Let me finish tonight with my trip to China.
You’ve heard of “the 10 days that shook the world” about the Russian Revolution of 1917. Well, the 10 days I spent in today’s China certainly shook me.
Here in New York, what we proudly call the “Big Apple,” there are eight million people. In China there are eight cities as big as New York: Guangzhou, a city I had never heard of, has 13 million; Beijing, the capital: 18 million; Shanghai: 23 million.
The country has 20 cities as big as Los Angeles, nearly 50 as large as my hometown of Philadelphia! Kathleen and I spent time in the resort town of Hangzhou, China’s version of Lake George up in New York. Even it had six and a half million people.
These cities are not what you’d think. Yes, there’s lots of drab buildings and entangled, congested freeways. But even Beijing has its old lakeside neighborhoods. Shanghai is like a grander Chicago, an architect’s delight. (I say that as one who loves Chicago.) It’s got a skyline that’s gone up in four years, and five miles of the old French part of town, block after block, where you think you’re somewhere in France itself.
And guess what? The Chinese love it. In all the big cities, you see giant billboards for designer products from Europe, their look as elegantly continental as the showpiece ads here in mid-town New York.
I get the idea that the Chinese consumer likes getting their hamburgers from McDonald’s, their chicken and French fries from KFC, their java from Starbucks. But their notions of style are European and continental, just like us.
There’s a lot of confidence in their booming country. I can see why. The construction doesn’t stop on weekends. If you figure we humans reach full-size at age 18, I’d say China is about five and growing fast. It’s nowhere near where it’s going to be–and not that many years off.
A couple things surprised me. It’s called a Communist country, but there is nothing like the universal safety net we have for seniors here in America. No Social Security, no Medicare, just whatever a person’s home village provides. It’s very catch as catch can.
There was a sunny serenity in the parts of the country I visited, nothing like the grimness I saw behind the old Iron Curtain in Europe in those months when the Berlin Wall finally came down.
But it’s not a free country obviously. There are no civil rights. The government does what it wishes. People put up with it. But one thing we have to know is that the government and the people agree on one issue: China itself. They want China to have all of China, all of what they see as historically China’s.
This is something we will have to deal with, and deal smartly when we do. It’s not just the government of the People’s Republic who are sensitive on this issue of national territory. It’s the people themselves.
The one reaction I experienced in my 10 days in today’s China: respect. Profound respect for what this country has done with itself in such an incredibly short time–and it’s only just begun.