Some of my thoughts before arriving at China was that of a communist state.  There is just one political party, the Communist Party of China (CPC/CCP).  I knew there was a mix of capitalism thrown in, but I didn’t know what that would feel like.  Walking down the streets of Shanghai, we visited the building where the CCP first convened with Mao heading the round table – if the “veil” of communism wasn’t appearent to us before visiting, then the Jaguar dealership 2 blocks away, the yuppie high-rises across the street, and the Chinese people sporting Nike ‘Just Do It’ t-shirts in the building that birthed the CCP definitely showed us just how transparent the veil is.

The political atmosphere in China feels more like it’s a large corporation – China, Inc. Everyone is behind the brand – speaking out about it might get you fired, and you’re pretty content as long as you’re A) getting promoted and B) your salary increases each year.  Maybe that’s the sweetest thing for a large multinational corporation –  instead of multiple international conglomerates, they’re alll owned and controlled by one entity, who also sets the laws.  But I now have a clearer understanding of why the Party really wants to starve off inflation (forgot decreasing exports) – if prices rise to fast and the majority of the population is left struggling to afford the basics, you’ll get angry mobs (which sounds familiar back home).

However, I absolutely adore the old Communist Propaganda, from our tin mug with a worker’s message, to my Mao bag, to my CCP hat.  Beijing had lots of this, from public statues and museums, to hip little resturants sporting 1960’s posters and military dishware.   Before my visit, I was pretty ignorant on the past 50 years of Chinese politics.  But my curioustty took over and I was fascinated with reading up on the history of China and it’s neighbors.  I’m really glad I did and I *highly* recommend reading Wild Swans.

After reading the horror stories of how communism came into power in China, with the red guards, the cultural revolution, and a number of other atrocities.  Along with my vague awareness of communist systems in other parts of the world (former USSR, North Korea), I’m led to belive that communism only leads to corruption and brings out the worst in people.  I’ll be adding Karl Marx to my Kindle readings.

The irony is that communism continues to be pushed forward in China. We met young card carriers and non-card carriers.  But most people pointed out to us, that if you want a good career, i.e. a government job with great secondary benefits, power, and respect, then you’ll need to be a card carrying member, attend the meetings, and repeat the mantras.  And so the party continues to propel itself forward.

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Capitalism in the CCP

Capitalism is alive and *booming* in China.  There is a free spirt for anybody to setup shop on the corner and hock some goods or delicious street food.  If anything, it would seem easier to setup your on stall in China then the U.S. because most U.S. cities are burdened with permits, food inspections, etc.  However, the one thing that stuck out to me in China, is that when you walk down a street of stalls, everybody copies each other, there was very little differentiation.  Why would I choose one vendor over another?  The goods are exactly the same, the price is the same, so where’s the differenation?  In nyc walking down the street, you might seen t-shirt vendors, hat vendors, sunglass vendors, etc.  But they don’t oversaturate each other and all sell exactly the same things.

There are lots of high end fashion stores in China, catering to the small percentage of upper middle class and foreigners.  However, many of the shops sit empty most of the day.  I think the costs for running the store and paying rent is met on the slim revenues.  I didn’t see the capitalist  ‘consumer’ demand we’re so used to in the US (however, Walmart in China is just as packed if not more, than Walmart in the U.S.)

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One thing I really did not enjoyed in China was the internet censorship.  It’s ridiculous, backwards, and ineffective.  China blocks any service that allows one person to communicate with many people (which the government cannot directly control).  And while they allow a number of Chinese run forums, blogs, and twitter-like services to be run inside of the country, the government has direct control to censor and remove specific data or profiles (something that western websites will not allow).  It’s why they block foreign services such as facebook, twitter, blogger, wordpress, tumblr, youtube, meetup, etc. yet allow Chinese versions of these companies to be used.

The wikileak’s U.S. cables release wasn’t even’t mentioned on the news in China.  A search on China Daily just returns information about Julian Assanage.  I think the concept of wikileaks really scares the Chinese  government.  And to make matters worse, they blatently lie publically about their censorship, such as Liu Zhengrong, the Deputy Chief of Internet Affairs quoted as saying: China is no different from Western nations such as the United States and Britain in the methods it uses to regulate the Internet” – really, then why has the viral quote “My father is Li Gang!” mouthed by his intoxicated son after killing a girl with his VW sedan been censored from Chinese forums?

Or tell the Deputy Chief’s statement of: “You can compare China with Western countries. Chinese people have easy rein to express their opinions” to Zhao Lianhai, the father of an infant who died from contaminated milk who tried to raise awareness via online communities and has been recently jailed for “inciting social disorder”.

Another great example of this insane paranoia on speech – Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient.  Liu’s an author and a political activist, he co-wrote Charter 8 for free elections, freedom of expression, and a democracy inside of China.  Where is he now?  In jail.  What does the CCP’s Foreign Ministry think of the Nobel Prize committee? “The erroneous decision not only has met with firm opposition by the entire Chinese nation, but is dismissed by the vast majority of countries upholding justice in the world.”  And so they’ve decided to start their own, “Confusius Peace Prize” it sounds like a joke but it’s not.  They even went so far as to strong arm other countries to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony this year.  To me, that level of paranoia and belief that you can control worldwide information is borderline insane, it’s not sustainable and it will have a breaking point.

After reading Wild Swans and seeing the smirking portrait of Mao looming over Tianmen Square, my impression of Chinese politics really soured.  It is my belief that in 20 years, his portrait will be taken down from Tianamen Square.  With so many students of the younger generation studying oversees, I can only imagine that when they return to China, they will want to shed the politics of control and censorship and turn a new leaf.  Currently there is apathy, we found that most people we talked to didn’t buy into the CCP or the need for censorship, but the idea of it just led to a shrug of the shoulders.  So my big curiosity – what’s going to lead to that change?

Read Part I of my look back at China.