck when I walked through but they did. We think of the one child policy which has in effect ended as the children born during its enforcement are the same age as me and can have a second child. We we are right to be concerned about a lack of human rights. What I think of is the people I met; extremely welcoming, proud of their country and keen for me to return home and tell people how great China is. Well they can't read this blog but I hope if they did they would not be too disappointed.