There are many different views of China. Some see the country as the strong world power of the East that the United States owes billions of dollars. Others see China as a fumbling developing country with more problems than should be allowed in this day and age. This summer, I sought to gain my own understanding of the country I have grown to accept as the source of my heritage, flaws and all.
This summer I had the opportunity to volunteer at a government-sponsored public service program called Project Hope, which aims to provide financial aid to students and build schools in the poorer regions of China.
I set out in a taxi with Activities Director Hou Yi and a representative of the Communist Youth League of West Beijing to deliver a year’s tuition to three families of the West District of Beijing. The first house we went to was nestled in a narrow one-way street. Arriving at a small two-room apartment with unpainted concrete walls, I met Liu Ziqi, an 18-year-old who recently took the taxing two-day college entrance exam. His family had been enduring financial problems for quite some time.
Ten years ago the mother experienced kidney failure, and the family has been struggling to cover the medical bills ever since, as only recently the government included kidney failure as a medical problem that could be given an 85 percent rebate for medical expenses. Project Hope provided the family with 8,000 yuan (about $1,288 in U.S. currency), a year’s tuition for college.
The other families we visited all faced similar troubles, with only one working parent and kids ranging from age 10 to 19.
These experiences, meeting kids who struggled to gain an education many of us take for granted, took me by surprise. Wrongly, I had always assumed the communist government was capable of minimizing wealth discrepancies, taking a more laissez-faire stance on the economy and focusing its restrictive power on censoring information.
I also had the opportunity to talk to Chen Xu, the current deputy secretary general of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (the title taken straight from his business card). His story is remarkable, rising from a poor family from the Hunan Province (Mao Zedong’s region) to becoming an important government official in Beijing.
In accented Mandarin, he was eager to promote his country. He explained that although religion was outlawed during the Cultural Revolution, modern China is very tolerant of different religions, harboring Buddhists, Muslims and a growing number of Christians, although censorship of religious writings is still prevalent.
China is also home to a wide variety of ethnicities, proving to be a melting pot of cultures as the United States is often referred to. He ended the conversation by stressing the importance of accurate depictions of Chinese in present day.
China is neither an all-perfect world power nor an overly restricted struggling country but a developing country. Such development may be an ugly process, but it is also a gradual process toward a brighter future.
It is easy for Americans to judge China for the pollution, the crazed mass production and poor worker conditions.
However, it is important to keep in mind that these conditions mirror England during the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s, and the United States in the 1800s.
This by no means condones the problems China faces, but puts the whole process in perspective.
This June, I saw China as a work in progress. Other judgments aside, China is made up of people who are proud to be Chinese, just as I am proud of my Chinese heritage.
Deanie Chen of Overland Park is a senior at Olathe East High School.