In 2008, the Chinese put on the summer Olympic Games that were an attempt to show they had entered the modern world and were ready for the 21st Century to be the Chinese century. After spending eight days in China’s two largest cities, I am here to tell you that short of a miracle this century will be America’s century -- again.
There is no question there are some aspects of this country having made progress. After spending five days in Beijing we were ready to say Hasta la Vista China and relieved to be in Korea (see prior column). But then Shanghai redeemed China for us. It is much more sophisticated and beats Beijing as a place to visit hands down. The French Concession (an area dating back to the mid-19th century) has as much charm and culture as any place in any city in the world. In both cities high-end hotels and stores are everywhere bringing one to wonder who is buying all this stuff.
This is a country that cannot deliver drinking water to its citizens in its hallmark cities. We could not eat chicken while we were here. There currently is a major disruption of the rice supply which is tainted with cadmium. Outside the few major cities it is a third world country. Going to the bathroom outside the cities takes you back a century or two. There are more peasants in this country than America has people. The pollution is so bad the cars in Beijing are covered with dirt. My wife and I decided we were going to open a string of carwashes in Beijing and become billionaires.
The cab drivers are totally clueless about where to go (when you were not dealing with bandit cabs.) Even when our hotel gave the driver instructions and we had a card to give them to bring us home, it was always an adventure as to whether we were going to get to our destination. And speaking of adventures, driving the streets of Beijing was best done with your eyes closed. In America we are taught the most dangerous light is a green light because you think you have the right to go and you still need to make sure the cross traffic is stopping. The most dangerous light in China is any light. It is hard to tell what light the drivers are moving on and when they are stopping for cross traffic. Pedestrians risk their lives just by being on the streets as cars never stop. On the other hand, the pedestrians walk in such haphazard ways it is shocking the death toll is not in the thousands. In Shanghai our driver drove by a dimwitted pedestrian not looking and knocked his cell phone out of his hands into the street with the side-view mirror.
I tested a theory that some people thought was right on. A friend of mine told me of his son’s friend who was not allowed sodas while he was growing up. Whenever the young man came to my friend’s house he guzzled sodas. In the same way, the Chinese government controls their people’s lives in so many ways when there is something they don’t control (like the traffic or pedestrians) they go wild.
In China, there is no YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. I was having a problem with my email (through Gmail) and did not understand until the people from the hotel came to our room and told us the control freaks in China don’t like Google. So getting on email was hit-and-miss at best. They also don’t like Townhall.com, making it difficult to check on my column or read other columnists. One Shanghai resident we spoke to said they don’t like the New York Times either. I restrained from asking whether they thought it was too far left for them. I told the nice people who came to our room to help us that their country was never going to be taken seriously until they stopped messing around with the Internet. It made the leaders small. One of the workers said “They don’t give a sh—about us. We cannot vote like you can.”
Another thing that drove me crazy was every denomination of their currency had Mao Tse-Tung on it. Give me a break. They cannot find one other person in the history of China to put on the currency? I can understand they may not want to put Chiang Kai-Shek on a bill, but what about Chou En-Lai? Whenever I had to pay for anything I asked them “How many Chairman Mao’s?” They all thought it was so funny and I don’t think they got that it was such a rip on their country. The paradox is that “Mr. Communist” Mao Tse-Tung plastered all over the symbol of capitalism – Money.
This country is never going to be a serious country until they come to grips with Mao. Like Khrushchev went in front of the Politburo in February 1956 and told the Soviet leaders the truth about Papa Joe Stalin being a mass murderer, a Chinese leader must do the same about Mao. This country needs to go through a complete reformation and stop idealizing this mass murderer.
Two things happened while we were in the country indicative of the outlaw nature of the Chinese regime. First, in another display of the oppressive regime, Liu Xia, wife of the 2010 Nobel Peace prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, was released from her 30-month house arrest (solitary confinement) to attend the trial of her younger brother.
And in the ultimate act of chutzpah, the Chinese government forced Francois-Henri Pinault, President of the now-called Kering (PPR), to return two rightfully-acquired, 18th- century bronze statues that were made in China. Kering owns many designer brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen. They pressured him to return the statues under the threat of limiting the company’s access to the Chinese market. At the same time, three blocks from where the deal was announced, Chinese merchants were selling cheap knockoffs of the brands unrestricted by the Chinese government. These people have no shame.
Certainly, China is large player on the world stage, but hardly a friend. This country may be erecting some nice buildings and manufacturing a lot of goods, but they are eons away from a modern, civilized society. On this Memorial Day weekend be thankful for America and let us all make sure the 21st Century is still the American Century.