Everything I know about China is wrong….. Mostly

I remember growing up around my Mid-western conservative family, shooting guns, Lee Greenwood playing as the soundtrack, and being proud to be an Amurikan. It would be typical to overhear a casual conversation about how China is communist, “this junk is made in China”, “buy American”, “China has a million man red army that wants to take over the world”, “they can only have one kid there, and if you have more, they’ll kill it”, and if you are a Christian and go there, you’ll probably be arrested. Well, as with most places people are opinionated about, if you go there and actually experience it, it maybe ain’t so.

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to China, which for many Americans is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The only thing we know about that mysterious place across the planet is what we see in movies, read in the news, and hear our parents talk about.  But the world is getting smaller and smaller thanks to technology, and world economies continuing to become increasingly entangled.

I traveled there with my MBA class from Tulane University Freeman School of Business and got to experience it first hand.  We worked with a Chinese company that was looking to increase market share in the United States. Before we even arrived in China we were interfacing with the President of the company via WeChat, a dominant social media app in China.  It was easy to use, text, and video chat on.  We were able to quickly arrange meetings and have conversations with the owner of the company, and what’s even more interesting is that he spoke English. Something I will return to later. When leaving that magical place two weeks later I had learned five things; Americans are dicks, communism isn’t all that bad, being made in China is ok, there are areas for improvement, and China may actually take over the world with their million-man army after all.

AMERICANS ARE DICKS

I can’t speak for everyone, but I would say the general propaganda in the U.S. is that French people are mean, Russia hates America, Canada is for pussies, illegal Mexicans are taking our jobs, China hates Americans and wants to secretly undercut all their manufacturing, and that “Ugh, look at all those Chinese tourists taking goddamn pictures.”

When we see tourists from other countries we don’t pay them any mind.  We don’t try to help them find their way around, and we mutter to our friends “Speak fucking English when you are in America.” We resent communities with strong immigrant presence like Miami, wish they would speak English, and wish they would stop trying to swim 90 miles from Cuba to invade us.  Well, it’s time to admit maybe we are wrong, and actually a bunch of dicks.  People in China LOVE Americans and I had one of the best eye-opening experiences of my life there.  When they see you on the street their faces light up, they wave, ask for pictures, and perfect strangers randomly say “hello” as you walk by and then giggle nervously at their attempt to practice their English. Their culture is rich with traditions that we might initially bulk at. The first thing I noticed is that whenever they hand you a receipt or a drink, they bow slightly, look down, and use two hands to give it to you as a gesture of respect. I think we can learn a lot from this simple practice of being nice to strangers.  A lot of interactions with bitchy waiters and fast food counters might just go a little better if we remembered to be nice to another human for a second.

Everyone tries to speak English, which is ironic because I didn’t learn Chinese when I invaded their country. I’m told most kids start learning English in second grade there now.  Granted, they don’t get to practice it much, kinda like I took Spanish in high school and about all I know now is “Hola”. It took me by surprise when upon seeing me, immediately most people I met would try to speak English. They would ask me how I like China. One time I was lost in the airport and trying to find a way to get to my hotel. I asked how much the shuttle was and the lady said something like 20 dollars, but they didn’t take cards, and she tried to explain where the ATM was.  I said thank you and was wandering around trying to find it, when she came rapidly walking from 100 yards away gesturing for me to come with her.  We made our way past the info desk where she was stationed, and she led me outside to a shuttle with an open door.  She said “He take you to hotel”. I never paid for it, and the hotel was like 40 minutes away. I honestly wanted to cry because I was so grateful.  She bowed and said good luck and shut the van door.  I don’t know if she paid for it or if he just volunteered, and I’ll never know. I don’t have to reiterate the fact that this would NEVER be a tourists experience in the United States. We would just walk on by or not even think about it, or perhaps think “too bad buddy, can’t help you, shoulda planned better or learned English, good luck.” I think we can all learn from this act of kindness and remember to maybe take a second look next time we see visitors from another country that are probably here to see our awesome country, or do business and spend money that helps grow our GDP.

COMMUNISM ISNT ALL THAT BAD

I know some bad things have happened in the name of communism, but I’ve learned that maybe it isn’t quite what the McCarthy regime made it out to be.  Just like bad things have happened in the name of religion, i.e. The Crusades, The Great Inquisition, and terrorism… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some nice things at the core of Christianity and Islam.

One thing I noticed in China is that there are a LOT of people.  I mean A LOT. There are basically whole cities devoted to one business, where absolutely everyone there works for that business or factory. It could be easy for a person to just be another cog in the machine, surrounded by millions of mindless drones.  But what is important when there are lots of people around?  Being nice to people, working together, helping each other out, caring for needs, and being selfless and thoughtful.  Kindof like what happens in…. a commune.  And I don’t think hippie communes of the 60’s were known for their penchant to take over the world and oppress citizens and limit democracy and information.  Everyone working together and having a voice actually kinda sounds like… a Democracy. We are lucky in the U.S. that there are many available jobs and plenty of space.  China has been around for thousands of years; in fact they went through their own wall building stage at one point to keep out their neighbors. With over thousands of years in a place, something will be constant… lots and lots of babies.  One day those babies grow up and have to feed themselves.  Eventually, there are so many people that it’s hard to house all of them, give all of them jobs, and care for the elderly.  One day America may also have its own population issue, and I’m sure that if there aren’t enough jobs then there will be riots in the streets calling for the government to do something.  There’s something that happens when a government listens to its people, creates housing communities, welfare, police departments, Medicare, Medicaid… that’s called Socialism.  And it actually is necessary to be implemented for a country to care for its citizens.  If there is a population explosion of deer or alligators, the government says “ok go kill a bunch during hunting season so they don’t disrupt other eco-systems”. I’m not saying we kill people, but there may necessarily be a time when our own government has to limit our population growth in order to be able to sustain the people we already have.  Just a thought.

