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Since my arrival back, I have frequently been asked the question of ‘How was China?’ The answer to which I struggle to find. Having travelled there with LUSU in September for three weeks to discover this acclaimed superpower, answering ‘good’ or ‘okay’ isn’t enough. China is too complex to be summed up in a word. At a glance, China appears to be this ‘Great Wall’ of prosperity, but chisel at the surface and you quickly find the cracks of hindrance.
China is host to stunning features that elevated even my wildest expectations. Such experiences as riding the world’s highest thrill ride on Canton Tower, observing the view from Victoria Peak and climbing the Great Wall are all irreplaceable memories. Meeting people who showed such nationalism, diligence and ambition whilst embracing the various customs and traditions was incredibly enlightening. China for a fact prescribes a strong dosage of cultural shock!
However, there was another side that revealed itself to me through three events in particular. My answer would have been relatively straightforward otherwise, but they instead raised some serious questions.
The first questionable event appeared unsurprisingly, with restrictions around the Internet and social networking sites. Like most students, the first logical step after unpacking was to log onto Facebook… but wait, this may have caused some difficulty. After some basic tempering, however, we were immediately connected to family, friends and endless information. Something we seemingly take for granted. Once connected, I typed into Google out of curiosity ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’, naturally. What appeared in the results surprised me. The few results that showed asserted that the massacre did not happen. Some even claimed it to be a ‘Western Conspiracy’. This highlighted to me the wider social issues in China of how easy and fatal it could be for the government to mislead the thoughts and actions of over 1.3 billion people.
The second controversial event came later in the week, when we were invited to the ‘Youth League Committee’, the equivalent of their student’s union. Bearing in mind that their Fresher’s week consisted of wearing military uniform and running drills, I knew that our student experience would be much different. At the meeting, nevertheless, I asked how the Executive was elected. To which they answered ‘by an independent panel’. This, they argued, was because it was cheaper to run and more effective at holding the Executive to account. This demonstrated the wider political issues in China- of how corruption and misrepresentation can so easily manifest itself into politics.
The third suspicious event came when we were given a tour of an LED manufacturer named ‘Kingsun’. We were told that 3,000 employees worked, ate and slept on site and received a next-to-nothing wage, despite the company profiting tens of millions a year and having a 55% of the market share. When the question was put forward whether having political connections has played a significant role in the success of the company, the director explicitly answered that he ‘heard that this was true’ – not denying it. This to me represented the wider economic issues in China of how important political connections and social ties were in order to succeed in business.
These experiences are the reason why I am so hesitant to make a sweeping generalization about China. Even as a matter of degree, I remain undecided. One conclusion I have reached, however, is that the experience of China was neither ‘good’ nor ‘okay’, but amazing! If you’re ever given the chance to go, don’t hesitate and hopefully you’ll have more success in arriving at a conclusion than I have.