All that to say, it made me take a second look at something I’ve been brainwashed by our own dictators to believe is bad, when maybe they are just people too that are trying the best they can to figure out a situation.  Everyone just wants to be free to eat and work and get along with their neighbors. I saw this sign sitting at a hotel front desk that touted “CORE SOCIALIST IDEALS”, and while at first, I was like “what?? Communism! What the hell?” but upon closer inspection, I looked at the ideals, which were: “Strong, Civilized, Freedom, Justice, Patriotic, Honest, Democratic, Harmonious, Equality, Rule of law, Dedicated, and Friendly.” I thought to myself, “well, that actually doesn’t actually sound bad, especially with a billion people running around.”

BEING MADE IN CHINA IS OK

The problem with isolated communes, or the Galapagos Islands, is that we lose touch with the outside world, and evolve in strange directions.  China has experienced its own nationalistic isolation in the past, but it realized that it wasn’t sustainable and they weren’t evolving the same direction that modern societies and economies were going.  In fact, they are still considered an “emerging country” despite their size because of their isolationism and refusal to acknowledge the way the world operated outside their borders. That has changed, however, and they are in a very similar position as the U.S. was in its infancy.  Booming business, social reforms, technology advances and GDP growth. They realize that we have a “global economy” that is intricately interwoven.  Business is being done on the internet, trade with other countries is inevitable, and technology growing exponentially. I’ve heard barroom rants about China taking over the business in the U.S., buying up all our debt, and “we need to be America again.” The thing with trade and debt is that most people just don’t understand how it works.  If China is trading with us that means we get money and our economy grows. If China buys businesses here or our debt, it means we get money and they have a vested interest in our economy succeeding because if we fail, they don’t get their money back.  Russia actually defaulted on their debt after the fall of the Soviet Union, which is why no one wants to give them money anymore. Buying American bonds means that they trust in the ability for the U.S. to pay them back, think it’s a good investment, and actually it’s a compliment.  They don’t want to destroy us, they want us to grow.  If we trade with a country, it means we trust them to do good business, and means we are obviously less likely to go to war with them if we have a good relationship, and we both are making money.  All in all, China is being open-minded, advancing in technology, and thinking globally to work with other countries in order for mutual benefit, and we should do the same. We used to be proud to be a “melting pot”.  We have a big green statue in New York that says, “give us your immigrants” basically.  These immigrants, these people that didn’t know English, this collaboration of life and culture and open-mindedness is what led to our greatness in the first place.  Let’s not forget that opening ourselves up to the rest of the world was what made us great. `

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Really the only thing that struck me as weird despite their advancements in technology like We Chat, Didi, and We Chat Pay was the lack of goddamn internet and television.  This is one area I think that the old protectionism philosophy still lingers. Much like they have opened themselves up to trade and global investment, they need to allow me to have fucking Netflix, Google, and HBO, and get some better damn TV and movie options in their hotels if they want more Americans to do business there.  Also, the food kinda sucks for the most part, but there’s plenty of McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut’s.

TAKING OVER THE WORLD

No, not literally!  For all its past or present flaws aside, I think China is exhibiting the growth and mindset the United States experienced in its early days but perhaps could use a little more of now.  If the United States were a company I would say it is a mature company like Apple, made some amazing innovations in the past, and is just kinda rolling along steadily on those accomplishments, and they have to find new ways to package things in order for business not to decline.  The iPhone was revolutionary, and so were The Constitution, electricity, light bulbs, atomic energy, space travel, airplanes, and peanut butter. This happened because we were curious, passionate to discover new ways to do things, and to expand our minds. China is currently experiencing its own renaissance and is eager to learn new things, research, create, and develop.  I think a few world wars may have sullied our opinions of the rest of the world and led to a dangerous protectionism that continues to this day. But the world is changing, North Korea and South Korea are demilitarizing, and countries are concerned with working together for business and trade and innovation.  As we saw in the recession of 2008, if one country goes down, it takes the whole world down with it.  It is imperative to ally with the rest of the world and to continue to be open-minded and innovative.  What worked during World War 2 doesn’t work now. If we are not careful, China literally will be the biggest economy in the world as such be its own economic superpower, replacing the United States.  This brings with it a huge amount of influence on other countries as far as decision-making, military decisions, trade decisions, etc. We can’t bully our way through the Earth if there is a bigger bully in the path. The new wars are cold wars of financial decisions, trade embargos, and strategic political alliances.

I’m not saying this is going to lead to some sort of monetary nuclear winter, but it is something to think about.  Instead of trying to propagandize our youth with woes of a Chinese Dragon about to take over the world, we need to encourage a global mindset, and continue to take initiative in technology, and instead of focusing on what the rest of the world is doing wrong, we need to focus on how to do our part to be involved and make it better; if nothing else but for the few billion people that will be probably living here in 200 years.

MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!